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Monday Musings: Bolger’s Bright Futurity

I remember back in May when the BHA and the more influential trainers were hoping for a resumption of racing during that month, I was thinking that because the weather can be less wintry during October and November, maybe Flat racing could extend a few weeks longer to help restore some of the losses of fixtures during the spring closure, writes Tony Stafford.

Fortunately the BHA are not so stupid, and the end of turf racing will be at Doncaster on November 7 when hopefully the Bombardier British Hopped Amber Beer November Handicap – if not simply so that the commentator can try that on for size – can be staged, unlike last year.

Last year, not only the end of season card but also the two scheduled turf meetings at Doncaster and Newbury equivalent to last weekend were washed out. The Vertem Futurity, the last UK Group 1 two-year-old race, was switched to Newcastle’s Tapeta the following Friday and won by Kameko, who went on to 2,000 Guineas success seven months later on the first Saturday after the restart.

This year’s Vertem Futurity went ahead at the normal venue. The Doncaster going, officially described as heavy and deemed too testing for Wembley, left the Ballydoyle team with a rare blank in the contest. It was won by the Jim Bolger-trained and -bred Mac Swiney and while the race didn’t have a single son (or daughter) of Galileo on hand, Mac Swiney is by Galileo’s son New Approach out of a mare by Teofilo, also by Galileo so is closely in-bred to the great champion.

Both Teofilo and New Approach were bred and raced initially by Bolger and went unbeaten through their juvenile campaigns, each winning five out of five, culminating in the Dewhurst and being awarded two-year-old champion status.

Teofilo retired after that single season, being the first juvenile champion for the sire, but New Approach went on to win the Derby at Epsom, the Irish Champion Stakes and the Champion Stakes by an overwhelming six lengths. Narrow defeats in the 2,000 Guineas and then the Irish equivalent briefly tarnished his reputation as did a sole third place in the Juddmonte, switched to Newmarket when York closed for a year. His overall record stands the closest inspection.

Not content with a track career, he was sent to stud and immediately produced Dawn Approach, yet another unbeaten juvenile champion that collected the Dewhurst as his rite of passage and then the 2,000 Guineas and St James’s Palace Stakes for good measure. The family has done Mr Bolger proud, just as gentleman Jim was fundamental in the early years to help along the Galileo legend.

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But back to the going, and certainly Mac Swiney’s combination of speed and power through soft ground – it was barely heavy according to the times on Saturday – will serve him well when sure as night follows day he turns up for the Classics on one side of the Irish Sea or other, possibly both.

It was definitely heavy at Newbury and looking at those seven times I wager that the racecourse authorities there must be relieved they can turn their attention to the separate jumps course which will not have been watered during the dry months while racing was off, unlike the Flat strip where the recent deluges have rendered it virtually unraceable.

The least excessively slow time was the 10.22 sec above standard it took to run the second race, a six-furlong fillies’ nursery. Everything else, including the Radley and St Simon, the two Group races on the card, were almost two seconds per furlong slow, unconscionably so for Flat races. The finale, an amateur handicap, took almost 30 seconds more than standard to run a mile and a half.

With rain seemingly about all over the country it will be more interesting to see which of the remaining nine scheduled turf Flat fixtures can go ahead. Leicester (heavy) and Redcar (soft) are planned for today and are expected to survive. Then we have Catterick tomorrow (soft/heavy), Nottingham Wednesday (soft), and Newmarket on Friday and Saturday for the season finale again on soft ground. Next week Redcar and Nottingham on Wednesday and Thursday respectively and that Doncaster date on Saturday week bring matters to a damp conclusion.

Last weekend featured, as ever, three of only 13 Group 1 juvenile races to be run all year in Europe. Ireland’s three are run earlier than the five each of the UK and France. This year the 6f Phoenix Stakes in August and both the Moyglare and National Stakes the following month were staged on decent ground and run in acceptable times.

