Updated on 09/16/2011 8:48AM

Matriarch another thrill for Weld

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Pat Smullen guides Dress to Thrill to victory in Sunday's Matriarch at Hollywood for trainer Dermot Weld. Weld has won races all over the world this year, his 30th as a trainer.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Apparently, there is another Irish trainer besides the one named O'Brien. Has been for quite some time.

At the age of 54, Dermot Kenneth Weld, himself the son of a trainer, is marking his 30th year as a "permit holder," as they would say back in County Kildare. The celebration has been global in nature, with major 2002 victories in Australia, France, Ireland, and now the good ol' U.S.A., after Sunday's victory in the $500,000 Matriarch Stakes by the 3-year-old Irish-bred filly Dress to Thrill.

For Weld watchers, this came as no great surprise. After all, he is the all-time leading trainer of Irish winners, with a total of more than 2,700 to go along with his eight national championships, as well as victories in each of the Irish classics.

It is upon the international stage, however, that Weld has earned his lasting reputation. In 1990 he won the Belmont Stakes with his Irish-trained colt Go and Go, a wake-up call for Triple Crown business-as-usual. In 1991 he became the first trainer based in Europe to win a race in highly insulated Hong Kong.

In 1993, Weld accomplished the unthinkable, shipping the Irish stayer Vintage Crop halfway around the world to take the Melbourne Cup from a nation of stunned Australians. Then, on Nov. 5, he did it again, winning a second Melbourne Cup, with Media Puzzle, and a prize equivalent to $1.1 million.

More than 120,000 fans filled Melbourne's Flemington Race Course for the 2002 Cup. After winning the race, the ceremonies seem to go on for hours, and the postrace press conference rivals a White House briefing. Weld, playing the international diplomat, was expansive in his praise of the host country.

The scene confronting Weld was a bit different at Hollywood Park on Sunday. The crowd numbered 8,923 (they have that many people tending bar at the Melbourne Cup), and the opposition was considerably fewer than the 31 runners faced by Media Puzzle.

Still, Dress to Thrill had to run the best race of her life, improving over her four wins against older mares in Ireland and England, and certainly stepping up from her eighth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Mile. Catching soft ground that day, she was beaten about five lengths by Domedriver and Rock of Gibraltar, and three lengths by Good Journey, who won Saturday's Citation Handicap with ease.

"That race did not reflect her true ability," Weld said of the Mile. "I wanted people to see what she was really capable of."

Several mares with busy passports have won the Matriarch in the past. But Dress to Thrill is the first to bounce back and forth from Ireland to Illinois to Ireland and back to California, all in the period of a month, and then rise to such an occasion. Her victory over Golden Apples, Banks Hill and Affluent led Weld to wonder if Dress to Thrill might stand some sort of chance in the Eclipse Award race for champion female on the grass.

The answer, frankly, was no. Her performance did nothing to sully the reputation of Golden Apples, who was beaten only a head in an effort that should be good enough to give her the title. With a campaign that began in March and included three major victories, Golden Apples never dodged an opponent or failed to run her race. Years from now, her name will look good on the list of champions.

Weld took the news well. After all, he got the money. As he waited patiently in Hollywood Park's television center for a videotape copy of the race, he dismissed any suggestion that there was a secret formula to his success with international competition.

"There are three keys to doing well when you travel," he began. "The horse must be physically well, he must be mentally well, and you must have a support staff with experience. The goal is to reproduce the same horse you have at home in a different part of the world."

Sounds pretty basic. So why can't everybody do it?

"It is simple, really," Weld said. "I mean, anybody can train a horse. It's not that complicated. The challenge for me, and the real satisfaction, is getting inside their heads.

"I suppose that goes back to my background as a veterinarian," he went on. "I've always been around animals, large and small, and I guess feel a sympathy with them. I had a Siamese cat get me out of bed every day until I was 14.

"The challenge, then, in sending horses a long way from home, is gauging how they'll take it mentally. Their physical condition will follow. I don't like it when I hear people call horses dumb. They're not. Some learn differently than others, and some react differently when asked to do something new. But they are not stupid."

Dress to Thrill's defeat in the Breeders' Cup came on the heels of four wins without a loss in 2002. Weld reacted analytically.

"Before the Breeders' Cup, I might not have been inclined to run her past a mile," he said. "But I liked the way she finished that day, especially on soft ground she did not really like.

"So you see, you can learn a lot from defeat," Weld added. "Sometimes even more than from victory. She showed me at Arlington that she could go on to a mile and one-eighth without question. That's when we began looking toward the Matriarch."

The rest is Irish history.