Donn's Articles » Jim Bolger

Jim Bolger

In quieter moments, Jim Bolger writes down names.  Potential horse names: Teofilo, New Approach, Intense Focus, Pleascach.  When you happen upon a good one, you want to have a good name to go with it.

Poetic Flare was not Poetic Flare when he first came into the world.  The 2000 Guineas winner of 2021 was only given the name by which he is now universally known when he started to show signs of ability on the Coolcullen gallops, named after Jim and Jackie Bolger’s daughter Fióna, writer and poet.

But Poetic Flare’s Coolcullen roots go much deeper than the imprint that he made when he first set foot on the gallops.  His sire is Dawn Approach, who was bred by Jim Bolger and trained by Jim Bolger to win the 2000 Guineas and the St James’s Palace Stakes, as well as the National Stakes and the Dewhurst.  Dawn Approach’s sire is New Approach, who was trained by Jim Bolger to win five Group 1 races, including the Derby and the Champion Stakes.  And Dawn Approach’s dam is Hymn Of The Dawn, who was also trained by Jim Bolger.

Poetic Flare’s distaff side also runs Coolcullen deep.  His dam is Maria Lee, who was trained by Bolger and bred by Bolger out of the Royal Academy mare Elida, who was also trained by Bolger and bred by Bolger, out of a mare that he also trained, Saviour, dam of Speirbhean, Teofilo’s dam.

Talk about equine dynasty.

It was all borne out of necessity, he tells you.  The breeding side of it.  The training has been going since the start, since the 1970s from his base in Clonsilla in Dublin, before Pope John Paul II’s visit to Ireland in 1979 rendered the Phoenix Park redundant as a training ground for racehorses and pushed him and his wife Jackie down the country to Coolcullen, a Wexford man moved to Kilkenny.

The breeding came later when, more and more, sisters and brothers of the racehorses he was training were being pushed out of his price range.  Realism dictated.  He adapted his strategy, started to keep the fillies, retained access to the potential stallions, and so began an all-encompassing deep-rooted breeding and training operation with a breadth and a depth and a rate of success today that is quite unique in the world of horse racing.

Poetic Flare is a product of that operation.  A forward-going juvenile, he was so precocious that he was able to win the first two-year-olds’ race of the 2020 Flat season at Naas last March, the same race that his sire had won when it was run at The Curragh eight years earlier.  Then racing and the country was locked down, and the young colt started to grow and develop.

“He looked like a real two-year-old in the early part of last season,” recalls Jim Bolger now.  “But, as you know, growth takes precedence over performance.  He kept growing into July.  The Dewhurst Stakes in October was always the plan with him, but we couldn’t get a run into him before that.”

Poetic Flare didn’t run badly in the Dewhurst, even though he suffered the only defeat of his career to date there, and he showed the benefit of that run when he returned to Leopardstown the following week for the Group 3 Killavullan Stakes, and ran out an impressive winner.

That was a week before Jim Bolger sent his New Approach colt Mac Swiney to Doncaster and, on the day before the 100th anniversary of the death of Irish politician and writer Terence MacSwiney, after whom the colt was named, landed the Group 1 Vertem Futurity Trophy.

There’s the importance of a name again.

Both Poetic Flare and Mac Swiney were in the mix for the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket two weeks ago, and Bolger was of the opinion that both colts had the talent to win it.  It was just a case of deciding which one should go.  Then Mac Swiney had a nasal discharge and the decision was made for him.  Poetic Flare went to Leopardstown in the interim and won the Guineas Trial.

“I wanted to give him a run before the Guineas.  For the experience.  He didn’t get a lot of racing last year.”

Dawn Approach was different.  When Poetic Flare’s sire won the Guineas in 2013, he was racing for the first time that season.  No prep run.  But Dawn Approach had the experience to do that.  He ran in six races as a two-year-old, won all six and was named Champion Juvenile.

Even before the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket two weeks ago, Bolger was thinking of today’s French Guineas at Longchamp for Poetic Flare, and of the possibility of a Guineas treble.  The last colt to win the English Guineas and the French Guineas is Djebel, who completed the double in 1940, and the treble has never been done before.  It would be an unprecedented feat.  No horse has ever won the English Guineas, the French Guineas and the Irish Guineas.  

It is an arduous task, three Classics in three weeks, a 15-day break followed by a six-day break and three tough races at the highest level, but Jim Bolger went agonisingly close to completing the fillies’ Guineas treble in 2007 with Finsceal Beo.  Michael Ryan’s filly won the English 1000 Guineas easily, then was beaten a head by Darjina in the French Guineas seven days later, before going back to The Curragh and winning the Irish Guineas.

“The rain scuppered her chance in Paris.”

The trainer thinks that, if ever he has had a colt who could complete the colts’ Guineas treble, it is Poetic Flare.

“He’s a very sound colt.  Hardy.  He stands up to training.  And he has a great attitude.  He doesn’t care about you or me.  He actually put on weight after Newmarket.  He weighed one kilo heavier after Newmarket than before Newmarket.  Horses would normally lose eight to 10 kilos, the travelling and after a hard race.  I’ve never known a horse to put on weight before.”

He had a hard race at Newmarket too.  He had to dig deep under a superb ride by Kevin Manning to get up and nut Master Of The Seas on the line.  But his trainer is happy with his horse ahead of the French 2000 Guineas, the Poule d’Essai de Poulains, at Longchamp this afternoon.

“He’s in very good form, he has a nice draw and we have managed to complete all the administration that we needed to complete in order that Kevin can ride him.  We’re hopeful.”

Hopefulness with deep roots in realism.  Poetic realism. 


I feel the marl ball

warm to my touch

as you hand it to me


the bishop’s walk stopped here

tall beeches in gothic style

cutting across the hillside

your gallop now


tearing up the incline

rushes ploughed under

all that remains a pristine

carpet of brown and green


round the carefully calculated bend

so many lines to make a curve

behind the old school house

to the field where hay was stacked


on an overcast summer’s days

men stripped back to boys

sweated, drank glass-bottled

milky tea and laughed


the small circle hidden now

where I went round and round

until I broke loose


Fióna Bolger


© The Sunday Times, 16th May 2021