Pedigree and form both say brilliant Guineas hero will have no problem staying the trip
Bolger's Approach can land Derby jackpot
Rather ironically, the prospect of today's Epsom Derby has been a source of great anguish for those who proclaim to care for the state of Britain's racing industry. It is testament to the Derby's status that one race can be used as an all-encompassing mirror to be held in front of an industry, with judgment passed on the alarming reflection.
A tribute to the Derby it may well be, but it was never meant to be this way. Occasions of pride were not intended to highlight weakness. A race with a prestigious history since it was first won by Diomed in 1780 is today a uniquely British occasion.
Unfortunately for those entrenched in the world of British bloodstock, this year's Derby has proved a stark reminder of the battle they face to taste success at racing's top table. This is a fact with consequences reaching far beyond this afternoon.
After a number of weeks facing its flaws and shrouded in unflattering headlines, racing is a sport in need of a lift but, should it come today, it is unlikely to be in the shape of a British-trained Derby winner.
Pre-race analysis has focused on one horse and one question: will Dawn Approach's stamina reserves last out over the famous mile and a half across Epsom's unique cambers? Jim Bolger's Guineas winner brings the best form to the race and is, by some way, the best horse in the field but will he be the best over today's trip in the prevailing conditions? Epsom has been the victim of considerable rainfall this week and this won't aid doubtful stayers.
The doubts over Dawn Approach's stamina emanate on the side of his dam Hymn Of The Dawn. She raced on five occasions – the furthest being over a mile at Limerick – without ever winning. She was by high-class US sprinter Phone Trick, which naturally stamped his progeny with speed.
However, a half-brother to Hymn Of The Dawn has won a handicap hurdle at Naas over two miles, suggesting there is a stamina influence in the family. Furthermore, Hymn Of The Dawn's dam was by Pleasant Colony, a sire that got horses such as St Jovite, which was second in the 1992 Epsom Derby.
On the sire's side, Dawn Approach has no stamina doubts. He is by Derby winner New Approach, which is by the outstanding sire Galileo. This side of Dawn Approach's page is laced with brilliance and class, traits which make any trip a possibility.
Ignoring all else, the pedigree of Dawn Approach does raise doubts about a 12-furlong trip but, equally, there are plenty of reasons to believe it is a pedigree of a Derby winner.
If you look deep enough into any horse's pedigree you can find a reason to support most arguments one may be trying to advance. Sometimes a horse's pedigree just isn't in keeping with his racing capabilities. The breeding of horses isn't an exact science.
Rather than viewing the dam side of Dawn Approach as a negative, I believe the speed influences will prove to be a huge positive. A turn of foot will distinguish him from those that are bred to be Derby horses and, in effect, those lacking a change of gear.
Great Derby winners like Sea The Stars, New Approach and Galileo all had the speed to be top horses over a mile, and mile and a quarter, their forte being speed and a change of gear rather than endless one-paced stamina reserves. I believe today's race will prove that Dawn Approach's pedigree has afforded him similar traits, enabling him to join a group of elite Derby winners.
Commentators have questioned the value of his 2,000 Guineas win, citing a slow time and the form of placed horses as reasons to undermine his victory. Surely it is a futile argument as he can only beat what lines up against him on any given day.
Realistically, is the opposition in the Derby any better than the Guineas? He won the Guineas by five lengths going away and, to my eye, he wasn't stopping at the line. Can anyone definitively state how much he had in hand over his opposition? He strikes me as a horse that does enough to win but would pull out more if needed.
Horses from the Newmarket race that ran in the Irish equivalent last Saturday did little to advertise the form but none of them ever looked like landing a blow at Newmarket, so I think it may be misleading to try and claim it undermines Dawn Approach's run in the Guineas. As the year unfolds, the scarcity of top-class three-year-old colts is becoming more apparent but such an opinion should not undermine the achievements of Dawn Approach.
If anything, it only enhances his prospects of further success and dominance. I wonder did Bolger make the same realisation when he entered Dawn Approach at the Derby second entry stage? Even with a doubt about his stamina, will the opposition be good enough to expose any potential chinks? When Sea The Stars won in 2009, he had Fame And Glory and Rip Van Winkle behind him. Ignoring Dawn Approach, is there a Fame And Glory or Rip Van Winkle in today's field?
Aidan O'Brien and team Coolmore run five horses in an effort to lower the colours of Dawn Approach. One of his runners, Flying The Flag, appears to have been assigned a pacemaking role. Expect all of O'Brien's horses to be ridden handy with a view to maximising their stamina.
As Joseph O'Brien rides Battle Of Marengo, it is an indication they believe he is their best chance of a victory. A Group Two winner following his triumph in the Derrinstown Stud trial at Leopardstown in May, Battle Of Marengo has done very little wrong in his career to date. He is a solid horse who will relish today's trip, and ease in the ground won't be an issue, but I just wonder will he lack a change of gear in the final three furlongs.
Frankie Dettori failed to make Ballydoyle's team of jockeys but they have Richard Hughes on-side and he rides Mars. Mars finished sixth in the Guineas at Newmarket, beaten over eight lengths, and while over this extended trip he may well get closer to Dawn Approach, eight lengths is a lot of ground to make up in four weeks.
Any horse Andre Fabre brings to Britain must always be respected. His Ocovango remains unbeaten and the horse he beat on his reappearance this year subsequently ran very well in a Group Two at Longchamp. Ocovango is lightly raced, will handle cut in the ground and has no stamina doubts. Should he cope with the undulations, expect him to run a very big race.
The home defence in the race is led by Middleham trainer Elaine Burke. In preparation, her runner Libertarian won the Dante trial at York. It was an average trial and it will be a surprise if he follows up with another win today.
Bookmakers unfortunately are not willing to take many chances with Dawn Approach, and not for the first time I believe they have the market right. Doubters continue to look for holes in this horse but time is quickly running out for non-believers.
Epsom will provide a stern test not only on the track but in the race build-up. If there is a chink in a horse's temperament, the environment on Derby day usually exposes it. Dawn Approach has experienced Ascot and Newmarket on the biggest days and delivered the goods every time and, while Epsom will be a stiffer test, it would be unjust to doubt his capability to handle today's fanfare.
His rivals have far more to prove. Dawn Approach's style of racing, in that he relaxes and travels, should allow jockey Kevin Manning to ride the race from his preferred position in the pack.
I expect Manning will travel comfortably into the straight and as the tempo quickens the horse will have too many gears for his rivals and quicken away to win comfortably. He was a champion two-year-old, he was a champion at Newmarket four weeks ago and I expect he will be champion of Epsom shortly after 4.0.
This is an exceptional racehorse breaking all the rules.