Monday 19 March 2018

Weld a pioneer for Melbourne invasion

Mullins poised to emulate Curragh legend with Simenon

Aaron Madden prepares to put Simenon through his final gallop ahead of the Melbourne Cup
Aaron Madden prepares to put Simenon through his final gallop ahead of the Melbourne Cup
Michael Owen looks on as his Brown Panther works on track
Richard Forristal

Richard Forristal

IN the wee small hours of tomorrow morning at Flemington racecourse on the southern tip of Australia, Simenon will vie to plunder the lion's share of a $6.2m (€4.35m) purse for Willie Mullins.

It is the exceptional champion jumps trainer's second stab at the two-mile Grade One handicap Melbourne Cup. Holy Orders' futile 2003 turn in the country's most celebrated sports event was hardly a dry run, but there is a sense that Mullins returns with an increased sense of purpose.

He is not alone. Gai Waterhouse, the eternal darling of Aussie racing, saddles favourite Fiorente, an ex-Michael Stoute-trained five-year-old that was bred in Co Meath's Ballymacoll Stud and is charged with securing her an elusive first win in 'the race that stops a nation'.

Fiorente apart, though, many of the leading protagonists have travelled from this part of the world. Mount Athos, fifth in 2012, is second favourite to add an elusive first to Luca Cumani's infuriating seconds with Purple Moon (2007) and Bauer (2008).

Royal Empire represents Cumani's fellow Newmarket handler Saeed bin Suroor, whose Central Park (1999) and Give The Slip (2001) also both finished second there previously in the Godolphin blue.

Marco Botti, who saddled Jakkalberry to be third under Colm O'Donoghue last year, relies on the Caulfield Cup runner-up Dandino, while Ed Walker's Ruscello earned its place after a head Lexus Stakes win at Flemington on Saturday.

Alain de Royer-Dupre, successful with Americain in 2010, is responsible for the Aga Khan's first Melbourne Cup runner Verema, and his French compatriot Mikel Delzangles sends the 2011 hero Dunaden back again.

Red Cadeaux, second to Dunaden for Ed Dunlop, is also back, with Michael Owen's Tom Dascombe-trained Brown Panther completing the European delegation.

That means that nine of the 24 runners, or 37.5pc of the Melbourne Cup field, hail from this part of the planet. The world is a much smaller place than it used to be, but it's still not overstating it to trace the source for such collective ambition back to one man – Dermot Weld.

When Weld sent Vintage Crop to contest the Cup in 1993, no horse from the northern hemisphere had done so since its origin in 1861. By the time Mick Kinane's brave mount had completed that stirring triumph in the rain-soaked Flemington mud, a mission that was perceived to have been simply impossible had become slightly less daunting.

Every year since, there has been European runners in the Cup, with 12 constituting 50pc of the entire field when Dunaden delivered a second successive win for the French in 2011. By then, Weld had already plundered it a second time with Media Puzzle in 2002.

Those four successes are the extent of the European contingent's haul (Delta Blues won for Japan in 2006), but it is astounding to reflect on how Weld's ground-breaking sally paved the way for what now resembles a wholesale annual invasion. He conquered the final frontier, and ever since the face of international racing has evolved into the global fusion that it is now.

Trainers no longer think twice about shipping a horse around the world if the price is right. The master of the Curragh's Rosewell House didn't just achieve the unthinkable, he changed the way people think.

More than that, if you listen to the locals – some of whom do bemoan the weight of the foreign challenge – he saved the Melbourne Cup.

Before Vintage Crop thrust it into global consciousness, the race had descended into a shadow of the epic contest that Phar Lap first immortalised in 1930. It was heading for obscurity, but in the intervening 20 years it has fully regained its unique status.

For days before the event, it is the top of every news bulletin, the lead on every back page. Today, the Cup parade alone will attract more than 80,000 people, with more than 100,000 people attending the event itself.

It is a carnival occasion that captures the imagination like it is supposed to, and you certainly can't underestimate the influence of 'DK' in reigniting that magic. For not only did Weld break down boundaries for European trainers, his legacy means that even the locals now come here to source the winner of the great race.

In 2012, the first seven home were Irish-bred. This year, of the 13 local runners, just five weren't sourced in Europe, with Weld's own pocket picked when his Irish St Leger winner Voleuse De Coeurs was recently sold.


Tomorrow morning, Voleuse De Coeurs will line out for Michael Moroney, but we know whose fingerprints will be all over the famous trophy if it – or any of European raiders – actually wins.

Mullins first earmarked the Melbourne Cup for Simenon after last year's famous double at Royal Ascot. The six-year-old finally gets his chance in the morning, with Richard Hughes booked to steer as regular rider Johnny Murtagh cannot do the required 8st 5lb.

Advised at 25/1 here last month, he has since run above expectations to be a close third to Sea Moon over an inadequate 12-furlong trip in the Herbert Power Stakes at Caulfield. He is now a 14/1 shot, and still represents a solid each-way option.

Remember, he had the class to finish second in the Ascot Gold Cup, and followed that with another game effort to be beaten just a head by Ahzeemah in the Londsdale Cup at York, form that has worked out well.

A proven stayer with a touch of quality, Simenon isn't drawn badly in stall 12, and he goes on fast ground. All things being equal, he is fancied to deliver yet another famous win for Mullins.

Melbourne Cup,

Live, Tomorrow, AtTheRaces, 4.0am

Irish Independent

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