Weld adopts ‘best available’ policy in Smullen’s enforced absence

Aidan O’Brien saddles seven on prestigious Dubai World Cup card

Former champion jockey Declan McDonogh will be on board four horses for Dermot Weld at Cork on Saturday and the trainer plans to adopt a "best available" policy with riders this season.

Pat Smullen’s cancer diagnosis means Irish racing’s ‘Old Firm’ combination in on hold for the foreseeable future.

Leigh Roche substituted for Smullen on the Group Three winner Making Light at the start of the new turf campaign last Sunday.

Roche is in Meydan to ride Hit The Bid for Darren Bunyan in the Al Quoz Sprint on Saturday’s Dubai World Cup card leaving McDonogh to ride for Weld at Cork.


On the same card in 2016, Weld’s subsequent dual-Derby winner Harzand won his maiden under Smullen. Among McDonogh’s rides this weekend will be Imaging who has a pair of Joseph O’Brien rivals to beat in a three-runner conditions race.

"Pat was looking at a 19th season as my No. 1 rider. He's been here 21 years in all as he was understudy to Michael Kinane for two years before taking over. He's been a huge help to me over the years and will be missed for the moment. Please God he'll have a speedy recovery," said Weld.

“I will have no retained jockey this year. I will use the best available. Declan McDonogh is riding freelance so he will ride the four horses in Cork. Leigh Roche won the Group race for us last weekend and is riding in the big race in Dubai. He and Declan will be the main people in the coming weeks,” he added.

Imaging is already rated on 94 after his wide-margin win at Limerick last October and any classic ambitions he has are likely to be tested by the Navan winner Escamillio.

The Aga Khan-owned pair, Zamroudpour and Shareva, are two other Weld three year olds who could prove hard to beat.

Quick reappearance

Sunday’s Lincolnshire winner On The Go Again makes a quick reappearance in a ten furlong handicap. Now on a mark of 101, he has to carry 9.13 in deep ground and the Naas fourth Aussie Valantine could gain a measure of revenge.

Washington DC joins Hit The Bid in the Al Quoz and is part of a seven-strong Ballydoyle raid on Meydan.

Idaho tries to break his Group One duck in style in the Sheema Classic while both Lancaster Bomber and War Decree go in the nine furlong Turf event.

However much of Aidan O’Brien’s focus is likely to be on the Group Two UAE Derby where Mendelssohn in particular goes on trial for a tilt at the Kentucky Derby in May.

Seahenge and Threeandfourpence also join him in the ten furlong event on dirt where Godolphin’s Gold Town looks the big threat. The Ballydoyle trio filled the frame in Dundalk’s Patton Stakes earlier this month.

“It’s a step on to dirt for the first time for all three. It would be a great lead up to the Kentucky Derby if they were good enough to compete,” O’Brien said. “You’d imagine they could handle the dirt with their pedigrees.”

The other Irish starter on the World Cup card is Jessica Harrington’s stayer Torcedor in two-mile Gold Cup.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column