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Dermot Weld warns against limiting international entrants

Ireland's Melbourne Cup pioneer acclaims Joseph O’Brien’s ‘wonderful achievement’

Trainer Joseph O’Brien holds the Melbourne Cup trophy after his horse Rekindling won race seven at Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne. Photograph: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

Ireland’s Melbourne Cup pioneer Dermot Weld has acclaimed Joseph O’Brien’s success with Rekindling in “the race that stops a nation” as a “wonderful achievement” and warned against limiting the number of international runners for Australia’s most famous contest in future.

Rekindling led home an astounding 1-2-3 for Irish horses at Flemington with Aidan O’Brien’s Johannes Vermeer finishing runner-up and Willie Mullins’s Max Dynamite – runner-up in 2015 – having to settle for third this time.

Of the 11 international raiders in Tuesday’s race, eight finished in the first ten. Mullins’s two other starters, Thomas Hobson and Wicklow Brave, finished sixth and 10th respectively. Joseph O’Brien’s other hope, US Army Ranger, was 18th.   

Such overseas domination is likely to fuel considerable unease already within Australian racing about its greatest prize losing both some of its local flavour and also potential opportunities for home-based horses to make the top 24 in the handicap.

Last week, governing authority Racing Victoria’s chief executive said a balance is required between local interest and the Melbourne Cup’s international element.  

“The idea is the internationals come down to take on the locals on their own patch,” Giles Thompson was quoted as saying. “I don’t know what the right number is and I suspect it depends on the strength of the internationals what the right number is.”

Tuesday’s race was the third time 11 overseas-trained runners have lined up in the race.

Weld altered the face of world racing when Vintage Crop won the Melbourne Cup in 1993. He followed up with Media Puzzle in 2002 and on Tuesday Weld expressed his delight at the Irish clean-sweep in Flemington.

“I was proud and delighted to see Irish horses first, second and third. It just shows the strength of the industry in this country,” said the legendary Curragh trainer.

“It’s a wonderful achievement by Joseph. Great credit is due to him. Vintage Crop and Media Puzzle were trailblazers and overcame all sorts of hazards getting there. It’s a different scenario now and a lot easier to do but it’s still a great achievement,” Weld added.

Knee-jerk reaction

However, he cautioned against any knee-jerk reaction in Australia to its most coveted sporting prize turning into an overseas rout this year.

“It’s an international race and it should be open to all comers. I just think this year the Australian crop of staying horses has not been that strong,” he said.  

“When Vintage Crop won it was said that this was a great statement, that we internationalised the Melbourne Cup and brought it to the attention of the world. It would definitely be a retrograde step to put a limit on the number of non-Australian horses running in the race. The quality of the race would fall,” Weld added.

Rekindling became the first three-year-old to win the Melbourne Cup since 1941 although he is technically classed as a four-year-old in southern hemisphere terms. He provided a link to the past too in stopping a run of 97 failed attempts since Vintage Crop by horses trying to win the cup in their first start in Australia.

Joseph O’Brien was only born in 1993 and beating his father in such an exciting climax was inevitably the focus of Flemington attention. Veteran local rider Corey Brown, a cup winner on Shocking in 2009, did the steering on Rekindling who had half a length in hand at the line.

It was a remarkable result for O’Brien who has held an official training licence for just over 18 months having ended a brief but stellar riding career in 2016. His previous Group One success came with Intricately in last year’s Moyglare Stud Stakes.

“He had a very light weight and a lovely draw. It’s not often in a big race that things go so well but the whole way through the race I was delighted,” O’Brien told local media afterwards.

It was a sixth win in the race for Australian owner Lloyd Williams, who also has Johannes Vermeer, and he predicted: “You have just seen the start of an amazing career. He [O’Brien] is an extraordinary young man and this is an amazing achievement.”

‘Unique’ victory

President Michael D Higgins, recently returned from a State visit to Australia, congratulated O’Brien on Rekindling’s victory and pointed to the “unique” Irish 1-2-3.

Horse Racing Ireland’s chief executive, Brian Kavanagh, also congratulated the 24-year-old trainer “on his incredible feat in winning the Melbourne Cup in what is his first full season as a trainer. He has achieved victory in a race coveted by most trainers for all of their careers.”

He added: “To tune into the most famous flat race in the world this morning and see a horse trained in Kilkenny beat one trained in Tipperary and another in Carlow was a proud moment for everybody in Irish racing.”

O’Brien finished the 2017 flat season in Ireland with 40 winners but Dundalk’s all-weather action continues on Wednesday where the new Melbourne Cup hero has five runners.

They include the Galileo newcomer Anchovy who carries the colours of the US celebrity chef Bobby Flay in the opening juvenile maiden.

New champion jockey Colin Keane has a full book of eight rides and will aim to secure four in a row at the track on the in-form Ben Rumson in the finale.

Padraig Beggy’s handful of winners in 2017 include the Epsom Derby and a pair of Group Three events. He scored for O’Brien jnr at Naas on Sunday courtesy of Band of Outlaws and can repeat the feat on Darkolva before potentially landing the maiden for Ballydoyle on Motivator’s half-sister Clear Skies.