Approach conquers Epsom but not detractors

From being a doubtful runner less than a week ago, Bolger's colt lands British racing's blue riband. By Sue Montgomery at Epsom
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The Independent Online

Convoluted the build-up was, but here yesterday three remained calm. Jim Bolger, Kevin Manning and the faithful Metamorphosis stayedunperturbed as criticism andbrickbats rained down, and concentrated on the job in hand, getting the talented, volatile New Approach to the start of the Derby with his fragile ego intact. Their reward was victory but to a muted reception that was in stark contrast to the hysteria that greeted Frankie Dettori's maiden success 12 months previously. In truth they didn't really care.

The preliminaries were as much a part of the story of the 229th edition of the great race as the two and a half minutes on the track. The man at the eye of the storm, trainer Bolger, had courted controversy early in the spring when he announced that New Approach, last year's champion two-year-old and firm winter favourite, would not run at Epsom. Three weeks ago, when the colt's name remained among the entries, the Irishman still maintained that inclusion was a mistake. Then, six days ago, came the U-turn.

During the on-off-off-on saga Bolger was accused, in something of a media feeding frenzy on behalf of punters, of everything short of a selection of war crimes. Yes, inconvenience was caused to those involved in gambling but that by definition is two-sided; for every layer at long odds during the off period, there was a backer.

"Leaving the horse in the race was the biggest mistake I've made for a long time," said Bolger, defensive but unrepentant after the race, "but it was a fortuitous one. At the time I really did not intend him to be running here. But as everyone knows, with horses things change. You never know what is around the corner."

New Approach started at 5-1 second favourite and, given support for him during the close season and again during the past week, the result was not a good one for bookmakers.

One of the high-mettled chestnut's party quirks is that he needs a comfort blanket, in the form of his non-participating stablemate Metamorphosis and Bolger's assistant Adrian Taylor, to escort him to post. And but for a momentary flounce on the way to the parade ring, the temperamental star behaved impeccably.

And in the race, when things might also have gone wrong, Manning took over as his capable wingman. In the early stages the iron-mouthed colt was hustled by rivals and began to light up and run too keenly, but his jockey's silky, familiar hands on the reins steadied the situation.

New Approach dropped his head amenably and stopped running with the choke out. And despite having only two behind him coming round Tattenham Corner, and meeting traffic problems as he started to change gear in the straight, his class prevailed. As Manning steered him left-handed from the centre of the course towards the far side rail, he quickened past the 6-1 shot Tartan Bearer and stayed on strongly. There was one brief wobble under pressure close home, but his half-length success was decisive.

Casual Conquest, the 9-2 favourite, stayed on stoutly for third place, four and a half lengths adrift, followed in by Tartan Bearer's Sir Michael Stoute stablemate Doctor Fremantle and the Aidan O'Brien pair Washington Irving and Allesandro Volta. The fancied Curtain Call came in 10th, two places in front of Johnny Murtagh's choice from Ballydoyle, King Of Rome.

Manning's last-furlong manoeuvre across the course, which slightly impeded Dettori on fading Rio De La Plata, earned him a three-day ban for careless riding. "Early on I got caught between a couple, and he was running too strong, and I had to take him further back than I'd planned, but then he settled well for me. Down the hill there were a lot of horses on the fence, but Frankie was travelling well and he and Richard Hills [on Tajaaweed] took me through the gaps. In the straight I was running down behind the heels of four or five, the camber was hanging in and there didn't seem to be much room on the inside, so I got out and was able to keep up his momentum.

"I had an awful lot of horse underneath me, and closer home I rolled him back on to the fence. He gets the mile-and-a-half well, but he's very pacey too, and to do what he's just done he had to be. He's just a very, very classy horse. And after all the hype, it was just great to get him here today and get the job done."

New Approach runs in the colours of Princess Haya of Jordan, wife of Sheikh Mohammed of Dubai. The Sheikh acquired the son of Galileo after his unbeaten juvenile career for considerably more than the €430,000 (£344,000) he cost Bolger as a yearling, but left the care and management of the colt to his trainer. Co Carlow-based Bolger's Plan A had been the English and Irish Guineas, in both of which New Approach finished second, with a break before a tilt at the Irish Derby, which was seen in some quarters as a snub for the world's most famous race.

But when yesterday's hero emerged from the Curragh mile contest in fighting fettle, the real serendipity of Bolger's clerical error became apparent, as he was able to adopt Plan B.

"He lost no weight at the Curragh, not an ounce, and three days later he was bucking and squealing," said Bolger, an island of a man who does things his way. "Things in life change, and this was one of them, but I did not say anything to anyone until I was absolutely sure of my ground. As far as I'm concerned, I have never treated the general public like anything else than grown-ups at any point. And I'm sure the punters who backed him ante-post are happy."

It was Bolger's first Derby win, after second spots from St Jovite and Blue Judge. "I love to be competitive," he said. "I thought beforehand that winning would be up there with my best moments, but now I'll willingly say that it is the very best day I have had in racing."