Monday 18 December 2017

Born leader took on money men to become an icon

Jim Bolger receives his Hall of Fame award from Declan Carlyle, Managing Director of Independent Newspapers, and The Croke Park Hotel manager Alan Smullen (L)
Jim Bolger receives his Hall of Fame award from Declan Carlyle, Managing Director of Independent Newspapers, and The Croke Park Hotel manager Alan Smullen (L)
Richard Forristal

Richard Forristal

The elite realm of international Flat racing is dominated by wealthy Sheikhs and commercial conglomerates, but Jim Bolger has fashioned a unique empire all of his own making.

In a remarkable career that has spanned five decades, the proud Wexford native set about dismantling the established hierarchy after aborting accountancy once he had "learned to read a balance sheet".

In 1976, at 35 years of age, he initiated his training career in a yard at Clonsilla near the old Phoenix Park training ground.

There he began sowing the seeds of a vast legacy that is still being embellished.

A farmer's son, Bolger possesses rare vision and an insatiable work ethic, a trait that he has always sought to instil in his horses as he earned an enduring reputation that isn't simply one of high standards and meticulousness.

A master of his profession and a born leader, his revered genius is as evident in the characters he has nurtured as it is in the champion racehorses that he has trained.

AP McCoy, Aidan O'Brien, Paul Carberry, Willie Mullins, Peter Scudamore and his now son-in-law Kevin Manning all emerged from his famously uncompromising academy.

Ultimately, though, it is Bolger's racecourse feats that have defined his enormous contribution to Irish racing's globally-renowned status.

A self-made and inherently autonomous entrepreneur, he has developed one of the world's most sophisticated private training centres since moving to Coolcullen's Glebe House in Co Kilkenny in 1982.

Epsom Oaks heroine Jet Ski Lady and the mighty Irish Derby and King George winner St Jovite were among his early champions.

In those days, the dual champion trainer's refusal to bow to authority also saw him at loggerheads with the Turf Club in the High Court, securing a landmark judgment that compelled the governing body to update its archaic rulebook.

When Ballydoyle began to re-establish its former muscle under Aidan O'Brien in the late 1990s, Bolger found himself squeezed out of the market for the best yearlings as the Tipperary superpower competed aggressively with the likes of Sheikh Mohammed.

It was then that his business acumen and the courage of his convictions again came to the fore.

With great patience and foresight, the GAA fanatic with a legendary dry wit reinvented himself as an owner-breeder. If he couldn't buy the champions of the future, he resolved to produce them himself, and the results have been astounding.

As the gestation period elapsed, Bolger's second coming was initiated by the brilliant Epsom Derby hero New Approach and the exquisite fillies Alexander Goldrun and Finsceal Beo.

However, it is champions such as the bruising, unbeaten Teofilo that have emerged from his own nursery to sustain his renaissance in truly glorious style. When the most recent, Dawn Approach, secured Bolger a fifth Dewhurst Stakes in seven years in 2012, the precocious colt was already sporting Godolphin blue.

Sheikh Mohammed had recognised the potential of aligning himself to the resurgent Bolger by acquiring controlling shares in Teofilo and New Approach.

Last May, the flashy Dawn Approach stormed to 2,000 Guineas glory, before Bolger showed exceptional intuition to bring the Classic victor back from an Epsom Derby calamity to prevail in an epic St James's Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot just 17 days later.

A month later, Trading Leather carried Bolger's trusty ally Manning to an Irish Derby success on the Curragh. Trading Leather was the latest resounding vindication of Bolger's reinvention, a point re-emphasised recently when Sheikh Mohammed again bought in.

It is an irony lost on few that, having been squeezed out of the markets by the oil-fuelled Arabian influence, Bolger is now their choice source of bloodstock. Change or be changed.

That is the mark of this inimitable genius, a man who, at 71, remains the single most iconic figure in the game right now.

Irish Independent

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