The first four juvenile Group 1 races in England were all staged at Newmarket. The Royal Lodge, Middle Park and Cheveley Park are the triple centre-pieces of Future Champions Day and the Rowley Mile on that September afternoon was blessed with fastish ground and quick times. It was also satisfactory for the Dewhurst won by St Mark’s Basilica early this month. Interestingly, before their Group 1 victories, both colts had run in the National Stakes behind Thunder Moon, St Mark’s Basilica finishing third and Mac Swiney eighth. Immediately before that, they each won on the same card again at the Curragh, the O’Brien colt in a maiden and Mac Swiney as a 28-1 shocker in a Group 2.

But it’s the French who are most often a hostage to fortune, seeing that their only pre-October Group 1 race is the Prix Morny close to the end of the Deauville summer festival. Wesley Ward and Frankie Dettori won that this year with the filly Campanelle and, while the ground was officially soft, the winning time of only a second slower than standard argues with that.

For the remainder, there are two races on Arc Day, the Jean-Luc Lagardere over 7f for colts and fillies, and the one-mile Marcel Boussac for fillies only. Heavy was the designation, and times of plus 3.49 and 5.73 suggests the description may be a shade exaggerated. When you get to heavy, after that, there’s probably only treacle. Of the year’s last two G1 races, one is the Criterium International, a race I remember fondly because of French Fifteen. That, over a mile, is the shorter while the Criterium de Saint-Cloud is a gut-busting 10 furlongs.

They were run on the Paris track on Saturday and heavy really did mean heavy. The Aidan O’Brien-trained Van Gogh, by American Pharoah, was an emphatic four-length winner but took 10.71 sec longer than he normally should have done. The Mark Johnston-trained Gear Up, making it three wins in four starts, relished the ground and with a show of great determination saw off a challenging quintet of would-be top-level winners at 27-1 under James Doyle. His time was more than 18 seconds slower than standard.

That race’s scheduled off time was only five minutes after the Vertem Futurity and you could call it an acceptable few minutes in the 78-year life of Jim Bolger as Gear Up, by Teofilo, was also bred by the trainer/breeder. The dam Gearanai, by Toccet, was of little account in racing terms but has been a brilliant mate for Teofilo producing four decent winners as well as another by New Approach. Sold as a yearling for €52,000 at Goffs just over a year ago, Gear Up has brought fantastic enjoyment to Teme Valley 2 and the Johnstons.

Having collected the final French juvenile Group 1 race of the year, Mark also had the last word by winning not only France’s final Group 1 of any age but also Europe’s concluding Group 1 of all at Longchamp yesterday. His three-year-old, Subjectivist, who faded into seventh behind Galileo Chrome after setting the pace in what is turning out to have been a high-quality St Leger, kept going to the finish to win the Prix Royal-Oak against his elders. Tony Mullins’ mare Princess Zoe, attempting to follow her Prix Du Cadran win over the Arc weekend, could get no nearer than fourth over the half-mile shorter trip.

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The ground was pretty slow too for both Cheltenham on Saturday and Aintree yesterday as the jumps season finally got into its stride. I also watched one early race at Hexham where 14 set off for a 14-runner handicap hurdle and with half a mile to go basically two were galloping, one plodding and the rest crying enough. It was heavy for much of last winter and trainers will be dreading similar conditions this winter having had the last season so cruelly ended before Aintree and the other important spring fixtures could be concluded.

Aintree yesterday gave a couple of indications that the Skelton team was getting into full stride. Their summer activity, a feature of Dan’s early training career, is almost negligible in comparison nowadays, but the smart horses are coming out now. Two from yesterday (from a sample of 13 winners during an accelerating two-week period) that advertised the team’s well-being and the trainer’s skill, were debutant Real Stone, a comfortable 50-1 winner of the competitive maiden hurdle which opened the card and bumper winner Elle Est Belle, also a newcomer who swamped previous winner Windswept Girl in the finale.

She is a daughter of Fame And Glory, whose early demise – he was just 11 having raced until six winning 14 times – was such a loss to Coolmore’s jump stallions. After this stylish win Elle Est Belle would be an early contender for the Cheltenham and Aintree Festival bumpers if Dan and owner Mrs Suzanne Lawrence can wait that long.

