Chris McGrath: Superb New Approach saves Bolger and gives sheikh a crucial Derby win

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The Independent Online

Judging from the querulous inquisition he endured after the race, anyone would think that this horse had got his trainer into trouble. The reality, of course, was quite the reverse. In winning the 229th Derby with the brio of a true champion, New Approach hauled Jim Bolger out of a rare old pickle.

Tony McCoy, one of Bolger's previous masterpieces, long ago learned not to pick a fight with his autocratic mentor. "Never get into an argument unless you can win it," Bolger once told the aspiring jockey. "So never get into an argument with me."

As such, it must come as rather a novelty for Bolger to be questioned at all, never mind with a self-certainty to match his own. But that is exactly what happened at Epsom on Saturday, when the finest hour of his career somehow came to be treated as a matter of personal disgrace.

Having baldly stated in April that New Approach would not be aimed to the Derby, and left the colt in the race only "by mistake", Bolger had an abrupt change of heart five days before the race. The Derby press conference promised to be interesting. In the event, however, the trainer and his critics became lost in a wearisome maze of semantics, and the grandeur of the race and its winner trickled peevishly into gutters of obstinacy and indignation.

A pity, because the fact remains that the Turf's most venerable prize had just been gilded anew by a quite outstanding performance. A few hours later, Big Brown's failure to meet America's hankering for a Triple Crown placed in edifying relief the resilience and versatility of New Approach. He, too, has contested three Classics in five weeks, and only Henrythenavigator's nostril prevented him from becoming the first colt since Nashwan in 1989 to win both the 2,000 Guineas and the Derby.

It is what happened in between those races that caused such vexation. But Bolger's biggest mistake has now been thoroughly effaced by New Approach. And it was nothing to do with the blessed punters.

Yes, he owes a certain duty to the betting public – a greater duty, perhaps, than suits a man of such ascetic views. But he insists that he has kept everyone informed of his intentions throughout, and that his intentions simply changed. In some extreme instances, his volte-face will have had expensive results, though sympathy for the layer who offered 209-1 against New Approach on Betfair only days ago must be tempered by his or her own motives. Had it not been within the scope of Bolger's idiosyncrasies to change his mind, such a bet would only be offered in a cheap attempt to get money for nothing.

Those aggrieved by Bolger's handling of the episode must either accept his version of events, which leaves him open only to fairly fastidious objections, or simmer in vague suspicion. And they miss the gaping chink in his armour.

To say that Bolger's first duty is to the horse, and his owners, does not merely place his responsibilities to the public in due perspective. It takes us to the heart of the matter. For it became quite obvious on Saturday that Bolger was wrong to make the Irish 2,000 Guineas a greater priority than the Derby. Wrong in terms of New Approach himself – albeit nobody could know that for certain beforehand, however persuasively the colt had rallied over the mile at Newmarket. And, far more importantly, wrong in terms of the man who paid Bolger an enormous some of money so that the champion juvenile of 2007 might run in the colours of his wife.

Bolger knew that Sheikh Mohammed craves the Derby. He knew why he wanted New Approach: if not to win the race, then at least to breed colts that might do so. And when Bolger saw those touching scenes at Epsom – where Princess Haya and the Sheikh glowed in a way that might be recognised by any man and woman, who must make do with humbler joys – did he really persist in the fantasy that the Irish Guineas had ever been a more appropriate target?

That was his only true effrontery. And that is why the only true absolution could come from New Approach himself. How very fortunate, that he had a horse – one in a million – that could win the Derby as an afterthought.

As a patriot, Bolger was perfectly within his rights to do what he could to bolster Ireland's Classics – and the Irish Derby is now the next target. But it is self-indulgent for him to suggest that his only mistake – and a very happy one, as he now recognises – was to leave his horse in the Derby. The real, coarse misjudgement was to claim that his agenda suited the horse and owners best, too.

