Chris McGrath: New Approach the streetfighter to knock Duke's lofty reputation
Saturday 23 August 2008
A new set of questions, maybe, but the approach remains the same. For while Duke Of Marmalade is one of the breed's true aristocrats, he may face too unruly, too seditious a challenger in the Derby winner.
As always, however, dogma only ever takes root in the soil of doubt. Anyone who treats the most engrossing showdown of the season to date principally as a betting opportunity has had the last traces of reason gnawed away by avarice.
How can you be adamant that New Approach, absent since his thrilling success at Epsom, will be able to produce his very best form after a convalescence? Or that Duke Of Marmalade, in outclassing a humdrum collection of older horses, has surpassed the form of this outstanding three-year-old?
All that can be said with certainty is that their chances of forcing one another to a fresh peak at Newmarket today will have been greatly enhanced by the transfer of the Juddmonte International Stakes from its original home at York. Frustrating as it was when the Ebor meeting was finally interred in the saturated Knavesmire, the fact is that heavy ground would have horribly distorted the relative merits of these two Irish champions. It is not just the race that has now been moved. So have the goalposts.
At York, Duke Of Marmalade's innocence of testing conditions made New Approach, who won in bad ground in Ireland last year, the only prudent bet. Now that they meet on fast going at Newmarket, we are at least guaranteed a clean fight.
Certainly Aidan O'Brien is delighted that Duke Of Marmalade has ended up back on the quick surface he adores. It is thought that the Ballydoyle trainer was prepared to risk his horse at York largely because the race was the first one of the meeting scheduled on the round course. Interestingly, however, it was Jim Bolger who had already scratched New Approach when the card was unexpectedly abandoned on Tuesday morning.
Given that his colt is proven in heavy ground, Bolger was clearly concerned that he might be wrenched apart on his return from an enforced summer break. On that basis, perhaps he feels New Approach will improve for the run. This race falls conveniently, after all, as a prelude to the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown in a fortnight.
On the other hand, neither Bolger nor New Approach has ever gone about his work half-heartedly. The last time the colt resumed after an absence, he ran a champion miler to a photo in the 2,000 Guineas. To be capable of doing that, a month before pulling the runner-up four and a half lengths clear of the Derby field, makes New Approach a quite extraordinary animal.
As a late developer, Duke Of Marmalade has never shown the ruthless pace that made New Approach champion juvenile last season. And he will never meet Henrythenavigator, of course, as they represent the same interests. But could anyone seriously envisage him getting a field of top-class milers off the bridle the way New Approach did in the Guineas?
New Approach had already done that once to Raven's Pass, the Guineas fourth, in the Dewhurst Stakes last autumn. That colt has since finished in Henrythenavigator's slipstream at both Ascot and Goodwood, and should finally get that first win of the season, long overdue as it is, when returning to Sussex this afternoon.
Raven's Pass is a top-class colt who barely gets a mile, but New Approach was essentially too fast for him. He then won the Derby despite refusing to settle. Whatever new heights Duke Of Marmalade may achieve today, so far he has never beaten a colt as good as this one.
As Bolger observed at Newmarket yesterday: "All the very good horses win Group Ones over a mile, a mile and a quarter and a mile and a half." That seems to be true of all the good ones by Galileo, at any rate, and certainly those trained at Coolcullen. Bolger had just proved as much with Lush Lashes, who won another big prize relocated from the Knavesmire in the Darley Yorkshire Oaks.
Lush Lashes and New Approach are cut from very similar cloth, silky and flexible but extremely strong. The filly had created some doubts about her competence over a mile and a half when only fifth in the Oaks, but Bolger felt that she was simply uncomfortable on the track. Here, back up in trip after that harrowing reverse at Goodwood, she came from last to first and comfortably held the progressive, persevering Da Re Mi.
In any other yard you might have reservations about Lush Lashes holding her form until December, but Bolger is already contemplating the Hong Kong Cup for her. There will not be many colts around the world anxious to make her acquaintance. In the meantime she might return to Newmarket to affirm her supremacy over the fillies in the Sun Chariot Stakes, while Bolger also indicated that she may stay in training with Dubai in mind.
Asked whether it had been awkward switching the focus of his two champions, he came up with one of those classic, double-edged Bolger asides, dry as ship's biscuits. "All the good trainers train their horses to the minute," he observed. "A week is enough for me."
Bolger, of course, is not one of the good trainers. Never has been. He is far, far better than that.
Yorkshire strikes back
You can take the race out of Yorkshire, but you can't take the Yorkshire out of the race. First there was the Irish Thoroughbred Marketing Gimcrack Stakes, which surfaced at Newbury yesterday following the abandonment of the Ebor meeting. Shaweel, a first Group winner for Greg Fairley, was followed home by four others also trained in North Yorkshire. Then came the Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes, which had found sanctuary at Newmarket, and finally repaid a lifetime of near-misses for Borderlescott, the pride of Goosemoor Stud stables, near Wetherby.
Borderlescott had run his usual big race in the Stewards' Cup at Goodwood – indeed he had consecutively finished first, second and third – but the fact is that he had never even mustered a Listed race. Yet here was, under his rider Pat Cosgrave, pouncing to claim a Group One sprint.
Robin Bastiman was candid. "I've trained for 40 years, I've trained moderate horses, never had a good one," he said. "But he's good."
3 questions for Mick Channon
The former England striker has saddled 61 winners this season.
1. You run Please Sing in today's Lowther Stakes at Newmarket. Her prospects?
"She's back where she won the Cherry Hinton Stakes, and on perfect going. We've always thought a lot of her."
2. Today's big showdown in the International Stakes. Who will win?
"Two very good horses take each other on. But they're there to be shot at. We run a couple of outsiders, but they are good horses, too: I've always wanted to have a go with Halicarnassus on this kind of ground."
3. What did you think of England's performance against the Czech Republic?
"They just seem to have got to the stage where they'll only play in front of people – nobody goes by anyone. He used to do it, Rooney. But Ronaldo, he's the one that runs at people. We just didn't do that. It's as if we're frightened of losing the ball. And if you don't try and win, what's the point of playing any sport?"
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