Bolger's Approach turns back on Epsom
It turns out that New Approach was named rather too conservatively. This was more like the shock of the new. The discovery that Jim Bolger is not interested in running the champion colt of his generation at Epsom represents not so much a radical departure from expectations, as a brilliant, outrageous mutiny.
Assuming all goes well when New Approach runs in the Stan James 2,000 Guineas, at Newmarket on Saturday week, Bolger's present intention is to proceed to the Irish version of the same race, and then to the Irish Derby. Needless to say, this comes as harrowing news for those who have backed him for Epsom.
It is a year since Teofilo, himself an unbeaten Classic favourite, was forced out of the Guineas by problems that proved so chronic that he was retired to stud. Now Bolger, who saddled New Approach to win the same races last season, has again sent shockwaves across the ante-post markets. Last year it was by accident, this time it is by design.
For unfortunate speculators, of course, the result is the same. Broader perspectives, however, will register a seismic difference between the chapters. For no punter will be feeling deeper pain today than the management of Epsom.
Casually disclosing his priorities for the colt to a thunderstruck gathering of journalists at his stables yesterday, Bolger reasoned that he has never won the Irish Guineas. Somebody haltingly reminded him that he had never won the Derby, either. "Ah sure, that'll happen in time," he said.
He emphasised that he was not "shying away" from the Derby, and that he had no doubt New Approach would handle the track. But while the greatest Irish patriot would struggle to exalt the Irish Guineas over Epsom, the nationalist in Bolger will be aware of the consequences for the Irish Derby. If New Approach happened to win two Classics over a mile before stepping up to the Derby distance, he will cast a long shadow over the field that does assemble at Epsom. Little wonder if Bolger expressed decorous gratitude to Sheikh Mohammed, who bought New Approach last autumn, for leaving responsibility for the colt's programme in his hands.
Bookmakers promptly scratched New Approach from their Derby lists, Stan James promoting Twice Over to favouritism at 9-2. This abrupt hullabaloo interrupted a grey, fragrant morning of birdsong and optimism on in Co Kilkenny. Impervious to the fuss, New Approach came bounding uphill, exuding confidence.
His immaculate juvenile career permitted just two reservations: a nervy disposition, and the indolence of his final win, in the Dewhurst Stakes. "We overdid the settling that day," Bolger said. "The way we'd been training him made him a bit lethargic. It was the first time he'd been able to race in that mode, but he was still able to deliver. OK, it took a bit of time to stoke him up, but he was only dossing."
As for the idiosyncrasies, Bolger abjured the word "quirks". The colt has settled down in the company of his constant escort, Metamorphosis, and has overcome an aversion to the archway to the Curragh parade ring. Bolger worked him there nine days ago and saw New Approach walk meekly under the arch 16 times."
Bolger, of course, is accustomed to imposing his austere discipline on young talent, as mentor to a modern colossus of both jump and Flat racing. "Tony McCoy and Aidan O'Brien were here at the same time," he said. "Along with Paul Carberry, Willie Musson and Kevin Manning. And we were hearing rumours that Jim Bolger had no staff."
O'Brien? "His driving was terrible." As for McCoy, Bolger admits that he once told him to get up and pull himself together after a gallops fall, only to discover he had broken his leg. Looking around the rolling horizons of forest and hills, he gave a wry grin. "I was concerned he might wake the neighbours," he said.
McCoy will be back here today to ride, among others, Jered in the VC Bet Champion Novice Hurdle, one of three Grade Ones decorating the first day of the Punchestown Festival.
Nap: The Magic Blanket (Southwell 1.35)
NB: Sugar Ray (Bath 6.4 5)
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