Brilliance nurtured in a Derby-winning 'bully'
Tuesday 10 June 2008
We are all products of both our heredity and environment and talented, temperamental New Approach is no different. And if the psychiatrists who trace back flaws in character to early experience and hidden memories are right, then the Derby winner's difficult personality – which Jim Bolger and his team deserve the utmost praise for managing – may be explained.
The high-mettled chestnut had an unusual childhood, unique among Epsom heroes. His mother, Park Express, was blind for the last six years of her life, though during that time she reared four foals. New Approach was the last of them and, unlikely as it may seem, his first playtime companions were bovine, not equine.
His breeder, Seamus Burns, owner of renowned Lodge Park Stud in Co Kilkenny, explained. "It was for Park Express's safety," he said. "Without sight she could not defend herself against any disagreements among her own species. And cattle are placid, much more so than horses."
The baby New Approach had a bell on his small head collar so his mother would always know where he was. And the young colt, who had none of his own age and kind to put manners on him until he was weaned, grew up with an independent streak and a high opinion of himself, one which was shared by Burns. "I've been selling for more than 40 years," he said, "and I thought he was the best we'd ever produced."
But the circumstances of his upbringing meant he was, to a certain extent, a spoilt brat, as Bolger will testify. "He was never in a hard situation in his very early life," he said, "and it was a whole new ball game when we started to train and race him. I think under the circumstances he's coping very well."
As has been well-documented, the problem of New Approach's volatility before races has been solved by the calming omnipresence of his escort, stablemate Metamorphosis, and his over-keenness in competition by behind-the-scenes work on settling him. He is becoming more tractable but he is, by any standards, a difficult ride, and even a dangerous one. Half a ton of thoroughbred on the verge of being out of control is no joke and Kevin Manning presumably has balls of steel.
"The horse can be a bit of a bully as far as humans are concerned," added Bolger, "but we put up with it, and work around it. We try to go with him rather than against him. He's very different to any horse I've had."
New Approach's genetic inheritance is difficult to fault. He was the second Group One winner for his Derby-winning sire, Galileo, in two days, after Soldier Of Fortune in the Coronation Cup. Bolger trains the three-year-old and bred the four-year-old, who are now the first two favourites for both King George and Arc.
Park Express, whom Bolger trained, was a top-class middle-distance runner in her own right and after a series of increasingly expensive transactions, starting with the €430,000 he made as a yearling, New Approach is in the ownership of Sheikh Mohammed.
By contrast, the Oaks heroine, Look Here, races for her breeder. And although former Jockey Club senior steward Julian Richmond-Watson may sound the sort of person to have vast ancestral acres and a fleet of blue-blooded broodmares, he produces horses on a hobby scale. He has just five mares at his Lawn Stud in Northamptonshire.
He bought Look Here's grand-dam, Derniere Danse, a lesser specimen from the good French family of classy sprinters Pursuit Of Love and Divine Dance, for just 13,500gns at auction 18 years ago. She produced just one winner in his green silks, the moderate Kris filly Kristina, whose older sister Last Look, by Rainbow Quest, was too much of a potential crock to go into training.
She made up for it as a mum, though, with seven winners from seven foals before her death last year. She saved by far the best, Look Here, until last. "My dream was to breed a Derby winner," said Richmond-Watson, "and for a filly, the Oaks is the Derby. For an operation the size of mine to do it is just amazing and I can still hardly believe it."
But as hardy as New Approach is, Look Here is not; light-framed like all her family, she needs time between races. The daughter of Hernando will miss the Irish Oaks, with the Yorkshire Oaks and St Leger pencilled in.
Neither will Sunday's hugely impressive French Oaks winner, Zarkava, be present at the Curragh next month. The Aga Khan's unbeaten colourbearer is to have a summer break before her build-up to a tilt at the colts in the Arc.
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