PAT KEANE: Great to see Dermot Weld add Epsom Derby to his CV

Wasn’t it fantastic to see Dermot Weld finally set the record straight and add the Epsom Derby to his considerable CV?

On the 29th of next month Weld will celebrate his 68th birthday and is a man who has more than stood the test of time.

He’s been a juggernaut of the game for as long as I can remember, but it has taken him until now to land the biggest prize in flat racing.

But the longer the wait the sweeter the success had to be and it would have been an injustice if Weld retired - hopefully that’s miles down the road - without winning the race that counts the most.

He’s been a trail-blazer for much of his career and remains the only northern hemisphere trainer to land the Melbourne Cup, a feat achieved on two occasions.

He’s won major races all over the world, but not having an Epsom Derby under the bonnet had to irritate him more than would ever have been admitted. But now that particular itch has been satisfied and surely means contentment for the rest of his life.

Harzand, of course, is the horse who did the business at Epsom and ensured he cemented Weld’s standing as a great of Irish racing.

This was some tough display by the son of Sea The Stars, given the trials and tribulations he had to endure on the morning of the race, on a surface that was clearly much softer than the official going of good to soft.

And that’s the thing with Harzand, he will always, one suspects, only be seen at his best with lots of give. Indeed, on heavy ground, you’d imagine, Harzand will be well-nigh unbeatable.

Certainly, all the evidence points in that direction, considering he won his maiden at Cork and the Group 3 Ballysax Stakes at Leopardstown on such a surface.

Weld will be very anxious to run the horse at the Curragh in the Irish Derby on June 25, but that may not be possible.

My experience of that day is that, more often than not, the weather will be baking and unless there is buckets of rain on the lead in then Weld may have no option but to give the contest a swerve and concentrate instead on autumn targets.

You would love to see Harzand staying in training as a four-year-old, although history tells us that is probably unlikely.

He is owned by the Aga Khan, whose four previous winners of the Epsom Derby, Shergar, Shahrastani, Kahyasi and Sinndar were all retired at the end of their three-year-old days.

That said, however, the Aga Khan is now 80 years-of-age and sending Harzand off to cover mares is a relatively long-term project, compared to the simplicity and beauty of just watching him running.

It reminds me of something the late Paddy Mullins said one day under the trees in the winner’s enclosure at Thurles.

He had just trained the winner of a maiden hurdle and was, I think, 82 at the time. The owner of the horse, apparently, had been resident on this planet even longer than Paddy.

Anyway, one of the press lads quizzed Paddy as to what his plans for the winner were? Paddy smiled and then the dry wit kicked in as he responded: “The owner wants to give the horse time, but I don’t know where it’s going to come from.’’ Perhaps, a similar thought might just cross the Aga’s mind.

You’d wonder, as the Derby unfolded, what was crossing the mind of John Oxx, who was the Aga Khan’s main trainer in Ireland for more than 20 years?

In August, 2013 the news broke that there was essentially to be a parting of the ways between Oxx and the Aga Khan and it has had a devastating effect on the most honourable of Irish trainers.

Oxx trained Sinndar to win the Epsom Derby for the Aga Khan in 2000 and was also successful in the race with Sea The Stars in 2009.

But these days Oxx has no horses with which to do battle at the top level and, indeed, is struggling to even train a winner. He deserves better - a lot better.

It will be fascinating to see how Aidan O’Brien’s second and third in the Derby, US Army Ranger and Idaho respectively, develop as the season progresses.

We are long enough around now to stop doubting Aidan’s ability to have horses exactly right for the big day and this further emphasised his extraordinary skills.

There were big question marks against US Army Ranger’s form heading into the Derby, notwithstanding how lightly raced he was, with just two outings under his belt.

He won a modest maiden at the Curragh, before scrambling home a short head to the good over stable companion, Port Douglas, who was conceding 4lbs, in the Chester Vase. But in the Derby Port Douglas, 4lbs better in, could only manage 14th, thirty-four and a half lengths behind US Army Ranger. Now that is a staggering turnaround.

And then there was Idaho, who was third in his trial race behind Moonlight Magic and Shogun in the Derrinstown at Leopardstown.

Idaho was beaten under three lengths at Epsom, while you would have needed binoculars to find Moonlight Magic (16th and last) and Shogun (15th).

Here’s one who will be doing a rain dance for Royal Ascot next week, or at least for Thursday and the Gold Cup.

If Aidan O’Brien’s Order Of St George gets his ideal conditions then we are going to have to unload, big-time.

He is capable of winning on any surface, but showed, when taking the Irish Leger last September at the Curragh by half the track, that he is some machine, with cut in the ground.


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