29 June 2008

Jim Bolger is planning to leave it until the 11th hour before making a decision on the participation of New Approach in today’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby.

The situation was pretty grim on Friday night, but things were looking brighter yesterday when there was a marked improvement in the hot favourite’s bruised foot. “There is less heat in the foot and we are treating it,” trainer Bolger explained.

Even before Friday’s scare put New Approach’s involvement in doubt, the amazing thing about pre-race predictions is that so many people thought he was bound to confirm the English Derby form. It was almost as if they were suggesting Epsom is a similar track to The Curragh. It isn’t.

Indeed, the fact that both races are over a mile and a half is about the only similarity. The right and then left-handed helter-skelter of Epsom, around which New Approach beat Tartan Bearer, Casual Conquest, Curtain Call and a bunch of Aidan O’Brien contenders, poses different challenges than the long straights and sweeping right-handed turns of The Curragh.

New Approach won thanks to a memorable piece of early anchoring and then a brilliantly impressive but opportunistic finishing sprint up the inside rail. The dice might not roll as well today and several of his opponents might be far better suited to The Curragh and are likely to have improved since Epsom.

That will certainly be true of Epsom second and third Tartan Bearer and Casual Conquest. Tartan Bearer was having the fourth race of his life at Epsom, Casual Conquest only his third.

By contrast it was New Approach’s eighth outing, his fifth consecutive battle in Group One company, and his third in five weeks. He was a decisive winner at Epsom but has only half a length in hand on Tartan Bearer, who is on the upward profile of a Michael Stoute-trained Classic colt. Quite apart from the Epsom factor, there are good grounds for thinking that Tartan Bearer might get his revenge.

Casual Conquest has a full five lengths to make up on New Approach but he was unbelievably inexperienced for Epsom and his long stride is much more likely to be suited by The Curragh than the hurly-burly of Tattenham Corner. Reports from the Dermot Weld yard this week have been extremely encouraging and it would be no surprise at all if we were to see Pat Smullen looming up on Casual Conquest with a lot of horse underneath him.

There are hopes, too, of the Luca Cumani-trained Curtain Call, who certainly had quite an unhappy run in the Derby. Jamie Spencer is now replaced by Fran Berry, who rode Curtain Call in all of his races last season when the colt was trained by Jessica Harrington. He will be more suited to The Curragh, but may not be good enough.

Of the Ballydoyle contingent Alessandro Volta, who was sixth at Epsom, is preferred by stable jockey Johnny Murtagh to Washington Irving, who was fifth and Frozen Fire (11th). None of them really appeal but they can still have an impact by using their pacemaker Bashkirov to control the tempo and their numbers to deny Kevin Manning any favours on New Approach.

The most crucial moment of the Epsom Derby was Manning’s battle to get his horse to settle. He is drawn three today and if his stall neighbours Curtain Call (4) and stable-mate Winchester (2) let him jump out clear he will have a lot of grass in front of him and the brakes will be very hard to operate.

New Approach is a worthy champion, but it won’t be easy, especially following the injury scare to his foot.

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