Trainer Dermot Weld and Jockey Pat Smullen after winning the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby on Harzand at the Curragh Racecourse in the Curragh, Co. Kildare. Photo by Cody Glenn/Sportsfile
In his own words Dermot Weld describes the late 70s and early 80s as an unbelievably challenging period for both Irish racing and the country as a whole.
The son of an excellent trainer in his own right, Charlie Weld, Dermot, before following on from his father, gathered himself a healthy mix of experience.
He was three years leading amateur in Ireland and completed his veterinary studies in UCD.
Money was scarce, especially at home, so prior to beginning as a trainer he built up contacts with owners in America and Australia. But in a time of uncertainty it was crucial to get a big win under your belt.
“I trained my first classic winners when Blue Wind won the Epsom and Irish Oaks. Lester Piggott rode her for me and then Wally Swinburn rode her to win the Irish and she went on to be champion three-year-old in Europe,” Dermot explained.
Blue Wind would prove to be the first of 27 European classic wins, 20 of them being in Ireland. With that many classic winners in Ireland you would think his biggest impact would have been at home.
However, Dermot’s largest cultural impact may have been on Australia, the racing scene down under changed forever from the visits of the Curragh trainer.
The first seismic shift came when Dermot and Mick Kinane travelled with Vintage Crop to Melbourne in 1993 for Australia’s biggest race, the Melbourne Cup.
They became the first winners of the cup outside of Australia and New Zealand and in a 2018 article looking back at the race Melbourne newspaper The Age referred to the win as ‘arguably the result that changed the face of Australian racing’.
The significance of the win was not lost on anyone as the world watched an Irish horse bring home the cup. The victory from a visitor inspired other owners from overseas to venture down under in search of success. Even the Queen of England had a go at winning Australia’s premier race.
A monumental event and one that was significant enough in the trainer’s eyes to write a book about it. Dermot wrote Vintage Crop: Against All Odds and the book got to fifth in Ireland’s hardback non-fiction charts.
Dermot, after documenting his first Melbourne Cup, victory would make his mark on the film industry with his second.
Following Media Puzzle’s win in 2002, a movie entitled The Cup was commissioned to recreate the journey of Dermot, his team and, in particular, jockey Damien Oliver.
Damien’s brother, Jason, had died just a week prior to the Melbourne Cup after a fall during a trial at Perth’s Belmont racecourse.
Dermot landed in Tullamarine airport in Melbourne and was met with a mob of local and national media shortly after.
“There was a huge doubt about whether he was going to ride or not. They wanted to know who was going to ride Media Puzzle. They were asking me if it would be someone international or local,” Dermot recalled.
Dermot said, live on Australian TV, after being asked who would ride the Irish horse, “Look, I am going to wait on Damien and let him make up his own mind when he’s ready, he is grieving a loss. But when he’s ready he will let me know and I will wait as long as possible.”
This display of compassion from Dermot would have an enormous impact on the man in question, Damien Oliver. The jockey saw the interview and decided he was going to ride in the Melbourne Cup for both himself and his brother.
The jockey would win the Melbourne Cup and Australian commentator Wayne Wilson described the home stretch in glorious and emotional detail: “This is the one Damien’s wanted, this is the one he is riding for Jason and Media Puzzle goes to the line to win the Melbourne Cup. Damien stands high in the irons, salutes the heavens, that’s for Jason! It’s Media Puzzle, the winner of the Melbourne Cup.”
A movie-worthy moment and all that comes with it. Dermot, after his delight for both Media Puzzle and Damien Oliver, would now have to aid in the portrayal of him on the big screen.
Dermot found himself assisting Brendan Gleeson in portraying him and was pleased with the legendary Irish actor’s effort.
“I thought he did a pretty good job. He came down to the Curragh and spent a couple of days with me. He researched thoroughly which is typical of the brilliant actor that he is,” Dermot explained.
“He kept in touch throughout the making of it and overall it was a great movie. He came down and watched the horses train and we went through things.”
A book written on one win and a movie about another.
However, Dermot is no stranger to firsts in international racing. All of the European classics are well documented but the man from the Curragh has broken new ground for Irish trainers across the world.
“The biggest win of all internationally was the Belmont Stakes with Go and Go (1990) ridden by Michael Kinane. It’s the third leg of the Triple Crown and so far no other horse outside of America has won the race. We’re still the sole winner of that race from abroad,” Dermot said.
Dermot appeared keen to check off the continents as he went along and when it was announced that Hong Kong had a new Group 1 race in the form of the Hong Kong Mile he was straight on it.
“Myself and Michael Kinane brought two horses to Hong Kong. They went for the two Grade 1 races that were held in December in Hong Kong. Additional Risk won the Hong Kong Mile with a new track record at Sha Tin racecourse and Prudent Manner was second in the Vase,” Dermot explained.
It’s great to break new ground abroad but there will always be a certain special impact with winning it at home too. Dermot has kept his consistency in Group 1s and this year was no different with Homeless Songs winning the 1,000 Guineas.
After speaking to a variety of trainers and digging through their records you always spot one. One gap. One unusually long stretch where a big race eluded them and they may have felt it was not to be.
Wille Mullins and the Gold Cup, Noel Meade and the Cheltenham Festival.
Dermot’s was the Epsom Derby and it took Harzand’s win in 2016, some 35 years after his first classic win, to get that monkey off his back.
“I always wanted to win the Epsom Derby. That gave me what felt like my finest hour. I had won the Irish Derby, won races all over the world but it was that one race that is still the pinnacle of flat racing in Europe that I hadn’t won,” Dermot explained.
But as a man from the Curragh, Dermot more than reflects fondly on his most recent win at the Irish Derby. It was the same year with Harzand, ridden by legendary jockey Pat Smullen, who did the 2016 Derby double.
“It was a special year, a special horse. It will always be remembered for the great Pat Smullen. It’s very hard to get a horse good enough and you only ever get a limited number of attempts to win the big races. Both myself and Pat knew it was so important that we won,” Dermot recalled.
The big wins will always live on in memory but what can elevate them to another level is a personal element. Dermot has a clear memory of a win that stands out for him when he trained Nighttime to a win of the 2006 instalment of the Irish 1,000 Guineas.
That personal element that made it all so special?
“My mother bred her, owned her and I trained her and she went on to be great for us. Great wins and she made us proud when she ran,” Dermot said.
In a similar vein to what makes wins, special Dermot closed the interview by paying tribute to his stable at Rosewell House on the Curragh, and all the hard work that is done by the people there.
Dermot concluded, “I appreciate my two sons Mark and Chris who are heavily involved in the business. I have had the loyalty of some brilliant riders like Michael Kinane, Pat Smullen and Wally Swinburn. I have been fortunate to have a big staff and most of them have been with me for a long time. All of this is a team effort.”
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