Diplomat provides King of Ballybrit with regal start in pursuit of 27th leading trainer award
Weld success in opening hurdle marks trainer’s mastery of event
Diplomat ridden by jockey Ruby Walsh wins The Galwaybayhotel.com & Radissonhotelgalway.com Novice Hurdle. Photograph: Inpho
Galway’s boisterous charms are not an obvious home to Gallic aphorisms but there was no escaping the Plus Ca Change vibe to the start of the 2013 festival that yet again saw Dermot Weld emphasise his mastery of this unique event.
It’s nearly half a century now since the 15-year-old schoolboy Weld rode Ticonderoga to win around a Ballybrit track that is all but unrecognisable in terms of frills to what it was then, but which continues to see the now legendary trainer’s mastery of that famous final hill at its core.
So with most everyone already conceding a 27th leading trainer award before the action even began, in many ways the biggest surprise surrounding Weld’s 23rd success in the juvenile maiden was that Mustajeeb wound up sharing 11-8 joint-favouritism with his big rival Friendship.
Those convinced the Ballydoyle challenger had a chance of upsetting the apple cart though had clearly forgotten how important the role of jockeys have also been in Weld’s 250-plus festival successes and Pat Smullen again illustrated his mastery of the unique track, grabbing the lead when there was no pace and making all the running.
“He was very raw and green on his debut but very professional there. I had to change tack after 50 yards, but he settled, which was the big thing,” reported Smullen of a colt who could end up contesting the Royal Lodge Stakes later in the season.
“Pat had to change things quick,” acknowledged Weld. “This is a progressive colt. I thought he’d win. He got a little tired in front but he was entitled to.”
If the two-year-old can enjoy some well-deserved time off, Diplomat can expect plenty of attention this morning as the Weld team decide if the horse will attempt a quick festival double in this evening’s opener having justified short odds in the first race yesterday.
All but untouchable
The British raider Sky Khan obviously wasn’t too familiar with the Galway script, where a Weld odds-on favourite is all but untouchable, and put in a challenge after the last which had Ruby Walsh reaching for the whip. But at the line Diplomat had a length in hand.
“He was a little keen which meant he probably wasn’t as impressive as we thought he might be,” said Weld, who admitted to favouring a quick return to action today. “The ground is beautiful and he’s a relatively fresh horse. If he’s alright in the morning, he’ll probably run. I just hope he’ll relax a bit better.”
The Weld newcomer Marty’s Magic started a warm favourite in the concluding bumper but had to give best to the more experienced Wicklow Brave, who scored under a left-handed drive from champion amateur Patrick Mullins.
Not content with landing the big race, Tony Martin also picked up the mile and a half handicap with Dark Crusader who got the better of Lady Giselle after a prolonged scrap up the hill.
“I thought 19lbs for winning at Killarney would handle her but the handicapper knows more than me,” said Martin afterwards. “She’s a fair filly and could improve again.”
Lady Giselle was subsequently disqualified after jockey Gary Carroll didn’t weigh in correctly.
Just three days after winning at Down Royal, Target Acquired humped 10st 5lbs to a game success in the seven-furlong handicap under a power-packed Chris Hayes drive.
“It was a bit of risk bringing him back so quick but he’s tough and stuck to it well,” said trainer Andy Oliver. “He had a lot of weight. Chris came out with a saddle like he was going to ride in a bumper!”