The ‘Master of Rosewell House’, Dermot Weld finally won the Epsom Derby. His Harzand, owned by the Aga Khan and ridden by his stable jockey Pat Smullen took the honours in style. He beat two Aidan O’Brien trained horses, favourite US Army Ranger and Idaho, in an Irish 1-2-3.
After Port Douglas weakened in the straight, stable companion Idaho was sent clear by Seamie Heffernan, only for Harzand to go after and pass him two furlongs from home. US Army Ranger, under a waiting ride by Ryan Moore, finally made his move and bore down on the front two. Harzand kept pulling out that little bit more all the way to the line, and neither of the O’Brien horses could get close enough. A remarkable victory for the colt, who only won his maiden in March, after only one run as a 2-year-old.
The horse’s participation in the race was under threat beforehand, as the Colt spread a plate on his way to Epsom.
Speaking to Attheraces today Weld said, “We’ve been fortunate, and these are the big races you want to win. I think we’ve won 23 Classics and this was a very special one.
“Life is an amazing thing, every day you value it but we had a very stressful, very exciting day. It all started when he pulled his shoe off at Dublin airport.
“I told Pat at the start if he wasn’t happy to say so, it didn’t matter to me if it was a maiden or a Derby.
“It was a long old day, with four hours of ice but with the help of colleagues we saved the day.
“When he won the Ballysax, beating Idaho, who I really rate, there were five Group horses in that and I felt that was good enough form to go for the Derby.”
“When Pat rode Midterm in the Dante nothing special went through my mind, the fact he might be on him in the Derby never entered my head. He’s my retained jockey, we’ve a long association, he rides my horses and hopefully will as long as I’m training,” said Weld.
“Pat can ride in England and other parts of the world when I don’t require him, that’s in his contract and our understanding, he has zero problem with that.”
“Pat has been highly successful for me since he took over from Michael Kinane, I’ve only had those two in 30 years. Both outstanding riders who had the freedom to ride for others when I didn’t require them. They are two brilliant riders.
“Time will reveal all, he’s a lovely colt, he could be an ideal English Leger horse or indeed if it was a wet autumn a lovely horse for the Arc but that’s all for the future.
“He’s a lovely improving colt and I think the quality and courage came out yesterday. Determination from both horse and rider.
“He’s a very tough horse, that’s what won the day, when the challenge went down and the die was cast, that’s what won the day.
“The staff gave me a wonderful reception, it’s a team effort here, I defy anybody to have a better team then I have here, we’ve won nearly 4000 races and it is based on team effort all the way through every member of my staff.
“I think I had to put the Derby on my CV.”
On the issues before the race, “I think the hoof problem is done and dusted, at the moment he’s on his way to Holyhead and we’ll have a look at him when he gets home this evening.
“We took him out then as His Highness (the Aga Khan – the owner) was due to leave at 2.20pm to come to Epsom. The shoe was tacked on at 1.55pm and I was happy when he jogged with the track vet and he was perfectly sound. I called His Highness and away he came. We put his foot back in a bucket of ice for the next couple of hours and I stayed with him. We came down and saddled him later, which was the next test, and he jogged out perfectly sound. The track vet was also happy. We did it again to be sure and he was fine. The final test was Pat’s call. I told him that if he wasn’t happy with him at the start then he should just pull him out. I watched him go down on the big screen with Pat and he trotted down sound. So here we are – such is life
Jockey Pat Smullen said,”It was one of those races where everything went according to plan. It doesn’t happen too often but I couldn’t have been happier with the way things went. It was my initial plan to get the position we wanted early and he did that very well. He settled mid division with a little bit of cover from Idaho who was drawn across from me.
“I was always planning on following him throughout the race and that’s what I got to do. When Ryan went to challenge me, I knew my horse would get to the line really well. He’s getting there and has a lot of ability but his stamina is a big plus. When I got challenged, I could feel him pick up again and he got to the line really well.”
“He came down the hill reasonably well though he got on the wrong lead leg with me once or twice. The track did hold a little bit of a fear for me but the ease in the ground was definitely a huge help to us. It just gave him a bit more comfort down the hill and round Tattenham Corner. He handled the track well and, although he was exceedingly good today, he’s a good moving galloping horse and a more level track will suit him even better.”
“He has improved since Leopardstown because of his breeding. He’s a late maturing horse. As often happens, these staying three-year-olds start to come into themselves at this time of year. Once they start improving, they keep improving. He’s a typical late maturing colt and, when we worked him at the Curragh ten or so days ago, this is when we saw this horse coming into his own. He started to show the extra sparkle that we needed to see.”