It was a frustrating few days for the Geegeez.co.uk colours as Windswept Girl’s stable-companion Coquelicot was a beaten favourite at Fontwell, where her jumping on hurdles debut was open to a deal of improvement. Both talented females carry high hopes into their second season with Anthony Honeyball and, don’t worry Matt and co, I reckon you have days of success and enjoyment to look forward to.

Flying Visit makes it an afternoon to remember for Jim Bolger

Flying Visit’s hard-fought Eyrefield Stakes success completed a quick across-the-card double in big races on either side of the Irish Sea for Jim Bolger.

Under an hour after Bolger’s Mac Swiney had relished the attritional conditions Doncaster to win the Group One Vertem Futurity Trophy Stakes, Flying Visit took his cue at Leopardstown.

For good measure, the veteran trainer – who was winning the Eyrefield for the fifth time in seven years – also bred a Group One hero in France on the same afternoon when Mark Johnston’s Gear Up caused a minor shock in the Criterium de Saint-Cloud.

It fell to Flying Visit to secure Bolger’s unusual juvenile hat-trick across Europe, and the son of Pride Of Dubai had to be tough to do so.

He and Luke McAteer arrived from off the pace to lead in the final furlong but then faced a determined challenge from Wuqood, and dug in very well to prevail by a head at 100-30 – with 6-4 favourite Carlisle Bay a further three-quarters of a length back in third.

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Flying Visit had previously won just one of his nine career starts, and finished second in his last three races – including at Gowran only three days ago.

After he had struck at the first attempt in Group class, McAteer explained that the colt’s regular jockey Kevin Manning had given him some handy riding instructions.

“He was a bit more straightforward today,” said McAteer.

“Kevin told me, if I could, to win without the stick – because he felt he was resenting it a bit.

“He stuck at it well, in fairness.”

He added: “I’m just delighted – it’s a great day for the whole team with the Group One winner in England as well.”

“I’m very grateful for the chances I’ve had. That’s 25 winners for the season, and it’s been a great year.”

Dermot Weld’s Amma Grace was a 7-2 winner of the Listed Trigo Stakes under Oisin Orr, by a neck from Numerian.

Weld, who was enjoying his sixth success in the race since 2010, said: “She did it well and she got a good tactical ride from Oisin.

“I walked the last two furlongs of the track when I came racing – and while the stands side is obviously a shade quicker I didn’t think there was that much advantage in coming all the way across, especially when you are going to ride her very positively.

“The shortest way home is still up the inside, and that’s what he did. He gave her a good ride, and the filly deserved it.

“She ran an excellent second in the Group Two Blandford (second at the Curragh last time). I just wanted to win a stakes race with her this year.

“She’s a stakes-winning filly now, and a beautifully-bred filly for Moyglare (Stud).

“I’ll speak with Eva Maria Haefner, but I’d say the plan will be to keep her in training next year.”

Mac Swiney swoops for Vertem Futurity Trophy glory

Mac Swiney was a tenacious winner of the Vertem Futurity Trophy at Doncaster.

Jim Bolger’s challenger, a Group Two winner on soft ground at the Curragh in August, had since managed only eighth of 10 on a quicker surface over the same course and distance in the National Stakes.

But he again revelled in testing conditions as the rain set in on Town Moor, with the 12-1 shot challenging last under Kevin Manning to overhaul eventual third Baradar and hold off 6-4 favourite One Ruler in the final furlong, scoring by three-quarters of a length.

Following a race in which Dewhurst runner-up Wembley was a significant late withdrawal on account of the ground, Paddy Power and Betfair responded by halving Mac Swiney’s odds for next year’s Derby to 20-1 from 40-1.

Manning, who was riding his first Group One winner in Britain since Pleascach won the Yorkshire Oaks in 2015, said: “He’s done all his running over seven furlongs, but I always thought the further he went the better he’d be.

“He was a little slowly away, but that enabled me to get a position. There was a bit of scrimmagin,g but he was able to hold his corner. He was very switched off and very relaxed.

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“He’s got a great attitude and didn’t fight me through the race, but at the business end he’s there when you want him.

