Sunday 25 February 2018

Weld hopes Princess rules Dubai

Damien McElroy

The world's newest and most lavish racecourse is being unveiled in Dubai this afternoon when Sheikh Mohammed's $2bn Meydan project hosts the first meeting of their annual spring carnival.

No fewer than 20 nations are due to be represented at Meydan, up to and including the 15th running of the World Cup session on the last Saturday in March, when Irish champion Johnny Murtagh expects to be in action.

Sheikh Mohammed, the ruler of Dubai and prime minister of the Emirates, has spared no expense in replacing the Nad Al Sheba venue with a massive, futuristic edifice catering for 100,000 spectators and including two brand-new tracks and a five-star hotel.

With the turf course being saved for next Thursday, today's all-weather Tapeta surface has been generally welcomed by some of the foremost trainers in the sport who have brought many high-class horses to the country in pursuit of some lucrative prize funds.

No strangers to success in the region, Dermot Weld, Ger Lyons and Joanna Morgan as well as Paul Deegan are hoping to make the latest Irish assault on the multi-million dollar carnival prize fund a worthwhile endeavour.

So far this country stands in sixth place in the international winners' table with nine scorers from a total of 137 runners, well ahead of France (six), Australia and Germany with five apiece and Japan (three).

South African trainer Mike de Kock, a regular purchaser of recruits from Ballydoyle, has saddled 65 winners there for an enviable strike rate of almost 20pc and his current squad features Frozen Fire, Golden Sword and Eagle Mountain.

The de Kock runners will probably have Murtagh aboard again in early March during the Super Thursday and Meydan Masters fixtures leading up to a World Cup card three weeks later boasting an incredible $26m prize fund.

In the meantime, Murtagh's great rival Pat Smullen has a couple of chances of hitting the target later this afternoon, notably when teaming up once more with Weld's Princess Taylor in a 1m 3f handicap (4.05).

Among the maximum field of 14 is ex-Irish Drunken Sailor, which Kieren Fallon rides for the gelding's new Australian handler Tony Vasil, while Smullen is also on Paul Deegan's Philario in a hot Group Three Maktoum Challenge over a mile.

Irish Independent

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