Dawn Approach features among 24 colts left in the Investec Derby at Epsom after the latest forfeit stage.
Jim Bolger’s unbeaten 2000 Guineas winner is as short as even-money favourite after the major Derby trials. Bolger has also left in Trading Leather, who was second in the Dante Stakes on Thursday, and Loch Garman, runner-up in the Derrinstown Derby Trial.
Bolger said at York on Thursday: “I am thrilled with my three top horses, Dawn Approach, Trading Leather and Loch Garman. We know the one that is better (Dawn Approach) - he is well. It is a toss-up between the other two. I think the only trials that matter were run in Coolcullen (on his stable’s gallops). I’m ecstatic with them.
“With due respect for the winners of the Leopardstown trial and the trial here (York), we would be expecting to show serious improvement from a fitness point of view (Loch Garman and Trading Leather respectively).”
Aidan O’Brien has a strong numerical presence with Battle Of Marengo, winner of the Derrinstown, his main hope according to the bookmakers. Ruler Of The World and Magician won trials at Chester while Nevis won at Lingfield. Mars, Festive Cheer and Flying The Flag are also still in.
Andre Fabre is represented by Ocovango, who won the Prix Greffulhe at Saint-Cloud used by the trainer for his 2011 Epsom hero Pour Moi. Ocovango is owned by Prince Faisal and his racing manager Ted Voute told At The Races: “As far as I know everything is going according to plan and he will go over for the Breakfast With The Stars next week. He went to the Greffullhe having won a maiden and a Listed race, and each time he’s been nurtured to learn a little bit more.”
The likes of Telescope, Galileo Rock, First Cornerstone, Bravodino and Zand are still in the mix. The Elaine Burke-trained Libertarian was an impressive winner of the Dante and connections have firmly set their sights on Epsom.
The Ralph Beckett-trained Secret Gesture, an impressive winner of the Lingfield Oaks Trial, and Sir Michael Stoute’s Liber Nauticus, winner of the Musidora at York, head the betting after impressive displays. Beckett has also left in Talent, winner of the Pretty Polly Stakes at Newmarket.
Aidan O’Brien has three possibles with 1000 Guineas fourth Moth his leading contender. Snow Queen, fifth in the Guineas, and Say, a Cork maiden winner, are his other possibles.
Murtagh granted trainers’ licence
Johnny Murtagh has been granted a training licence by the Irish Turf Club.
Murtagh owns the Curragh stables where Tommy Carmody is based and has been working alongside the trainer while undergoing his preparation to take out a licence.
The team started out last year and sent out a number of big-race winners, including Irish St Leger winner Royal Diamond and English Leger fourth Ursa Major for owner Andrew Tinkler.
The Classic-winning rider now plans to take over the running of the operation, combining his training interests with his career in the saddle.
He told the Irish Times: “I finished the course and the Turf Club has granted me a licence to train.
“I’m delighted to get it sorted and I think it is an added bonus that I will be able to train and ride the horses.
“I accept that me training might make it difficult for some people to use my services on their horses but I am still available to whoever wants me, and that includes internationally.”
Murtagh will assume control of Fort Knox, who was recently purchased by Sheikh Mohammed and is a leading contender for next weekend’s Tattersalls Irish 2,000 Guineas.
“I think starting out under my own name, with a Sheikh Mohammed owned horse, in a Classic, will be a good way to begin. Hopefully he will run well,” Murtagh added.
Trading goes close in Dante
Trading Leather has Classic options open to him after filling the runner-up berth in the Betfred Dante Stakes at York.
Jim Bolger’s colt was always to the fore and stuck to his guns well, playing second fiddle only to surprise 33-1 winner Libertarian.
Bolger said: “I couldn’t be more happy with him and we expect him to come on a lot for the run, although he was as fit as I could get him at home. He’d only go to Epsom if something happened to Dawn Approach. This horse and Loch Garman have the options of the Irish Guineas and the French Derby.
“Later on there’s the Irish Derby, but that might be open to Dawn Approach as well.”
Asked for his view on the fortnight of Derby trials, he said cryptically: “I think the only trials that matter are the ones at Coolcullen (his stable). We’re ecstatic with them.”
Aidan O’Brien’s Indian Chief, the 11-4 favourite, was back in third, and Coolmore’s UK representative Kevin Buckley said: “Joseph (O’Brien) was happy enough with him and he’s probably still a bit inexperienced. This was a big step up, but Joseph felt confident he’d get a mile and a half.”
Karl Burke, the winning trainer’s husband and assistant, said of Libertarian: “It is a great win for the yard and everyone connected with the horse. He’s a proper horse and having not had many (Derby) horses, or Dante horses even, you are tilting at windmills a bit. We have always thought a lot of him.
“If you watch the race at Sandown it was a nonsense of a race for him. Unfortunately Phil (Makin) got stuck on the outside of a horse that was hanging badly and he drifted out. He’s such a green horse which is why we came back today to give him more racecourse experience.
