Mullins books top dogs for two-pronged Belmont raid
Willie Mullins has secured two of the top US riders as he bids to snare the $400,000 Belmont Gold Cup Invitational on Friday.
Wicklow Brave will be ridden by Javier Castellano, while legendary veteran John Velazquez, who rode Always Dreaming to Kentucky Derby glory last month, will ride Clondaw Warrior.
And Mullins is hopeful that an unsettled forecast in New York will enhance the prospects of his pair, which flew over last week.
"These riders were keen to ride the horses; we took them when they were available," Mullins said. "It was a plus to get them.
"Clondaw Warrior is seasoned in his travelling at this stage and I'm happy that Wicklow Brave travelled over much better than he did to Melbourne last year.
Firm "At their ages the hosts may not give them much chance but looking at the form of last year's race, Da Big Hoss won it and Clondaw Warrior was second to him afterwards in the American St Leger, so he must have a chance, as does Wicklow Brave.
"It's usually quite firm but a lot of the local talk is the weather gives the Europeans a chance."
Mullins may be out of season but is ready for an exceptionally busy weekend, a large raiding party bound for Auteuil for the French Champion Hurdle and champion four-year-old hurdle on Sunday. The champion jumps trainer plans to visit both Belmont and Paris.
"Shaneshill will go for the French Champion Hurdle, with Ruby Walsh to ride.
"The Crafty Butcher will likely not go as lot of the good horses entered take their chance," Mullins added.
"Bapaume, Meri Devie and Dandy Mag go for the four-year-old race. It's a strong team and, while Ruby will probably be on Bapaume, we feel Meri Devie will run better than she did at Auteuil last time - I've a fair idea what happened to her."
Derek O'Connor, the near-perennial champion rider in point-to-points, has hailed Barry O'Neill after he edged Jamie Codd 66-65 to win the crown for the first time. "It's a wonderful achievement, well-deserved. He's a very professional man and jockey," O'Connor enthused.
Codd also praised his rival, saying: "Barry is a deserving winner who works very hard. He is a beautiful rider, a lovely guy on and off the track - also a fellow Wexford man so I'm delighted for him and his family."
The season ended on a sombre note, rider Shane Prendergast placed in an induced coma after suffering head and back injuries when Jack The Snake slipped up in the last race at Ballingarry.