He completely lost his head in the Epsom Derby, and that started a run in which he has won just one of his last four races. Have the wheels come off? Well, I don’t think so. Let’s look at what happened on those four races. At Epsom, Dawn Approach absolutely refused to settle at all, and was fighting jockey Kevin Manning from the moment the stalls opened. He was in front five furlongs from home and the battery quickly ran out of power. The trial of a mile and a half was a conclusive failure, and Bolger immediately rules out running over that distance again.
That race left Dawn Approach with a sore mouth, so hard had fought the bit, For a week he had to be ridden in a bitless bridle in training, so it was a brave decision to go to Royal Ascot, but that’s what happened. Dawn Approach went a long way to restoring his reputation 17 days after the Derby when he just held on to beat Toronado by a short head, dropped back to a mile in the St James’s Palace Stakes. Again, he pulled hard, but this time he picked up and battled.
Goodwood in July saw the third meeting between Dawn Approach and Toronado. At Ascot the two had finished seven lengths close than at Newmarket in the spring, and this time Richard Hannon’s colt came out on top in the Sussex Stakes. The race was a second “duel on the Downs” in three years, and proved just as exhilarating a race as that between Frankel and Canford Cliffs two years earlier.
Whilst Dawn Approach again raced up with the pace, a final furlong swoop by Richard Hughes saw Toronado home first by half a length. In the process, Toronado gained the season’s top rating for a three year old from the Racing Post. We know that horses grow up at different rates, not reaching maturity until they are four, so perhaps Dawn Approach was an early starter. Perhaps also, Hannon has worked out the most effective way of besting his rival by then.
Last weekend saw Dawn Approach head to France for the Prix Jacques Le Marois at Deauville, again over what is clearly his best distance of a mile. Once more he was headstrong and would not settle. The Racing Post comments on his running, “Took keen hold under restraint early, prominent, ridden to challenge 2f out, readily outpaced by eventual winner entering final furlong, soon no extra and beaten, faded and dropped to fifth” showed what a disappointment this result was for Bolger, Manning and owners Godolphin. Was it too bad to be true?
Godolphin racing manager Simon Crisford gave the immediate post race view as “The horse hasn’t run his race and obviously we hope to see him back to his very best for the QEII at Ascot.” When he returned to the stables on Monday morning, Jim Bolger revealed more. He said, “Dawn Approach arrived home from France this morning. We scoped him and found some mucus in his lungs. He’s on a course of antibiotics and is going to have a break. The plan is to have him right and ready to run in the Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot.”
That race takes place on 19 October, a full two months away, which should be ample time for Dawn Approach to recover.
Let’s return to that question we posed earlier. Do three defeats in his last four races mean that the wheels have come off for Dawn Approach? Those defeats came from an experiment over distance that did not work (the Derby); to a horse I think took longer to develop (Sussex Stakes) and when Dawn Approach was not fully himself (Jacques Le Marois).
Excuses for defeat? Explanations? Take your pick. But I think it’s too early to write off Dawn Approach just yet, and while the QEII might yet be too much or too soon, I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t add to his tally of four Group 1 victories if he stays in training next year.