“He’s a big backward animal that has taken a lot of time. It was only in March time that he really began to pick up in his work and he’s done nothing but improve since then.”
Jockey William Buick said: “It was a true-run race and the best horse won on the day. He’s a fine big horse. Karl said to me beforehand that as long as I didn’t get too far away he’d have a squeak as he stays very well.”
All well with mighty Approach
Trainer Jim Bolger said Dawn Approach has been “bucking and squealing” since his deeply impressive triumph in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket.
The unbeaten colt, who runs in the royal blue Godolphin silks, will next be seen in the Investec Derby at Epsom on June 1.
Bolger could not be happier with his well-being ahead of his big Classic assignment.
He told At The Races: “He’s still awesome. He’s very well, we’re very happy with him.
“He had a little breeze (on Wednesday morning) just to keep his pipes open and he’s very happy with life himself.
“He came out of the race well and he’s been bucking and squealing ever since. He has a very good temperament.
“He’s very hardy and resilient and taken everything we have thrown at him.”
‘Special’ one attracts big interest
Trainer John Murphy’s phone has been ringing off the hook since the impressive victory of Big Time at Naas on Wednesday evening.
Sent off at 16-1 in the Fishery Lane Race, taken last year by subsequent Guineas winner Dawn Approach, the Kheylef colt beat a smart field by upwards of a length and a half.
Owned by Murphy’s wife, the County Cork handler is now in the enviable position of being able to decide to stick or twist, with the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot on the agenda.
“I don’t think he’ll run again (before Royal Ascot), unless we get some nice, quick ground,” said Murphy.
“He’s a beautiful mover so I think we’ll go straight there and he’ll be even better on nice ground.
“The phone hasn’t stopped ringing with people showing an interest in him.
“We would love to keep him to train as we have no idea where he will end up. I think he’s special.
“The ideal thing would be to maybe sell an interest in him but keep him in the yard, like we did with Tuscan Evening (finished second in the Irish 1000 Guineas before being demoted to fourth) a few years ago.
“He’s got a good pedigree and had a good blow so there’s plenty more to come.”
Hayes sweet on Sugar
Jockey Chris Hayes is counting down the days until Sugar Boy gets to run in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby at the Curragh on June 29.
The Authorized colt travelled over to Sandown for the Classic Trial and made all the running under Hayes to beat Aidan O’Brien’s Eye Of The Storm.
Trainer Patrick Prendergast has mooted a possible run before the Derby in the King George V Cup, formerly known as the Nijinsky Stakes, at Leopardstown on June 7.
“He’s in good shape, he’s come out of that race well,” Hayes told At The Races.
“His form has checked out. I’ve won a good few races on him, he’s been very good to me, he tries very hard and he stays very well.
“I haven’t spoken to Patrick and the owners about his plan but I presume it’s still the Irish Derby.”
Dettori hurt by Godolphin downgrade
Frankie Dettori has pointed to the relegation of his standing within Godolphin as a contributory factor in the “moment of weakness” that resulted in a six-month riding ban after he tested positive for cocaine.
In an exclusive interview with Channel 4 News and Clare Balding to be broadcast at 7pm this evening, Dettori, who is due to return to the saddle at Leicester on Monday, spoke of “getting depressed” as the long-standing relationship with Sheikh Mohammed’s operation began to break down.
“Up until about two years ago I was having the best time of my life...and then for some reason things have changed. We had a new trainer, new way of doing things and I didn’t know whether I was in or out,” he said.
“My first 17 years of my riding career (at) Godolphin, I was always the number one pick. All of a sudden I saw myself being the fourth in the biggest race in the world, and it started from there and it was never an explanation why and what, you know. I had to accept it for unknown reasons.”
Dettori spoke of the first “stumbling hurdle” being when he was refused the ride on a horse in a Derby trial, and then saw Mickael Barzalona win the Leger on Godolphin’s Encke, with the Italian only third on Michelangelo for John Gosden.
“My head was wrecked, absolutely wrecked. I couldn’t take it any more,” he said, before speaking of his decision to accept the ride on Camelot in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe for arch rivals Coolmore.
He said: “In hindsight, I should perhaps have confronted Godolphin. I knew then when I did ride the horse that was me finished. For me wanting to leave as much for them wanting to get rid of me. I couldn’t take any more and the rest is history.”
Dettori left Godolphin not long after the Arc in October last year. He said: “You start getting depressed, I wasn’t sleeping at night, I was arguing with my wife. But then you think maybe I will be all right next week, maybe I will be back in favour.”
He added: “I’ve been (tested) 15 times in two months. It’s part of the protocol, you have to go so through so many tests. I don’t have a problem with that. I feel like Lance Armstrong, they come and knock on my door at any time of the day.”