The race was run at a slow pace, which certainly would not have benefited Dawn Approach, as his strengths are his pace and power. Before the race, the Channel 4 team suggested that Aidan O’Brien’s team would hunt in a pack this year, rather than sending off an out and out pacemaker, and that is indeed how the race went.
O’Brien denied any such plan, saying that the pace was sensible, and that the best way to outwit the Godolphin horse would have been through “an absolutely mad pace.” Such an unassuming character is not one to go out of his way to claim tactical brilliance, or to rub the nose of a desperately disappointed fellow trainer in the mire.
William Buick, who rode Libertarian into second place, advanced the case for the slow pace plan. He said, “It was a slowly run race which caught us all out except for the jockeys riding for Aidan O’Brien. We all thought it would be a fast pace, but it wasn’t.” When asked specifically if he thought that was intentional on the part of the Ballydoyle team Buick added, “Definitely. They got the favourite in trouble, as he didn’t settle. It would have played to their strengths.”
Godolphin understandably were seeking to work out what happened to cause the 2,000 Guineas winner to act more like a rodeo horse than a racehorse with jockey Kevin Manning. Trainer Jim Bolger spoke from Chantilly yesterday, where he had hoped for, but did not achieve, better from Loch Garman in the French Derby. He said of Dawn Approach, “He got a bang leaving the stalls and I think that set him alight, and with the slow pace then Kevin wasn’t able to get him settled.”
That view was based on close examination of footage of the start. Racing manager Simon Crisford said, “I’ve seen a picture of Kevin Manning sitting very awkwardly as he jumped out, as if he banged his iron or something. Something set him alight and we think that’s what it might have been. But once he got set alight that was it, the race was over.”
The jockey himself was at a complete loss to explain things. He said, “I don’t know what happened – I just can’t throw any light on it. I’d planned to settle him mid-division and get him into a rhythm, but we left the gates and he just got out of control. It is extremely uncharacteristic of him as he is a very laid back horse. I was confident he would get the trip beforehand as he switch off so easily.”
Many people will say that Dawn Approach didn’t stay a mile and a half, but I don’t think that was proved. What we do know is he won’t be asked to try that distance again. Immediately after the Derby, Bolger was asked what he thought of Dawn Approach now. His reply, “He’s a champion horse” reminded us that one defeat, when the horse clearly was at odds with himself, can’t take away what he has already achieved, and it told us what he’ll be asked to do in the future. Champions excel in their class, and in the case of Dawn Approach, that’s over a mile.