07/02/2003 11:00PM

Dimitrova is Weld's latest Irish export


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - From the major racecourses in Europe to points as far away as Australia and California, no major stakes is too far from the reach of Irish trainer Dermot Weld.

Even in an era when shipping horses around the world has become commonplace, Weld has a remarkable list of achievements outside Ireland, where he has been the champion trainer eight times.

Saturday at Hollywood Park, Weld will attempt to win the second running of the $750,000 American Oaks with Dimitrova, who is making her first start outside Ireland.

"Her record is there," Weld said. "She will represent us very well."

For opposition owners and trainers, that sort of statement is equivalent to a shot across the bow. Weld, 54, has been something of a pirate over the last 15 years, raiding major races on three continents.

In 1990, he won the Belmont Stakes with Go and Go. In Australia, Weld has won two runnings of the Melbourne Cup, that country's biggest race, with Vintage Crop in 1993 and last year with Media Puzzle.

Last fall, Weld won the $500,000 Matriarch Stakes here with Dress to Thrill, who had finished eighth in the Breeders' Cup Mile at Arlington Park.

In May, Weld won the English 2000 Guineas with Refuse to Bend, who finished 13th of 20 in the Epsom Derby last month.

With that resume, it should not be a surprise that Weld is sending Dimitrova to California this weekend.

European fillies had a significant influence on the first running of the American Oaks. Of the 14 starters in last year's race, eight began their careers in Europe. Four of those were making their first starts in the United States.

Megahertz, who won the race after the disqualification of Dublino, began her career in France in 2001 and was making her fifth U.S. start. Dublino was making her third career start, having run twice in France.

Weld had a starter in Saranac Lake, a 47-1 shot. Saranac Lake had finished 14th in the Irish 1000 Guineas in May 2002 and could only manage 10th in the American Oaks.

Dimitrova has much better credentials at 3 than Saranac Lake had. Winless in two starts at 2, Dimitrova has won 2 of 3 starts this year, including the Leopardstown 1000 Guineas Trial in mid-April. In the Irish 1000 Guineas at The Curragh on May 25, she finished third by three-quarters of a length after leading with two furlongs remaining.

Even though Dimitrova has never run beyond a mile, the American Oaks distance of 1 1/4 miles on turf is not a major concern for Weld.

"I've thought about this race for a while," he said. "I wanted to have a runner that was good enough for it. She's a pretty good filly over a mile."

Like in 2002, this year's American Oaks has a heavy European presence. Of the 14 fillies entered, six have raced in Europe, and five are making their first U.S. starts.

Aside from Dimitrova, the European invaders are Meridiana, the Italian Oaks winner; Golden Nepi, the winner of the Italian 1000 Guineas; and Liska and Welcome Millenium, who were stakes-placed in France.

Weld is unsure how Dimitrova will handle a firm turf course, because she races over courses rated good and soft in Ireland. "It's a slight concern," he said.

Regardless of how Dimitrova fares on Saturday, this is not expected to be Weld's lone trip to California. After Refuse to Bend lost the Epsom Derby, Weld regrouped, saying that the colt would be better over a mile. In October, the trainer plans to start Refuse to Bend in the Breeders' Cup Mile at Santa Anita.