Donn's Articles » Jim Bolger

Jim Bolger

Jim Bolger and Royal Ascot go way back. It was in 1981 that he sent Happy Bride to Royal Ascot to run in the Coronation Stakes. Happy Bride came up short, she wasn’t good enough to beat the Bruce Hobbs-trained Tolmi, but she did come back to The Curragh a couple of weeks later to win the Pretty Polly Stakes.

More than that, however, she was a sighter for Bolger at Royal Ascot, an indicator of what was required to be successful there. Two years later, he sent Flame Of Tara back to contest the Coronation Stakes, and she won it. That’s Jim Bolger for you: always thinking ahead.

“Flame Of Tara was a special filly,” says Bolger. “She probably would have won a 1000 Guineas as well before Royal Ascot, but the ground came up soft on Guineas day and she just didn’t handle it. She went on to be a wonderful broodmare.”

He had to wait eight years for his next Royal Ascot winner, Easy To Please in the Queen Alexandra Stakes. He says that they were probably celebrating their first winner for eight years before going back and try to win another race there, but you suspect not. If he was into celebrating, there was plenty to celebrate in the interim.

Flame Of Tara followed in Happy Bride’s footsteps and came back to The Curragh to win the Pretty Polly Stakes for starters. Give Thanks won the Irish Oaks that year. Park Appeal won the Moyglare and the Cheveley Park Stakes the following year. Park Express won the Nassau Stakes and the Irish Champion Stakes three years later.

Two years after Bolger won the Queen Alexandra with Easy To Please, he won it again with Riszard, the horse on whom AP McCoy would ride his first winner over jumps.

“They were two good horses, Easy To Please and Riszard. They probably weren’t good enough to be winning one of the Group races at Royal Ascot, but they were good enough for a Queen Alexandra, and any winner at Royal Ascot was a big deal. When I was starting out, I always thought that Royal Ascot was a hunting ground for Henry Cecil and Vincent O’Brien, and that it would have been a little irreverent of me to think that I could upset either of those, so it was great to be able to go and have winners there.”

On 20th June 2008, he had two. Cuis Ghaire won the first race on the day, the Albany Stakes – a daughter of Galileo with the pace to win over six furlongs – and then, an hour and 15 minutes later, Lush Lashes provided Bolger with his second win in the Coronation Stakes.

Lush Lashes had won the Musidora Stakes over 10 and a half furlongs on her previous run. The conventional path for a Musidora winner is Epsom Oaks and/or Ribblesdale Stakes at Royal Ascot, but Jim Bolger doesn’t do conventional so well.

“I didn’t think that she fully saw out the mile and a half in the Oaks,” he says, “so I thought that I would drop her back down in trip at Royal Ascot. To be honest, I was a little surprised that she had the pace to win the Coronation Stakes over a mile, but she was very good on the day. It was a nice surprise.”

Then there was Dawn Approach, winner of the Coventry Stakes in 2012, winner of the St James’s Palace Stakes in 2013, and winner of the National Stakes and the Dewhurst Stakes and the 2000 Guineas in the interim.

The Coventry Stakes is the sire race, Bolger tells you. If you have a high-class juvenile colt and he wins the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot, suddenly you have a sire on your hands. Dawn Approach was unbeaten in three runs before he went to Royal Ascot, and he was very good in the Coventry Stakes, getting home by three parts of a length from Olympic Glory.

The preamble to the St James’s Palace Stakes the following year was not so straightforward. The New Approach colt had run out an impressive winner of the Guineas on his seasonal debut, but he had run too freely in the Derby, and had trailed in 12th of the 12 runners. The St James’s Palace Stakes was just two and a half weeks after the Derby, but it was not a difficult decision for Bolger to allow him take his chance at Royal Ascot.

“I decided that he was so well a week later, that I phoned John Ferguson (Sheikh Mohammed’s racing manager) and told him that I wasn’t keen to wait around for a couple of months before allowing the colt the chance to redeem himself. I thought that the sooner I could do it, the better for Dawn Approach, and the better for me.”

Dawn Approach did redeem himself, but it was not straightforward. When he shipped a bump two furlongs out, his trainer thought that it was all over, but Kevin Manning reacted quickly, got his horse back on an even keel and drove him home to beat Toronado by a short head in a thriller.

“That was another good day. Two winners in 2008 was great, and the fact that they both ran in Jackie’s colours made it extra special, but Dawn Approach’s win in the St James’s Palace Stakes was up there with that.”

This week, Jim Bolger will bid to further enhance his Royal Ascot record. Marble Hill winner Round Two is favourite for the Coventry Stakes on Tuesday, Irish 1000 Guineas winner Pleascach is favourite for the Ribblesdale Stakes on Thursday, and Newmarket Guineas runner-up Lucida is second favourite for the Coronation Stakes on Friday.

“They are all very well. Round Two has a wonderful temperament, he is so straightforward, anybody could train him, anybody could ride him. Lucida is good, she ran a big race in the Guineas and she has come forward again from that. And Pleascach has come out of the Irish Guineas well. I’d be hoping to give her a good blow-out in the Ribblesdale for the Irish Derby.”

Still thinking ahead.

© The Sunday Times, 14th June 2015