Friday 15 December 2017

Bolger's bright new dawn

Veteran trainer refusing to consider retirement as breeding operation has rival empires beating down his door

Jim Bolger is hoping his unbeaten Dawn Approach can land the Dewhurst
Jim Bolger is hoping his unbeaten Dawn Approach can land the Dewhurst

Chris McGrath

It is an eye that famously misses nothing -- and so, in turn, remains the eye of the storm. For everyone else, not least Frankie Dettori, the sport's rival empires only ever converge in tempests of cold pride and hot emotion.

Yet somehow Jim Bolger navigates calmly between them, a steely, seasoned admiral who has uniquely harnessed the contrary trade winds of both Sheikh Mohammed and John Magnier.

The latter, along with his partners at Coolmore, is indebted to Bolger not only as mentor of their trainer, Aidan O'Brien, but also as breeder of the champions which gave such impetus to the stud career of Galileo. The Sheikh, meanwhile, has identified Bolger as a precious conduit to the Coolmore bloodlines he painfully renounced -- to the detriment of his stock -- at public auction.

On Saturday, the Co Carlow trainer saddles Dawn Approach as hot favourite for the Darley Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket, a prize he has won four times in six years. One of three Royal Ascot winners in his first crop, Dawn Approach is flagship of an explosive start to the stud career of New Approach, the Galileo colt Bolger sold to the Sheikh before he won the 2008 Derby. Dawn Approach himself now runs in Godolphin silks.

New Approach yearlings will be in demand during the big sales that have opened at Tattersalls. Few buyers, however, will have wit or craft enough to borrow Bolger's own strategy. He loves to see others dismiss the family tree on a catalogue page because recent branches have borne little fruit. "So long as there's some Group One by the fourth dam, and no bum sires," he stipulates. "The agents don't buy those 'blanks', so I can -- and then try to fill them in."

Bolger has already sold his yearling sister to New Approach for €775,000. "I've always said it's better to be born lucky than rich," he pronounces. While it surely looks a matter of judgment, at the very least he has ended up as both.

His singular personality had long been expressed by the likes of St Jovite or Jet Ski Lady, which won a King George and Oaks respectively by 12 and 10 lengths. But it was Teofilo, his first Dewhurst winner in 2006, which launched new fulfilment for this complex man -- arch, stubborn and inspired, with standards so unyielding that he lit a path not just for O'Brien but also the young Tony McCoy.

One of Galileo's first stars, Teofilo was sold to the Sheikh. By 2008, presumably using the proceeds, Bolger was renovating a decayed mansion half an hour from his Coolcullen base and transforming its estate into a sumptuous new wing for his training operation.

Last week, he boxed Dawn Approach across to work over a gallop woven out of historic transplants from Newmarket, the Curragh and Leopardstown. The unbeaten colt was escorted, as usual, by Leitir Mor. "It's the first time I've had a Group Three winner as a work horse or pacemaker," Bolger remarks. "The hard part is that I can't sell Leitir Mor. He's too valuable. He'll bring any horse to the furlong marker."

The superior colt did have a price, however. Having sold the Sheikh a majority stake, Bolger does not yet know whether Dawn Approach will be transferred to one of the Godolphin trainers for his Classic campaign. Regardless, he views the colt as essentially a miler.


The Derby could instead beckon Trading Leather, a son of Teofilo which recently won his maiden. He, too, appears on the Future Champions' Day card, in the Autumn Stakes.

Even if Dawn Approach happens to be beaten by Dundonnell, Bolger's Dewhurst streak would not have run dry. Prior to Dundonnell's emergence, Bolger bought his dam -- a sister to Danehill, no less -- for just $9,000. Dawn Approach's mother had herself cost little more, at $16,000.

As for his own appetite, at 70, he shrugs. "It's not really hard work. It's constant work. At this stage, I've no ambitions whatsoever. But I'm between a rock and a hard place, when it comes to retirement. I have a staff of 100, and basically I'm working for them the last few years. As far as I can ascertain, they'd like me to continue."

He does so, however, with fresh satisfaction. "I did feel, at one stage in my brief career, that I hadn't produced a stallion," he admits. "So it's nice to get that job done, anyway." (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent Sport Star Awards

Pick our magic sports moment of the year and win a trip for two to London. To view the shortlist and cast your vote click here.

Irish Independent

Promoted Links

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport