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25 years on: Dual cup winner Weld a rare vintage

10 min read
When Dermot Weld focused his attentions on winning the G1 Melbourne Cup 25 years ago with Vintage Crop (GB) (Rousillon) his goal may have seemed quixotic to most, but to the legendary Irish trainer it just seemed like the logical next step in his career.

Remember, this is the man who became the first European based trainer to win a leg of the American Triple Crown when Go And Go (Ire) (Be My Guest) stormed home by eight lengths under Mick Kinane in the GI Belmont S. in 1990. He had also embraced the international concept when sending Additional Risk (Ire) (Ahonoora {GB}) to Sha Tin in 1991 to plunder the Hong Kong Invitation Bowl.

“World racing has changed dramatically in the last 25 years and I predicted at the time when we won with Vintage Crop that the success would internationalise the Melbourne Cup,” Weld said.

“I didn’t realise how true my words would become. Back then people tended to be happy to stay within their own continents, be they America, Europe or Australia and compete at home. Before Australia I had done a lot of travelling with horses, obviously the Belmont S. sticks out as an example but I’d also brought two horses to the first International meeting in Hong Kong in 1991.

"I predicted at the time when we won with Vintage Crop that the success would internationalise the Melbourne Cup.” - Dermot Weld

"Additional Risk set a track record when he won the Bowl and Prudent Manner (GB) (Cure The Blues) finished second in the Hong Kong Cup and although I’d brought horses to America many times and won Grade I races on the east coast, mid-west and west coast, it was the Hong Kong experience that sort of planted the seed to try and tackle Australia next.”

Weld already had a horse in mind and when Vintage Crop won the Carling Gold Cup at the now defunct Tralee Racecourse in August of 1992 the Curragh based trainer was hoping it would be Flemington next stop.

But there was one major stumbling block. “I entered him for Flemington after Tralee and he got a very low handicap mark but at that time it wasn’t feasible or practical to bring any horse to run in the Melbourne Cup,” he said before adding, “And I’ve no doubt he would have won it as he won the following year carrying about 12 pounds more.”

Vintage Crop

Changing the quarantine protocols

Explaining the course of events for the next twelve months and the scope of work that was involved Weld said, “The entry in 1992 was what stimulated David Burke, the chairman of the VRC at the time to try and facilitate international participation.

"He saw this Irish horse entered but who couldn’t run because, for starters, the quarantine facilities in Australia weren’t appropriate. So we got to work. We had a lot of things to change. We had to change the flight path of the planes and we had to get permission for the planes to land on the African sub-continent.

"We also had to change the quarantine rules for Australia as there were no training facilities at the existing quarantine base, it was only suitable for mares or stallions so we had to get that changed to a racetrack where horses could exercise.

"This Irish horse entered but who couldn’t run because, for starters, the quarantine facilities in Australia weren’t appropriate. So we got to work." - Dermot Weld

"With the help of Burke and also Les Benton of the VRC we managed to get those changes implemented in time for the 1993 running. A lot of work had to be done with the Department of Agriculture in Canberra in conjunction with the equivalent departments in Brussels in Europe.”

Dermot Weld

Breaking new ground

As the 1993 Melbourne Cup approached word had obviously got around about the ground breaking work Weld had spearheaded. When Vintage Crop booked his ticket for Melbourne with a win in the G1 Irish St Leger at The Curragh in September, he would have a travelling companion from Europe in Lord Huntingdon’s G1 Ascot Gold Cup winner Drum Taps (Dixieland Band {USA}).

"Vintage Crop was a great horse to train, slightly delicate mentally but very tough also.” - Dermot Weld

“These two horses broke new ground and trained out of Sandown racetrack. Everything went fairly smoothly.

"Vintage Crop was a great horse to train, slightly delicate mentally but very tough also. I was a bit concerned about him when he got there first. He lost quite a bit of weight on the journey but he gradually put it back on and when he did his last little piece of work I was very happy with him and I knew we had him right on the day.”

Watch: Vintage Crop winning the 1993 Melbourne Cup

The race itself went perfectly to plan. A low draw and a smart break enabled Mick Kinane to assume a prominent early position on the rails around sixth or seventh.

Vintage Crop still had a bit to do as they rounded the home turn with 600m to race but once Kinane got serious with the gelding he began to motor. While he only got to the lead inside the last furlong he had put three lengths daylight between himself and Te Akau Nick (Grosvenor) at the post.

Jockey, Michael Kinane

Chances written off

Thinking back to the build up to the race Weld recalled, “Most people in both Europe and Australia thought we were mad to try it at the time. The locals gave us no chance. The main reason being the six week gap or whatever it was since Vintage Crop’s last run.

