x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Rivals cast a shadow on Dawn Approach for Epsom English Derby

The race favourite is up against five of trainer's former protege and others, but Jim Bolger is taking it in his stride.

Dawn Approach impressed in the mile-long 2,000 Guineas Stakes win at Newmarket but will be stepping up by four furlongs and 10 yards in distance today. Alan Crowhurst / Getty Images
Dawn Approach impressed in the mile-long 2,000 Guineas Stakes win at Newmarket but will be stepping up by four furlongs and 10 yards in distance today. Alan Crowhurst / Getty Images

When Aidan O'Brien was offered the job by John Magnier of Coolmore to be their retained trainer at Ballydoyle in 1996 the young maestro turned to Jim Bolger, his mentor, and asked him what he should do.

Bolger had promoted O'Brien through the ranks to the level of his assistant. Master told pupil that if he wanted access to the best horses quickly then he should take the job but if he wanted to make his own way in the world then he should turn it down.

The rest is history.

O'Brien has become one of the world's most successful trainers on the back of a production line of the bluest of blooded thoroughbreds, while Bolger has waited patiently for his bespoke breeding operation to produce Dawn Approach, tonight's English Derby favourite at Epsom.

It is only seven months ago that Bolger told the world that he had a miler on his hands and one that he described as "sprinty looking". Dawn Approach has already confirmed with his win in last month's English 2,000 Guineas that he is a rising star over a mile, but he must step up to an additional four furlongs and 10 yards tonight under Kevin Manning and at the same time tackle one of the most idiosyncratic courses on the planet.

His task is made more difficult by the fact that O'Brien runs five against the favourite in a bid to inflict the first blemish on Dawn Approach's flawless race record from seven starts.

Also lurking in the 12-runner field is Chopin, the highest-rated three-year-old colt in Germany, who was supplemented for £75,000 (Dh419,000) on Monday to become the first runner in the race for his new owner, Sheikh Fahad Al Thani of Qatar.

The British defence is led by Libertarian, who will be ridden by William Buick, while Andre Fabre, Godolphin's trainer in France, has sent the unbeaten Ocovango in an attempt to follow up on Pour Moi's victory in 2011.

If the competition is fierce, the extra pressure perhaps felt by Bolger comes from the fact that a 51 per cent interest in Dawn Approach is held by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

The last man to have owned, trained and bred a Derby winner was Arthur Budgett, who was responsible for Morston's win in 1973. Bolger bought and raced New Approach, Dawn Approach's sire, who won him the Derby in 2008 in the colours of Princess Haya of Jordan, the wife of Sheikh Mohammed.

He also bought and raced Hymn Of The Dawn, Dawn Approach's dam, while Park Express, Dawn Approach's grand dam, was another Bolger runner.

Success for Bolger tonight would therefore be complete, but it stands that then failure must also be. It is not how Bolger sees it, however. The 71-year-old trainer believes that failure is merely a by-product of being involved in a sport in which everyone involved loses more than they succeed, and that triumph and disaster are indeed two imposters to be treated the same.

"I don't have a problem with defeat," he said. "I'm not being big-headed but I am operating at a level that I never thought I would be.

"It's a bad trait for anybody involved in sport to be a good loser. I will be as sick as a parrot for five minutes if I lose and then it will be onwards and upwards."

The relationship between Bolger and Sheikh Mohammed goes back 30 years.

Park Appeal was the European champion juvenile in 1984 and Bolger still maintains she was the best two-year-old filly he has ever handled.

Sheikh Mohammed stepped in to buy her and, like Dawn Approach, the filly stayed with Bolger for her Classic career. Bolger's stable was hit by a virus in 1985 and never came right and Park Appeal was later packed off to race in California with John Gosden.

Despite the disappointing start to his relationship with the Maktoum family, from 1986 Bolger was sent 15 horses annually from the late Maktoum Al Maktoum.

In 1991 the relationship was strengthened when Jet Ski Lady won the 1991 English Oaks by a scarcely believable 10 lengths.

It was then, however, that the Godolphin idea began to gestate.

When Sheikh Mohammed's global operation was set up a year later the horses, that would have been earmarked for Bolger, sported the royal blue silks of the Maktoum family's private racing stable.

It was not until 2006 that Sheikh Mohammed became seriously interested again in a horse trained at Bolger's Coolcullen base, in Ireland. Teofilo went unbeaten throughout the 2006 season and was a star in the making.

He suffered a career-ending injury before the English 2,000 Guineas in 2007 and was picked up by Sheikh Mohammed to stand at his Kildangan Stud in Ireland.

It was to be a landmark year for Bolger's association with Sheikh Mohammed.

Bolger had bought Creachadoir for €83,000 (Dh397,000) as a yearling in 2005 but the colt had repaid that investment with placed efforts in the French and Irish 2,000 Guineas before the Dubai-based operation came calling.

In the same year Bolger was winning all the best juvenile races in Ireland with New Approach, who Sheikh Mohammed also bought a half share in.

Once New Approach had won the Group 1 Dewhurst Stakes, Sheikh Mohammed bought the other half of the colt from Bolger's wife, Jackie, and gave him to Princess Haya.

If Dawn Approach wins tonight, he would become the 43rd victor to have been sired by a Derby winner, and on paper he looks to have a better chance than his father.

New Approach took the Derby on his first and only start over 12 furlongs and stayed the distance despite a temperament that threatened to derail his bid.

There are no such concerns with Dawn Approach.

Nothing seemed to faze him ahead of the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket, where his father had failed to take the Classic before him.

"I didn't think he would win by five lengths," Bolger said.

"His performance in the Guineas was spectacular. And I think that is recognised by everybody.

"He's come on a bit but he's lazy at home so we don't know by how much.

"I don't know by what factor you would need to multiply the decibels at Newmarket by to replicate Epsom but I am sure he will be able to cope."

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