“I imagine he’ll start off in one of the Guineas, but I think he’s a type that the better the race the better he’ll go, as he can cruise at good gear and he’s probably got more pace than I give him credit for.

“I think he’s a horse that when he steps up in trip you can only see the best of him as a three-year-old.”

Bolger turns 79 on Christmas Day, but once again has proved he can still come up with the goods on the big days.

Manning said: “It’s great to be back winning Group Ones, we’ve had some wonderful years together and we’ve been placed in this race before, so this is another box ticked.”

The colt is named after the Irish playwright and politician Terence Macswiney, who died 100 years ago on October 25, 1920 in Brixton prison on hunger strike having been placed there charged with sedition.

Manning said: “Jim is very good at naming his horses and this one is very well named, it’s 100 years tomorrow that he died.

“Jim didn’t come because of all the rigmarole that goes with it. I know I can’t mix with the other jockeys for 14 days when I get back, but that’s the way it is, it has to be done.

Mac Swiney relished the stamina test and will be aimed at the Derby
Mac Swiney relished the stamina test and will be aimed at the Derby (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“I thought this lad was worth doing it for. He’d beaten the horse that was the favourite (Wembley) in his maiden and the horse who won the Group One in France (Van Gogh) was behind him at the Curragh, so the form stacked up.”

Bolger told Sky Sports Racing: “I was hoping he could win, he’s been improving steadily.

“He’d have preferred better ground, but he got through that today and he did it really well.

“I’ve been regarding him as my Derby horse since he first went to the races and after today that is not about to change.

“I must have known he was good back in January when I named him Mac Swiney, it wouldn’t have been good for me or anyone around here to name a horse after a Cork man if he wasn’t very good.

“He’s one of our outstanding patriots and I’m thrilled for his memory that this fellow was able to go back to England 100 years after his death and win like he did.”

All in all it was a profitable day for Bolger: “It’s nice to have bred him, I also bred the Group One winner in France trained by Mark Johnston (Gear Up). I couldn’t do things like this without brilliant staff, both on the farm and in the training centre.”

Poetic Flare lights up Leopardstown

Poetic Flare opened his Pattern-race account in comfortable fashion in the Group Three Killavullan Stakes at Leopardstown, just a week after contesting the Dewhurst Stakes.

The Jim Bolger-trained colt showed no ill effects from his journey to Newmarket, where he finished down the field on his first start since he made a winning debut at Naas in March.

Poetic Flare (3-1) was always prominent before Kevin Manning kicked for home over two furlongs out and he strode away to score by two and a half lengths from Zaffy’s Pride.

Manning said: “He ran well in the Dewhurst and was only beaten eight lengths. He would have come on plenty from the run and it was a good training performance to turn around a week later.

“He stays well, but he has plenty of pace. I felt if I could get a length or two off the bend it might be just good enough. He has a lovely attitude and is a nice horse going forward.”

Manning’s wife, Una, daughter of the trainer, said: “He’s been growing all year, so that’s why he hadn’t run until the Dewhurst.

“It’s a Group One and we had to give it a try and we were happy with his run. He took all the travelling very well.

“He’ll be aimed at the Guineas.”

Surrounding landed a belated first success of the year in the Listed Knockaire Stakes.

Michael Halford’s seven-year-old had been highly-tried at Meydan during the winter and also back home when she returned to action in July following a break.

Always travelling kindly for Ronan Whelan, Surrounding (5-1) led a furlong out and held Laughifuwant by half a length.

“She’s a wonderful mare and she loves it around here. I was a bit concerned about the ground, but she’s getting older and probably able to handle it. She has been such a great servant to us,” said Halford.

“When she gets to the front she thinks she’s won. She parked up a bit when she got to the front, but she travelled super.”

Surrounding will now attempt to win the Listed Cooley Stakes at Dundalk for the third year running.

“We’ll head back to Dundalk for the Cooley with her now. It’s amazing the enthusiasm she still has for it and seven furlongs or a mile is good for her,” said Halford.

