Bolger now a man of two worlds
It takes a singular man to achieve so pervasive an influence. As mentor to both Aidan O'Brien and Tony McCoy, Jim Bolger has long been respected among racing professionals as a grey eminence. It is only in the past couple of years, however, that the rich texture of that legacy has become more broadly understood. In crowning his resurgence at Newmarket on Saturday, with his sixth and seventh Group One prizes of the year, Bolger seemed the very nexus of the European Turf.
As a man who insists on his own terms, Bolger has held his own between two empires. In the cold war between the Maktoums and Coolmore, he is a rogue power to whom both must acknowledge a debt. Both as trainer and breeder, he has contributed hugely to the emergence of Galileo as heir to Sadler's Wells – and guaranteed the continued prosperity of Coolmore. But Bolger has also allowed Sheikh Mohammed access to the precious genes he cannot bring himself to acquire at auction. In exchange for Teofilo and New Approach, both sons of Galileo, the Sheikh has made Bolger a wealthy man. In turn, however, he has received full value.
While it was hardly rocket science to buy a champion juvenile, it was justifiable for the Sheikh's team to be so pleased with the way New Approach finished his career on Saturday. Though the Sheikh himself was absent, he could scarcely devise a more comforting ensemble: his wife, Princess Haya, receiving a prize sponsored by Emirates Airlines. Whatever New Approach had been worth 12 months before, when rounding off his first season in the Dewhurst Stakes, he had since become priceless – only the third Dewhurst winner, and the first in nerly a century, to add both the Derby and now the Champion Stakes.
At the same time, however, his very brilliance placed the surrounding shadows in stark relief. Not just for the Champion Stakes itself, but in Sheikh Mohammed's troubled bloodstock dominions. In better times, he would have loved to keep New Approach in training. Bolger himself had openly stated that the horse would improve at four, given the chance. That seemed a bold assertion, after two very demanding seasons, but the pitch of the colt's performance on Saturday – perfectly tensed between his innate exuberance and a new composure – implied that his trainer might well be right.
The colt had shed all eccentricities. As Bolger put it himself: "He had it all worked out for himself today, and gave me the two fingers on this his last run."
But the Sheikh simply cannot afford to give Bolger another year with this horse. An unusual state of affairs, clearly, for a man who can generally afford anything he fancies. On Saturday, however, his bloodstock manager, John Ferguson, candidly acknowledged that New Approach is needed to accelerate the regeneration already being sought in other young stallions such as Authorized – himself a conduit to Coolmore's other new star, Montjeu.
Behind the recent stagnation of the Sheikh's breeding and racing interests, there is a quiet schism. Some say that the quality of horses entering training has been inadequate. Others, that the training operation has not been doing them justice. His hectic pursuit of fresh blood implies that the Sheikh accepts the former view – though to a degree the whole sport is sharing the cost, by losing a champion in full bloom.
When the Sheikh watches Bolger in his pomp – getting New Approach to thrive on a gruelling schedule, and now winning the Dewhurst Stakes for a third year running – he may well see the similarities in O'Brien, who learned his own perfectionism at Coolcullen. It is not beyond the Sheikh's own lieutenants, of course: John Gosden, for instance, hopes that Raven's Pass can complete a season of relentless achievement at Santa Anita on Saturday. Presumably it is more by ill luck than judgement that the Sheikh's principal stable mislaid its best three-year-olds this season, in Rio De La Plata, Ibn Khaldun and Fast Company. Even so, Godolphin will be under obvious pressure to match the renewal of their resources with results.
It will take time, however, for the new stock to come through. In fairness, the stable has introduced several promising juveniles this month, and made a significant breakthrough on Saturday when All The Good won its first Grade One prize in Australia – focus of conspicuous new investment by the Sheikh over the past year. All The Good is now among the leading fancies for the Melbourne Cup (though Mad Rush, who finished well after meeting traffic, is now favourite).
But Godolphin's restoration as a force in the top juvenile races last year proved illusory. Not that this looks a vintage crop overall. The Dewhurst turned into a crowd scene, and Rip Van Winkle will surely come out best next spring – having gained valuable experience, at no cost to his enthusiasm, on the heels of the protagonists.
The winner, Intense Focus, hardly had the same éclat as Teofilo or New Approach, but those who have worked for Bolger say he could not be better named. For his owner, much the same will seem true of New Approach, when he takes up his next role.
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