Bolger to outpunch O'Brien in York prizefight

Mankind is always being blamed for blighting the grandeur of Nature, but this time things look like working out the other way round. For while the men responsible for Duke Of Marmalade and New Approach were hoping to reach for the stars at York this afternoon, it is very hard for anyone to get his feet off ground quite as muddy as this.

Yesterday, after some understandable vacillation, connections confirmed that Duke Of Marmalade will take his chance against the Derby winner in the Juddmonte International Stakes. But heavy going means that there is precious little prospect of what might be called a clean fight.

These outstanding Irish colts, in this discipline perhaps the world champions of their respective generations, were coming here to meet on neutral turf. In the event, however, it seems inevitable that the ground will itself prove critical to the outcome.

At the best of times, York has often seemed prey to mysterious track biases. Judged on its generous topography, the Knavesmire should be the fairest track in the land, yet tends to produce invisible highways, often favouring frontrunners. In fairness, the executive is investing heavily in new drainage to ensure that York is as hospitable to those on four legs as it is, beyond question, to those on two. But something along the lines of the Thames flood barrier will be needed to cope with another August as vile as this one.

The irony will be lost on few who wondered whether the meeting's extension, to include a fourth day, might result in a "dilution" of quality. Either way, it will be tough going for the groundsmen if the surface is to remain fit for Group One runners in the Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes on Friday.

All in all, the conditions represent a dispiriting context to what should, by rights, be the showdown of the year to date. In one corner, Duke Of Marmalade, immaculate in four Group One wins already this season, including when trying a new distance at Ascot last time. In the other, New Approach, a decisive Derby winner, and an old-fashioned one, too, having also been champion juvenile. On paper, you can forget the rest. It is more like a match between prizefighters. Consider the cornermen, too: the matchless Aidan O'Brien matched against his mentor, Jim Bolger; and the inveterate winners of Coolmore against that unflagging adventurer, Sheikh Mohammed.

Yet the chances are that the canvas has already been skewed. For the one potential chink in the armour of the iron Duke remains ground like this. He has never experienced anything like it, and while his jockey, Johnny Murtagh, clings to the belief that this horse "would die for you", it would be a pity to see him discover any kind of pain barrier when he still has vital challenges ahead this autumn.

In fairness, we have become accustomed to O'Brien fortifying brilliant horses with hardiness and versatility. Even in risking Duke Of Marmalade, moreover, his masters have confirmed that their own interests nowadays seem to dovetail far more happily with those of the sporting public.

It is pretty obvious, of course, where O'Brien learned how to toughen horses. Bolger has never excused his charges graft. To more conventional minds, indeed, the setback that caused New Approach to be scratched from the Irish Derby could yet prove a very timely one – Bolger having found himself obliged to give the colt the sort of midsummer break orthodoxy demands for any Classic horse asked to hold his form into the autumn.

By the same token, New Approach is entitled to need the run today, which in turn potentially vitiates the benefit of his proven ability to handle deep ground. It may even prove that the singular circumstances permit some interloper to bridge the abyss dividing the two favourites from the rabble, but those contemplating a bet are best advised to treat last year's race as a template.

On that occasion, the Derby winner, Authorized, gained first run on Dylan Thomas. This time round O'Brien has campaigned Duke Of Marmalade along the same path as Dylan Thomas, only with still more success; but he may yet meet a similar reverse against another exceptional Epsom winner, in New Approach (3.25).

There is too much guesswork involved, however, for punters to get seriously involved in these conditions. Patkai, for instance, was well beaten in soft ground in the spring but has subsequently improved into an obvious St Leger favourite; Top Lock (2.50) at least slogged his way into third in the German Derby in horrible ground and could prove better value for the Ladbrokes Great Voltigeur Stakes.

And who can say which of the unexposed youngsters will handle the gloop best in the Acomb Stakes? Experience could be important, and perhaps that will bring Rileyskeepingfaith (2.15) into play at a good price.

There are fewer doubts, however, about Allied Powers (4.40) in the last. Proven in testing ground, he looked ready for renewed progress when failing to get home over a longer distance last time.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Google celebrates the 126th anniversary of the Eiffel Tower opening its doors to the public for the first time
techGoogle celebrates Paris's iconic landmark, which opened to the public 126 years ago today
Cleopatra the tortoise suffers from a painful disease that causes her shell to disintegrate; her new prosthetic one has been custom-made for her using 3D printing technology
newsCleopatra had been suffering from 'pyramiding'
Life and Style
Baroness Lane-Fox warned that large companies such as have become so powerful that governments and regulators are left behind
techTech giants have left governments and regulators behind
Arts and Entertainment
Coachella and Lollapalooza festivals have both listed the selfie stick devices as “prohibited items”
Nigel Owens was targeted on Twitter because of his sexuality during the Six Nations finale between England and France earlier this month
rugbyReferee Nigel Owens on coming out, and homophobic Twitter abuse
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor