Hughes knew Murtagh would understand. For the Irish jockey had once himself battled an addiction to booze.
Both men are now sober and each are riding better than ever.
There is a lesson there for some other jockeys.
Johnny Murtagh is now as sober as a judge. It is several years since he gave up the booze. His career in the saddle has been prolonged as a result.
Now he is maturing like the wine he no longer drinks. His career as a freelance jockey is seeing him fire in winners, including Group 1 races.
The one thing you know you’ll get from Murtagh the jockey is an honest ride. He makes few mistakes and he always puts his horse in a race. You’ll always have a chance with Murtagh in the saddle.
He’s had plenty of practice. In 2000 he won his first Epsom Derby on Sinndar.
He says: “That was a good year. I was riding a good deal for Sir Michael Stoute and I ended up with 12 Group Ones, including the Epsom Derby, Irish Derby and Arc.”
When Murtagh announced he would train in Ireland, so taking on local legends such as Aidan O’Brian and Jim Bolger, he says people “thought I was crazy taking on them fellas.”
He says: “I’ve always had great belief in myself. I do my own thing. I was never a sheep as a jockey, and I’ve never followed the flock. I enjoy picking out the races for the horses and seeing their little personalities. We’ve 33. To be competitive in Ireland you need 100 and that’s what I am aiming for.
“We’ve had twelve winners so far this season, won a Listed race and we had a winner on Irish Oaks day at the Curragh. They said training and riding couldn’t be done. But I have ridden for the best and I like to think I have picked up a few things along the way. I’ve got a good team so I can go to ride and not worry about the job being done properly at home.
“I’d like to think training has given me a different outlook on life and a different attitude.”
In the saddle things just keep getting better and better for the likeable Murtagh.
By his own admission, he was third choice to ride Novellist in the King George V1 and QE Stakes at Ascot earlier this summer. But he didn’t care about that. Murtagh gave Novellist a great ride to win, going away, by five lengths. This was the fourth time he had won the prestigous race and, in all, was his 105th Group 1 winner.
It was in every sense a dream ride, for Johnny had seen success in his sleep.
He said: “It was just as I dreamed it would be – only easier. In my dreams it was a more dramatic drive to the line. There was never a moment when I didn’t think he would win. My hardest job was pulling him up.
“I’m riding well. Maybe after Ascot people are saying, ‘he can still ride.’ I’m hard on myself when I get it wrong. I know when I’ve messed up. Sometimes messing up means you learn a lot from it.”
Located alongside the Curragh, the Johnny Murtagh stable is in keeping with the man himself. Friendly, hard working and honest.
As a jockey he has worked for some of the best trainers in his native Ireland, including John Oxx and O’Brien
He says: “You see how they train their horses and what it takes to compete at the top. That’s what we’re trying to do here, to match that. It’s not easy.
“It’s different as a trainer. A lot of hard work goes in. It’s more demanding. We’re all working towards the one goal. To train as many winners as we can, get the best out of them and look after them.
“We want to compete at the top level. I’ve seen trainers do a lot of good things and hopefully it’s rubbed off on me.”
I have no doubt that in years to come we will see Murtagh train Group 1 winners.
Success couldn’t happen to a more sober individual.