Racing: Roche's solid faith in St Jovite: The Arc favourite's rider has reached a higher plateau since joining Jim Bolger. Richard Edmondson reports

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The Independent Online
AFTER more than 25 years in the saddle, Christy Roche thought he knew almost everything about racehorses. And then he met Jim Bolger.

Much of Roche's career has been spent with some of the great names of Irish racing - Paddy Prendergast and the O'Briens, Vincent and David - but it is the last three seasons at Bolger's County Carlow stable which now guide his thoughts.

'I would have to say that in the last three years I've learned more from Jim Bolger than I have from anybody,' Roche says. 'The way he does things is against everything I'd been told and everything I'd learned before. I've had to change all my thinking.'

Jim Bolger is perhaps unique in his view of the racehorse. Where others see a brittle creature which can be brought to a peak only occasionally during a season, he sees an athlete which must be tested severely, both on and off the racetrack.

'He's more a trainer of a horse than anybody I've ever known,' Roche says. 'His horses really have to work. In the Prendergast and O'Brien days I was of the opinion that a horse could only be at its best for six to eight weeks. But Jim Bolger's horses go right through the season holding their form.'

Bolger's way is certainly different but whether it is also correct gets its ultimate test on Sunday in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, for which his St Jovite is favourite.

Longchamp in October has been routinely the burial ground for great colts down the years - Nijinksy, Troy, Reference Point and Generous 12 months ago have all lost some some of their lustre in the race - but these precedents do not hold Bolger's attention for long. 'I'm not too concerned about history,' he says.

The history of St Jovite himself shows that when he arrived at Coolcullen, 1,000 feet above sea level on the Castlecomer plateau, he showed more potential than immediate performance. 'At the beginning he was the type of two-year-old you would be looking to save,' Roche says. 'A long, rangy horse that was going to be a back-end two-year-old.

'But when he ran behind Arazi in the Grand Criterium (at Longchamp) I remember dismounting and saying to Jim that we had a Classic horse. The owner (Virginia Kraft Payson) looked at me with some doubt, but I was very happy in my own mind that I was going into the winter with a real good horse.'

But Roche appeared to come out of the winter with just a horse whose reputation had exploded when St Jovite was defeated in the Gladness Stakes in the spring.

After a subsequent unimpressive victory at Leopardstown, the colt arrived at Epsom for the Derby with little to commend him. But that race, and the days following, transformed the horse into Europe's finest racing machine.

St Jovite overcame a slight knee injury to finish second to Dr Devious and then further proved his hardiness during an even tougher training regime.

'He went through a stage where he was either going to be good or he was just going to be ordinary,' Roche says. 'I've seen a lot of good horses go the wrong side of the thin line, but he took his work and his mind just changed. He was man enough to stand up to it and take everything he got.

'By the time he got to the Irish Derby he was unbeatable. On that day he was the best I've ever seen or ridden.'

That, though, was Roche's last victory on the horse. The jockey was in the course of a suspension when St Jovite outclassed his field in the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot, while he was caught napping in the Irish Champion Stakes and passed on the line by Dr Devious. 'That was an expensive mistake,' he says. But not one to demean him in the eyes of Bolger.

'Christy's won me more short-head races than he's lost and I think the reason that race has got noticed so much is because people know that is not a weakness of his. In fact I'd say the biggest thing he's got going for him is his finish. He's the strongest finisher in racing worldwide today. I suppose that's down to his physique.'

Roche is small even for a rider, yet his minimum weight is 8st 5lb. When he walks out of the weighing room the impression is that his figure is little more than a chunky torso.

The 42-year-old has more than just strength about him, however. Indeed, Bolger believes the jockey's ability to unravel the intricacies of St Jovite have made the colt the force he is today.

'Christy has developed a great understanding with the horse as we have gone along,' the trainer says. 'St Jovite didn't make anything too obvious to us early on and it was only from piecing together little bits of information that we found out about the horse.

'Christy's observations in that regard have been a huge help to me and I would certainly not have been able to get St Jovite to where he was on Irish Derby day without his help.'

Both trainer and jockey are confident the horse remains in the form of his Classic victory. 'I rode him the other morning a steady swinging canter and I've never been as happy to be off a horse as I was then,' Roche says. 'He's so well it's unbelievable and I was afraid he would throw me off.'

St Jovite will have to stay in this shape if he is to produce another buck, to the trend of recent years, in the Bois de Boulogne this weekend.

(Photograph omitted)