As it turned out, Bolger was ill-rewarded for going to the Curragh, where the ground was "unnecessarily" firm. By a neat irony, however, that is precisely how the Derby was salvaged. New Approach may have appeared to have a hard race, in that second defeat by Henrythenavigator. But his exuberance on Saturday confirmed Bolger in his explanation for going to Epsom after all. In losing not even half a kilo at the Curragh, New Approach had plainly declined to extend himself on the ground. Had he happened to have easier conditions that day, he would have consumed a lot more petrol, and we would presumably be saluting a runaway Derby winner in Tartan Bearer.

That colt's trainer, Sir Michael Stoute, was as bemused as anyone to find New Approach among the Derby acceptors last Monday. He is one of very few who can excuse themselves from a consensus that all's well that ends well. The Derby deserved New Approach, and vice versa.

For Sheikh Mohammed's team, meanwhile, the race is now a source of hope rather than frustration. Last year's winner, Authorized, is already at stud for them; meanwhile Street Cry already looks a young stallion entitled to produce Derby colts. In contrast, fifth for Washington Irving was the best the five Ballydoyle runners could manage on Saturday.

And this race is still the benchmark for both camps. The Ballydoyle trainer, Aidan O'Brien, was first to congratulate Bolger after the race. Like McCoy, he learned his trade at Coolcullen. This time, just maybe, Bolger might have learned something himself. Then again, maybe not. As McCoy said yesterday: "I just think he's pleased that he has disappointed a lot of people by winning it."

But it would be graceless to be disappointed with such a horse. Whether by accident or design, the best horse showed up and the best horse won. Only a horseman like Bolger would have perceived that he might still pull it off, and only a man like Bolger would have dared to face the music. To that extent, at least, he deserves rather more generous congratulation than he has received so far.

Metamorphosis that made a champion How a 'pony' proved a perfect friend to a reluctant hero

Jim Bolger may have overcome his reluctance to run New Approach at Epsom, but it always seemed possible that the horse himself would decide to stick to original policy.

A colt of notorious phobias, New Approach at one point refused to continue with his journey from the racecourse stables to the parade ring. It was reminiscent of his refusal, last season, to go under the arch into the parade ring at the Curragh. Eventually, however, he was persuaded to proceed and he behaved impeccably thereafter.

Every step he took, however, was shadowed by his "pony". That is merely a job description for Metamorphosis, actually a blue-blooded thoroughbred himself. He has become indispensable to New Approach's fulfilment, and provided his customary escort not just round the parade ring and to the start but, after pulling up (left), into the winner's enclosure – a self-consciously elitist pen, designed for but a single horse (right).

In the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket, New Approach had delayed the start by 10 minutes, but Bolger had been warned that nothing similar would be tolerated here. This time, the other jockeys were more knowing and took their time. In the end, New Approach reached the stalls four minutes after the scheduled "off", just 200 yards behind the rest.

Derby debrief: How the field finished

(1 New Approach K Manning 5-1

Held up towards rear, 13th straight, switched sharply left to inside rail 2f out, quickened to lead 1f out

2 Tartan Bearer R L Moore 6-1

Slowly into stride, 14th straight, headway to lead 2f out, headed over 1f out, not pace of winner

3 Casual Conquest P J Smullen 7-2 favourite

Held up in mid-division, headway half-way, 4th straight, 3rd over 2f out, ridden over 1f out, stayed on

4 Doctor Fremantle K McEvoy 11-2

Chased leaders, 2nd straight, led inside final 3f, headed 2f out

5 Washington Irving C O'Donoghue 33-1

Prominent, 3rd straight, pressed leaders 2f out, weakened 1f out

6 Alessandro Volta J A Heffernan 33-1

slowly into stride, behind, 12th straight, headway over 1f out, stayed on inside final furlong but never going pace to reach leaders

7 Rio De La Plata L Dettori 20-1

8 Tajaaweed R Hills 10-1

9 Bouguereau A Munro 100-1

10 Curtain Call J P Spencer 7-1

11 Frozen Fire M J Kinane 16-1

12 King Of Rome J Murtagh16-1

13 Alan Devonshire P Mulrennan 100-1

14 Kandahar Run T E Durcan 11-1

15 Bashkirov D R McCabe 125-1

16 Maidstone Mixture M O'Connell 50-1

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