Teenager Murtagh's rapid recovery from open heart surgery
Precious few jockeys ride a winner on their first ride in public, and fewer still ride another on just their third ride. To do so just six months after open heart surgery, as 16-year-old Connor Murtagh has done, is truly extraordinary.
The son of Carlisle trainer and former jockey Barry, and younger brother of conditional jockey Lorcan, Murtagh has certainly packed a lot into those six months. He had the third major heart operation of his short life in Newcastle's Freeman Hospital on September 6, joined Richard Fahey on January 2 and rode his first winner on March 1, appropriately enough on his dad's Symbolic Star at Newcastle, just a couple of miles from the hospital.
Murtagh, who turns 17 on Sunday, was back at Newcastle to partner Dose into third for his boss two days later and then made it two wins from only three rides just 11 days after that when he scored on Lady Turpin for Fahey at Southwell.
The teenager, who finished fifth on River Warrior at Southwell on Tuesday and partners Spirit Of The Vale at Newcastle on Wednesday, had his first major operation as a ten-day-old baby but has never let his health compromise his lifestyle. Symbolic Star's success was reward for his passion and dedication – and he made the most of it.
He said: "It was just a great day. My brother Lorcan, who had his own big day at Newcastle in the Eider Chase last year, got the day off and was there leading up, and my mum and dad were there too. It was great to have the whole family there.
"None of us was really expecting Symbolic Star to win as he was a 25-1 chance, but he had dropped down the handicap and had cheekpieces on for the first time, and it all went great."
It's a cliche but, despite the heart issue that has been in the background throughout his life, Murtagh was riding almost as soon as he could walk, and he did plenty of other sport, including football, rugby and athletics.
His baseline fitness was crucial to a speedy recovery, his parents believe, for despite an operation lasting more than five hours he was riding out within six weeks.
Like all young apprentices, Murtagh's dream now is to be champion jockey one day. He said: "I was very lucky to ride a few winners in pony racing and and I learned a heck of a lot through it. It's a great background for a young lad coming through, and now I'm no different to all the other lads in wanting to be champion jockey.
"But for the moment I'm just taking each day as it comes and each ride as it comes. Richard is a great guy and a hell of a boss. I'm learning there every day and loving it."
Murtagh's parents have had to live with more than their share of anxiety, for while Connor was recuperating his brother Lorcan was a regular at Jack Berry House recovering from a broken leg.
Mother Sue said: "We owe a big debt to the NHS, and in particular to the PICU ward and ward 23 at the Freeman Hospital at Newcastle. They've taken care of Con since he had his first open heart operation at just ten days old, and we will never be able to thank the staff there enough.
"We knew all along he would be required back for a valve replacement at 16, and hopefully that's that."