Derby Revisited

I suppose it had to happen – with all the will he , won’t he controversy surrounding the participation of New Approach there was a certain inevitability the horse would win the Derby.

Ignoring all the controversy for a moment it has to be admitted it was a magnificent training achievement and a very good performance to win the classic. This is a horse whose problems seem to be in his mind more than his body who, despite running seemingly too free for his own good in the early stages, still demolished a strong Derby field.

There are those who say this years Derby wasn’t the strongest, don’t believe it. With the exception of Henrythenavigator all the top contenders who would be expected to compete turned up. Even the most hardened cynics accept it was a good performance and a great training achievement.

So why such a bitter taste, why such venom?

The events in the run up to the Derby have been well documented but I will briefly summarise them here.

Trainer Jim Bolger’s version of events is he genuinely believed, after the Irish 2000 Guineas that New Approach would not be running at Epsom and he said the horse would not be running. As a result of which the horse was removed from the betting for the race. There then came a forfeit stage when Bolger claims the horse should have been taken out of the list of runners but, due to an administrative oversight, this did not happen. Subsequently it transpired that New Approach had come out of the Irish Guineas in much better shape than originally envisaged and, still holding a Derby entry, the possibility of running in The Derby was considered. The final decision as to his participation was not made by connections until the day before the five day declaration stage on the Monday before the race.

His opponents take on events is that it was always Bolger’s intention to run New Approach and that his actions were a deliberate attempt to deceive punters as to the true running intentions. The inference being that a killing could be made in the betting market by people connected with the stable.

Perhaps I am getting soft in my old age but I do tend to come down on the side of Jim Bolger.

Now I am not saying he comes out of this affair smelling of roses, far from it. It could be said he is very much of the “old school” of trainers where PR with the press and punting public appears very low, if at all, on his list of priorities. Some will say why should he, after all it is the owners who pay his bills and therefore it is them he is accountable to. To a point that argument is valid.

However like it or not betting is an integral part of the sport and with more and more trainers adopting an open policy with the media and public there is less tolerance of trainers who are not so open.

Add to the equation the fact that Mr Bolger has previous form, in particular with the 2007 Derby hopeful Teofilio whose non-participation in the race can also be described as a PR disaster which resulted in many punters (and journalists) losing a great deal of money. A large number of people, including some vocal members of the media, have never forgiven Bolger over Teofilio and coupled with his generally dismissive attitude to the press, his card has been marked for some time.

So why do I come down on Bolger’s side?

First of all his story is plausible – it is a big ask to run in two Guineas then a Derby. I think he genuinely  believed the horse would not be fit.

His mistake, perhaps, was in being so adamant the horse would not run. Had he said it is highly unlikely the horse will run it would probably had been better. As for forgetting to take the horse out of the race, well how many of us have made mistakes over admin matters. As for the decision to run, it is arguable that he could have mentioned the possibility of running as soon as it was raised with connections.

I don’t know Mr Bolger personally but those who do, including his fiercest critics, all admit he is a man of utmost integrity. He stable is not a betting stable and the horses owners are certainly not know as betting owners. This, to me, strongly undermines the assertion this was a betting inspired action.

Finally I was at the post Derby press conference and was able to see Mr Bolger first hand. Whilst I am no psychologist, I have been around long enough and have interviewed enough people over the years to be a good reader of body language. His reaction and his body language to me was not that of a guilty man.

The press have a duty and a right to ask the questions that have been asked, that cannot be denied and should not be curtailed. What I do find embarrassing is the action of certain members of the media who are effectively trying to destroy a man without a shred of evidence of wrongdoing. Some of the performances of the media have reflected more on their egos than responsible journalism. It is not the role of a responsible journalist to settle scores.

To be honest nobody come out of this affair in a shining light.

Bolger has, at best, been naïve in his handling of the affair. Like it or not dealing openly with the press and public is now part and parcel of his job. Perhaps he should seriously consider adding a PR person to his staff. He also add a little humility to his responses to questioning and acknowledge his actions have upset many people.

From the media side some members need to remember that whilst it is their job to probe and ask the questions, they also need to keep a level of objectivity and not allow their dealing with the industry become personal.

On a more positive note I must praise Epsom for their staging of this years Derby. In the middle of a huge redevelopment project they managed to stage a great meeting. The facilities were basic but the reduction in numbers made the situation manageable. As a result of the reduction in numbers in the main enclosures more racegoers got to sample the delights of The Hill on Derby day – in my view one of those great sporting experiences.       


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