"The locals gave us no chance. The main reason being the six week gap or whatever it was since Vintage Crop’s last run." - Dermot Weld

"In those days it was believed contenders should run within a week of the race, over a short distance, preferably on the Saturday in the Mackinnon [Stakes]. Great trainers like Bart Cummings, who I got to know well and I appreciated very much his genius, he dismissed our chance completely. He reckoned the distance we travelled, our lack of a recent run and the fact our jockey Michael Kinane hadn’t ridden in Australia before would all count against us.

"However I knew my horse well and that he ran well fresh off a break. He was a clear winded horse and it was a case of having him fresh and well and he just came right on the day.”

Weld would return to Flemington with Vintage Crop twice more after his win when he finished seventh in 1994 and third in 1995.

Media Puzzle (Theatrical {Ire}) carried owner Michael Smurfit’s colours to a second Cup win for the pair in 2002 but that horse had a slightly different prep to the trainer’s first winner. “Media Puzzle was a different animal, he took more work than Vintage Crop. We ran him in the [G3] Geelong Cup which he won under Damien Oliver before going on to win at Flemington.”

Vintage Crop returning after winning the 1993 Melbourne Cup

Around the same time Weld had another stayer who was making a name for himself in Europe and he feels that with more luck he may have bagged a third Melbourne Cup with the four-time G1 Irish St Leger winner Vinnie Roe (Ire) (Definite Article {GB}).

“I think Vinnie Roe was a bit unlucky not to win a Melbourne Cup,” he said. “He was unfortunate to run into Makybe Diva, who was probably the best mare ever to win the race. When he was second to her in 2004 he was giving her a couple of kilos and he just couldn’t manage it.

“Vinnie Roe was unfortunate to run into Makybe Diva, who was probably the best mare ever to win the race. " - Dermot Weld on Vinnie Roe's Cup chance

"However I must say that one of my happiest moments as a racehorse trainer was in 2002 when Vinnie Roe and Media Puzzle turned into the straight upsides and clear of everything else and it was obvious that one or the other was going to win the Melbourne Cup. Top weight just caught up with Vinnie close home and he weakened to fourth but to see both horses fighting out the finish was one of the great joys of my life.”

An international effort

Getting back to the initial foray in 1993, Weld is keen to stress the enormity of work put in by the powers that be on both sides, in Ireland and Australia, into facilitating such a challenge. The wheels of civil service are not know to turn quickly and with a 12 month time frame to change rules that had been in place for decades there was not a moment to waste.

But to everyone’s credit the rules were changed and it has opened the race up to such an extent that international challengers are now in similar numbers to Australian and New Zealand trained runners with eight of the first ten home last year trained in Europe.

“Travelling has gotten so much easier now for both man and beast,” Weld observed. “Back in 1993 when I went I had to go Dublin to London to Bangkok to Singapore and finally to Melbourne. Nowadays you can go via Dubai or Abu Dhabi with just one connection.

"But with horses, while it is still a challenge, it is also no comparison to what it was like when we first started. Even when I won my second Melbourne Cup with Media Puzzle in 2002 it was still an ordeal but it has become a lot easier again since, no doubt about it,” he said.

“Travelling has gotten so much easier now for both man and beast.” - Dermot Weld

Weld was last represented in the Cup in 2010 when Profound Beauty (Danehill) finished down the field and while he will skip attending this year in favour of a trip to Churchill Downs to saddle the Aga Khan’s Eziyra (Ire) (Teofilo {Ire}) in the GI Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf, he hopes to return to Melbourne if he can find the right ammunition.

“Amanda Elliott kindly invited me to this year’s race but unfortunately I have other commitments,” he said. “I’ve always enjoyed my visits to Australia and I’ve always received a wonderful reception from the Australian people.

"Finding the right horse to bring is difficult although one that I train for Moyglare Stud that could develop into a potential candidate is Falcon Eight (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}). He is a 3-year-old who won his first two races this year and was third in a Group 3 at Naas over two miles recently. He is a lovely horse, still immature and beautifully bred being a half-brother to Free Eagle (Ire) (High Chaparral {Ire}). I think he will make a lovely staying stakes horse next year and could be very interesting.”

For this correspondent it is hard to believe that 25 years have passed since that momentous day in Flemington that changed international racing and by the sounds of it you wouldn’t bet hard against the master of Rosewell House unearthing another worthy challenger in the coming years.

Vintage Crop, the first of the international raiders