Connections shell-shocked by false Dawn
The Coolmore victory tells just one half of yesterday's Derby tale, writes Ian McClean
"IT is the nature of man to rise to greatness, if greatness is expected of him," John Steinbeck once wrote. One can only wonder what expectations the moguls at Coolmore had in mind for the Galileo colt foaled on St Patrick's Day in 2010 when they labelled him Ruler Of The World.
In winning the 234th Epsom Derby – erstwhile pinnacle of achievement amongst the breed – the horse readily repaid the faith bestowed by his keepers in his moniker. In addition, in maintaining a three-race unbeaten record Ruler Of The World has suddenly, less than eight weeks since his debut win at the Curragh, had greatness thrust upon him by becoming the biggest talent of his generation at middle distances in a rise as meteoric as an Apollo launch.
But Ruler Of The World tells only half the story of yesterday's Derby, the story of the Rise.
Embedded in the same two and a half Epsom minutes is an equally compelling tale of the Fall: because the upward thrust of Ruler Of The World's trajectory is made all the more remarkable when juxtaposed with the grievous descent of favourite Dawn Approach in the same race. Jim Bolger's chestnut's seven-race unblemished record got shredded on the Downs in a manner as inexplicable as it was unexpected.
The race that unfolded was an utter peculiarity and, at many levels, unsatisfactory. In fly-leaping his way out of control after just 100 yards, Dawn Approach's pretensions to establishing his credentials as one of the most remarkable thoroughbreds of modern times were summarily canned. It was a freak behaviour that had never even been hinted at previously, either on or off the racetrack. Connections were prepared for many things, even defeat, but they were shell-shocked by this.
Sure, his sire New Approach was a bit of a handful, and required all of Kevin Manning's considerable guile back then to coerce him to see out the distance in 2008. By the time Manning stopped fighting Dawn Approach and allowed him to take the lead at Tattenham Corner, the game was well and truly up. The pace had been extremely muddling up to that point – contributing to the favourite's bizarre antics – and it could well be interpreted that a tactical piece of genius from the Ballydoyle quintet did for Dawn Approach. It is one thing for a horse not to stay, however, what is most dismaying with the manner in which the race unfolded yesterday is that we never even got the chance to find out.
Not surprisingly given the events, Jim Bolger was quick to assert, "I doubt he'll run over a mile and a half again."
The slow pace had consequences for others too. Ryan Moore was the first to admit that he got there a minute too soon on the winner who, as the only previous winner at a mile and a half, would have been least favoured by the funereal early gallop.
Before the race the case for Dawn Approach was that he would outclass them even if he didn't stay the extra half a mile. However, once again, in spite of the gentleman's gallop, stamina proved the key to the Derby puzzle with the first three home all possessing bona fide mile-and-a-half pedigrees. Moreover, each of the first three home posted a career best, proving (like the Oaks winner Talent the previous day) these equine buds are only beginning to come into bloom by the first week in June.
Consider that the first three home had only seen a racecourse eight times between them – just one more than the number of wins chalked up by the favourite who started his career in the very first two-year-old race of the season last year.
The point was reinforced by Coolmore supremo John Magnier in the aftermath, when asked about his view of the merits of the Ballydoyle runners before the race. A rock of prudence against the swell of euphoria in these things, Magnier
began by making the observation that Joseph had his choice (Battle of Marengo, who finished only fourth) and that at this stage of the year "things are still unfolding".
Conspiracists can speculate all they like about cloaks, daggers and the black arts, but the truth is that the more you know about these things the more you know you don't know. And few in this firmament know more than Magnier.
Another myth firmly put to bed is that you can even begin to find out at home the relative merits of these delicate, finely tuned rapid developers. "If you try to find out everything at home then you won't win a Derby," observed Magnier. Yesterday was just a handsomely paid fact-find.
Ultimately it is telling that Bolger didn't see fit to enter his son of Galileo in the Derby as a yearling at a cost of £500. The genetic indicator from the genomic profiling company he co-founded suggested his pedigree had only a 20/1 chance of staying the Derby distance. The Derby entry was only made after Sheikh Mohammed bought a majority share of Dawn Approach.
The fact is that Bolger has been proven right in his initial assessment. But the facts just don't tell the whole story.