Dermot Weld flying high with Free Eagle

Dermot Weld has had winners in big races all over the world, from America to Australia and from Cheltenham to Galway, but few have given him greater pleasure than guiding Free Eagle to victory in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot yesterday.

Dermot Weld flying high with Free Eagle

The talented but fragile colt has had so many issues, seeing his racing career restricted to just four races in two years before he graced the Berkshire track in the successful pursuit of Group One honours.

Weld, who has shown unlimited patience with thoroughbreds throughout an illustrious training career that has seen him conquer the globe, always kept the faith and let the horse do his talking on the track.

The 5-2 favourite had been forced to miss his intended reappearance at the Curragh last month because of a head cold and Weld admitted that, in an ideal world, the race came two weeks too soon.

But he knew he had the horse to deliver, even if he was slightly underdone. And with his star now firing on all cylinders, Weld is plotting a future that could take in the Irish Champion Stakes and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

It was, however, a close-run thing as The Grey Gatsby finished to such effect that he was just a short head behind Pat Smullen’s mount at the line in a pulsating renewal.

“This horse has bags of courage and is a hard horse to beat,” said Weld.

“He had a stress fracture of the tibia last year and had to miss all the Classics. We got him back for the Champion Stakes here and that was run on heavy ground. “The plan was to start him in the Tattersalls Gold Cup, but he got a bad head cold which delayed his comeback and his work.

“Fitness was my biggest concern and I had him as good as I could have with the limited preparation he’d had.

“You can’t force fitness and ideally the race came two weeks too soon, but I had huge confidence in this horse’s ability. It was a calculated risk and a personal triumph for me.

“Today was the day, but we’ve been lucky with races like the Irish Champion Stakes and I’ve always thought the Arc would be his long-term objective.

“Pat gave him his usual brilliant ride and seized the opportunity.”

Smullen was full of praise for the trainer, saying: “I’m relieved because I’ve been saying for the last two years how good this horse is and thankfully now he’s starting to show it.

“While he has got plenty of pace, I think he’ll improve going further. He thrived on the ground and it’s played to his strengths. There’s the Irish Champion Stakes, but the race I would love to win with him would be the Arc.

“I can’t tell you how good a training performance this is. There was nothing easy about getting him here today and if truth be known, I didn’t think he was going to show his true ability today because it’s been an interrupted preparation.

“I don’t think I’ve gotten as much pleasure from riding a winner.”

Kevin Ryan, trainer of The Grey Gatsby, said: “I knew we had him in great shape, he’s got a long run with a lot of races coming up now, I was quietly confident he’d put up a big show.

“Fair dos to the winner, it was a great training performance but I’m not disappointed, I know the horse is back to his best and we can look forward.

“He’s in the Eclipse and he’s in the King George over a mile and a half. We’ll let the dust settle and see how the horse comes home.”

John Gosden said of Western Hymn, who finished third: “It was a great run, a fabulous race and take nothing away from the first two.

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