Epsom Derby: Dawn’s class to vindicate the Bolger approach

Guineas winner bred from Derby victors can prove superior to rivals of more stout stock

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The Independent Online

Not for the first time, the artful Jim Bolger finds himself in a “win-win” situation. One way or another, his judgement cannot fail to be endorsed when DAWN APPROACH takes his unbeaten record into the Investec Derby at Epsom today. Success would testify anew to Bolger’s skill both as breeder and trainer; and failure should at least vindicate the genomic profiling company of which he is co-founder, which so firmly identified the colt as a miler that Bolger did not even bother to enter him for the Derby as a yearling.

Only after he had sold 51 per cent of Dawn Approach to Sheikh Mohammed did it become politic to pay a supplementary entry fee. After all, the two men had done a similar deal before the colt’s sire, New Approach, won the Derby in 2008. On that occasion, conversely, Bolger professed to have left New Approach in the Derby by mistake.

It is more judgement than luck, plainly, that is now enabling the mentor of both Tony McCoy and Aidan O’Brien to compound his claims as one of the modern Turf’s most influential figures. Having done so much to make Galileo’s reputation, with New Approach, he has promptly come up with a champion from the latter’s first crop.

Only Bolger, perhaps, could saddle Dawn Approach to win the first juvenile race in Ireland last season, over five furlongs in March, and bring him to Epsom today as hot favourite. Having looked better with each start at two, the chestnut resurfaced four weeks ago for a runaway Classic success in the 2,000 Guineas. Being a far more relaxed type than his father, Dawn Approach would seem to have every right to emulate him today over the extra half-mile. The question is whether a recent trend in favour of the Guineas, as a platform for Derby success, is making us all too blasé in exorcising the spectre of El Gran Senor?

Sir Percy (2006) and New Approach both won the Derby after finishing second in the Guineas, while Sea The Stars and Camelot have since completed the double. Together they have contributed to a consensus that Dawn Approach can outclass rivals he could never merely outstay. But this is a punishing test at the trip, and class could not get El Gran Senor past Secreto; nor Hawk Wing past High Chaparral.

Equally, as the son of one brilliant Derby winner in turn sired by another, Dawn Approach might have been born to run here today. Many are troubled by the fact that his mother – Hymn Of The Dawn, whose own racing career provides little reliable evidence – was by an American sprinter, Phone Trick. That would plainly seem to dilute Dawn Approach’s stamina potential. But the dam of Hymn Of The Dawn, Colonial Debut, has a lineage saturated with bedrock influences of the modern breed. Her four great-grandfathers, in fact, include Ribot, Raise A Native and Sea-Bird. It might not measure up in genomics, but to the layman Dawn Approach appeals as a consummation of precisely those bloodlines glorified by the sort of Classic test that awaits him today.

Those to whom the odds are unpalatable, moreover, have a conundrum of their own. For if they feel the favourite’s capacities may be eroded over a longer trip, then too many of his rivals can make at least some of the necessary improvement by bringing their latent stamina into play. It is hard to know, from one case to another, whether it can be enough.

Take Chopin, for instance. The German raider has won his last two races by an aggregate of 17 lengths, and is expected to prove better still at this longer trip. But who can say, now that the opposition is so much better, quite how much better he needs to be?

Ocovango also brings extraneous formlines, from France, and again will have his stamina drawn out for the first time – albeit he is not preceded by quite the same aura, perhaps, as was Pour Moi for the same stable two years ago. Libertarian, the leader of a forlorn home defence, will certainly relish the new distance but is surely going to take too much organising over the hill.

And then, above all, there are the five who do service for O’Brien – not a bad reserve force, when you consider his top Epsom prospect was the sidelined Kingsbarns. Remarkably, the two colts shortest in the betting both wear cheekpieces, an accessory that has obtained a sudden vogue at Ballydoyle. Battle Of Marengo was anointed as No 1 contender when sent to the same trials as Galileo and High Chaparral, and could yet match their coming-of-age when presented with a strongly run race at this trip. As things stand, Battle Of Marengo has beaten a grand total of 15 rivals since leaving maiden company.

At least he is fairly well seasoned, whereas Ruler Of The World remains very raw after starting his career less than two months ago. He has already demonstrated his stamina at this trip, really opening up at Chester, and could at least prove himself a St Leger winner in the making. Whether he has sufficient experience for Epsom remains to be seen. Perhaps the best value of the Ballydoyle posse is instead Festive Cheer, who looks a curiously big price at 50-1 after shaping well in a race that was not run to suit in France.

If Dawn Approach does happen to falter, it would not be surprising to see this colt amplify the posthumous reputation of his sire, Montjeu, with a third consecutive Derby winner. Much the most likely outcome, however, is for Dawn Approach – after Galileo and New Approach – to decorate his own family tree with a similar distinction.

Ferby 1-2-3: Our writers’ tips

Chris McGrath , Racing Correspondent

1. Dawn Approach (Odds: 5-4)

2. Festive Cheer (14-1)

3. Ruler Of The World (8-1) Dawn Approach has much the best form, at shorter trips, and his relaxed demeanour and deep Classic pedigree can help him stretch his class against rivals trying to beat him by sheer dourness.

James Lawton,  Chief Sports Writer

1. Chopin (10-1)

2. Dawn Approach (5-4)

3. Ocovango (8-1)

With the classic question about whether he will stay placed against the head of Dawn Approach, the odds invite a little wider speculation. In the wake of Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, German contender Chopin might just have the requisite heart.

Sue Montgomery, Racing writer

1. Dawn Approach (5-4)

2. Mars (14-1)

3. Battle Of Marengo (5-1)

Dawn Approach’s stamina is unproven but his temperament should allow him to settle and eke out his reserves. And he has the visible asset of the ability to quicken and the more ephemeral one of class.