Class tells for Lady Wannabe at Listowel

Lady Wannabe made the most of having her sights lowered with victory in the Edmund & Josie Whelan Memorial Listowel Stakes.

Fozzy Stack’s filly had raced exclusively in Pattern company so far this year, most recently finishing down the field when a 150-1 shot for the Group One Matron Stakes on Irish Champions Weekend at Leopardstown.

Returning to Listed level for the first time since winning at Killarney in August of last year, the daughter of Camelot was a 14-1 shot under Chris Hayes – and proved her class with a near two-length verdict over Aidan O’Brien’s Keats.

Hayes said: “She had a good run the last day in superior company.

“We followed them around – they went good and hard, and the ground was as quick as she wanted – but the drop back in trip suited, and the rain came, which worked out a treat.

“That is probably her ideal trip (nine furlongs). She probably didn’t get home over a mile and a quarter, and they were going a gear too quick for her over a mile.

“She was able to get into a rhythm today and hopefully she can do something again later on.”

Jim Bolger and Kevin Manning combined for a double on the card, with 100-30 chance Sheer Bravado landing division two of the Feale Handicap and Agitare justifying 2-5 favouritism in the Jet & Peggy O’Carroll Memorial (C & G) Maiden.

The latter was not winning out of turn, having previously been placed at Listed and Group-race level this season.

Una Manning, daughter of the winning trainer and wife of the winning rider, said: “He was due his win – it took him a little while, but it was a good performance.

“The boss (Bolger) is delighted with him. He will get further and will go to the horses in training sale later on.”

Bat Sh!t Crazy Bolger

Bat sh!t Crazy Jim Bolger

Bat sh!t Crazy Jim Bolger

Bat-S*!t-Crazy Bolger

Jim Bolger doesn’t like rules, writes Tony Keenan. Some of his more liberal stable staff might disagree with the code of abstinence that prevails around Coolcullen but in terms of training rules of time, space and distance, Bolger doesn’t care. The received wisdom with Group 1 horses is clear: find their distance and stick to it, campaign them sparingly, don’t travel them too much.  Bolger ignores all of these, treating his group horses like handicappers, mixing up their trips, racing them often, travelling abroad at will. If another trainer took the same approach, the racing world would question what sort of bat-crazy methods they’re using. With Bolger, we’ve seen it all before and have come to expect the unforeseen.

This season’s experiment is Pleascach. Already she has dropped back from a strong finishing win over ten furlongs to win the Irish 1,000 Guineas in which her trainer ran two pacemakers to bring her home. Her next trick will be a relative sleight of hand in the Ribblesdale before a planned David Blaine-esque feat taking on the colts in the Irish Derby. But she’s only following on from other Bolger horses that have broken the rules and won.

 

Alexander Goldrun

Only the brave, drug-addled or a hopelessly optimistic owner could have predicted Alexander Goldrun would win five Group 1’s at the end of her juvenile season. At two, she ran eight times, including five nurseries; she started off with a rating of 88 and won just one of those juvenile handicaps. Improvement came at three, though, where she was in the frame for three Group 1’s before returning from a French-style mid-summer break to win the Prix de l’Opera on Arc day.

It was her next run that would define her, however. Bolger took her to Sha Tin in December of that year to win the Hong Kong Cup, becoming the first – and as yet only – Irish-trained winner of that race; in fact, by my reckoning there had been just four Irish-trained runners in the race before her, the race first run in 1988. She was also the first three-year-old to win the Hong Kong Cup – Snow Fairy became the second in 2010 – and joined a roll of winners that includes Fantastic Light and Falbrav. Not bad for a filly once rated 88.

 

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Dawn Approach

An unbeaten Champion Two-Year-Old who won the Coventry, National and Dewhurst, Dawn Approach was clearly not the average thoroughbred but nor was he unique. He returned at three with a five-length win in the 2,000 Guineas which led to him being sent off at 5/4 for the Derby, the decision to run influenced by factors like Godolphin buying him and Bolger having taken the Guineas route to Derby success with the sire, New Approach.

