Former Irish champion jockey Johnny Murtagh claimed his first Irish classic at The Curragh on Sunday as Sonnyboyliston (4/1) won the Comer Group International Irish St Leger.
The son of Coolmore Stud’s former Irish 2000 Guineas and National Stakes winner, Power, saw out the one mile six furlong distance best of all to beat the 2020 Melbourne Cup winner Twilight Payment (9/2) and Baron Samedi (6/1) into second and third respectively.
The win was a third success at the highest level in Europe for Power this season, with his sons Laws of Indices (Prix Jean Prat at Deauville) and Helvic Dream (Tattersalls Gold Cup at The Curragh) already having won Group 1 contests.
The winner, Sonnyboyliston, who was victorious in the Ebor Handicap at York, England, on his previous run, was ridden at The Curragh by Ben Coen, for whom it was a first Group 1 and a first Irish classic win.
The Irish-bred colt, bought by his conditioner Johnny Murtagh for 26,000 euro at the Tattersalls Ireland September Yearling Sale, is owned by the Kildare Racing Club, for whom this was their finest day in racehorse ownership.
Sonnyboyliston had three-quarter length to spare at the wire in the Group 1 race over Joseph O’Brien’s 2020 Melbourne Cup winner Twilight Payment, with another of the O’Brien runners, Baron Samedi, finishing a length and a half further back in third place.
For former top rider Murtagh, who dead-heated in the Irish St Leger on Jukebox Jury in 2011 with Duncan, it was an 11th stakes win of the current season. Interestingly, the first Group 1 win of his training career came when Champers Elysees won the Coolmore America “Justify” Matron Stakes at Leopardstown during the opening day of the Longines Irish Champions Weekend 2020.
Sonnyboyliston was held up in fifth position throughout the race by rider Ben Cohen, as the son of Galileo, Group 2 Curragh Cup hero Amhrán na Bhfiann cut out the pace. Though last season’s Melbourne Cup victor was first to go for his race, Coen always seemed happy on his mount, before Sonnyboyliston tackled the eventual second, Twilight Payment, as the field approached the one furlong pole. A determined performance from Sonnyboyliston and Coen ensured a first Irish classic success as a conditioner for Murtagh.
The Dermot Weld-handled favourite Search For A Song (100/30), who was bidding for a third successive win in the Comer Group International Irish St Leger finished a disappointing sixth.
Sonnyboyliston may have gone in to the Irish St Leger a little under the radar, but he has run some good races in defeat over the past season.
When winning the Irish Stallion Farms EBF “Northfields” Handicap in 2020, Sonnyboyliston had subsequent Group 1 Tattersalls Gold Cup winner Helvic Dream – also by Power – five and three-quarter lengths back in third place.
This year, he placed third behind Aidan O’Brien’s Broome in the Listed Plusvital Devoy Stakes at Naas, and finished in the same position behind another Ballydoyle inmate, Japan, in the Group 3 Ormonde Stakes at Chester, England in early May.
Sonnyboyliston has now won six races and has been placed on three occasions in his 14-start career.
Despite holding an entry for the Melbourne Cup at Flemington in November, Murtagh was unwilling to commit to the trip Down Under following Sonnyboyliston’s victory.
Photos: Courtesy of Breandán Ó hUallacháin