The trainer couldn’t get away with breaking this rule, his top-class miler running like what he was, pulling viciously with Kevin Manning in the early stages, allowed to lead six furlongs out and ultimately finishing a tailed off 33 lengths last. This may have been a rare time where Bolger second-guessed himself as he could have left the winner at home; his Irish Derby winner, Trading Leather, would later beat the Epsom form at the Curragh.

Dawn Approach seemed set for some time off after the Derby, if for nothing else than to teach him to settle properly and calm his nerves. But Bolger was having none of it. Seventeen days later, Dawn Approach runs in and wins the St. James’s Palace at Royal Ascot, beating his arch-rival Toronado in a race that didn’t go to plan as he suffered a heavy bump in the straight. Many questioned whether Dawn Approach had left his season behind at Epsom, but Bolger just kept him rolling.

 

Finsceal Beo

There were hints at two that Finsceal Beo could take racing and travelling well – she won the Boussac and the Rockfel, the second under a penalty, within a fortnight in the autumn of her juvenile season. This set up an ambitious plan at three; three Guineas, four weeks, the UK to France and back to Ireland. Taking the modern period into account, from 1979 to present, winning the first two races is doable if unusual. Miesque (1987), Ravinella (1988) and Special Duty (2010) completed the Newmarket/Longchamp double.

The English/Irish double, seemingly the more logical for horses trained in these islands, is much rarer, only Attraction in 2004 achieving that since 1979. Finsceal Beo of course did the double in 2007 and narrowly failed in winning all three, going down by a head in France, with the ground perhaps an excuse. What is most notable however is that defeat came in the middle leg, giving Bolger an obvious out not to run her at the Curragh. But he didn’t deviate from the plan and she landed her second Classic at home.

 

Light Heavy

Topping out a rating of 113, Light Heavy is hardly the most memorable Bolger horse but he is an unheralded cog in the headgear revolution that has happened in Irish racing. In 2012, he landed the Ballysax/Derrinstown double at Leopardstown; nothing unusual in that but he did it in cheekpieces. The aesthetics may not have been pleasing but they were effective.

Irish racing is hidebound and things like blinkers and cheekpieces were viewed in the traditional sense; rogues’ badges that you really don’t want your horses, especially the good ones, to wear if at all possible. This is backed up by the numbers though I do allow that the Irish authorities were quite slow to include this as part of their racecard information. Between 2003 and 2011, cheek-pieced runners in Irish group races were 3/124, a strikerate of 2.4%, and two of those winners were trained in the UK; Irish trainers simply didn’t want to use them.

Since 2012, the year Light Heavy won his double, their record is 14/113, a return of 12.3%; there have been almost as many runners in cheekpieces the last three and a bit years than there were in the previous ten. We have had a Derby winner (Ruler Of The World) race in them as well as an Ascot Gold winner (Leading Light). Aidan O’Brien uses them extensively and set the tone for the rest of the training community as befits his position as Champion Trainer. It was his old mentor Bolger who was the earliest of adopters though.

 

Lush Lashes

Lush Lashes ran only once at two – I don’t understand it either – but her three-year-old season more than compensated and was a thing of beauty in terms of endurance.  It is worth rehashing in full, race-by-race with her finishing position: Park Express – seventh; 1,000 Guineas – sixth; Musidora – won; Oaks – fifth; Coronation – won; Nassau – second (unlucky); Yorkshire Oaks – won; Matron – won; Prix De L’Opera – second; Hong Kong Cup – fourteenth. And the variation in furlongs (wins in bold): eight, eight, ten, twelve, eight, ten, twelve, eight, ten, ten.

It is one thing to experiment with a horse’s trip preferences early in their three-year-old season to find their optimum, quite another to continue doing it all season while bringing her back and forth from Britain and Ireland and later France and Hong Kong. Lush Lashes was the blueprint for the trip-versatile, frequent-running Bolger filly that would later be seen at a lower level with Banimpire (though there was nothing lower-level about her price tag as she sold for €2.3million in 2011 as a broodmare prospect) and hopefully Pleascach.

Long live bat sh!t crazy Bolger!