New Approach takes Horse of the Year accolade

NEW APPROACH will begin his stud career with the title of Horse Racing Ireland’s Horse of the Year for 2008.

Jim Bolger’s superstar beat off a high quality list comprising Aidan O’Brien quartet Duke of Marmalade, Henrythenavigator, Halfway to Heaven and Yeats, as well as stablemate Lush Lashes to take the coveted award.

The son of Galileo signed off in scintillating fashion last October when trouncing his rivals in the Emirates Airline Champion Stakes, having earlier won the Tattersalls Millions Irish Champion Stakes.

The Epsom Derby was the undoubted highlight of the season though but Bolger revealed yesterday that he was extremely calm about the entire proceedings, even when the English media turned on him for what he subsequently called “the best mistake of my life”.

Bolger was referring to having accidentally left New Approach in the Epsom showpiece, despite insisting repeatedly that the Princess Haya-owned colt would not make the journey.

“I have to remind you that I don’t do stress,” said Bolger at the awards function in Dublin’s Shelbourne Hotel.

“It was a wonderful day. I’ve watched the race every year no matter where I’ve worked. I haven’t skived off, but I’ve taken the day off. I’ve never done a tap of work on Epsom Derby day and I didn’t this yeareither,” he joked.

Whatever about the Coolcullen handler, who flew to Hong Kong last night to finalise preparations for Lush Lashes’ weekend tilt at the Hong Kong Cup, his son-in-law Kevin Manning certainly had to earn his corn on board New Approach.

“He’s an exuberant horse and got a couple of bumps to light him up” Bolger recalls. “Kevin didn’t panic. He wanted to do it his way and that was the right way. Of course he knew he had a machine under him.”

John Ferguson, bloodstock advisor to the owner’s husband, Sheikh Mohammed, was not so calm however. “It was just like a whirlwind. Around five days before the race I was relaxed because I didn’t think we had a runner,’’ he said. “Then Jim Bolger made an inspirational decision. He made a call and said if it was okay, he would like to run. At the top of the hill I thought it was a mistake but no horse would have done what he did from there.”

Meanwhile, Irish Examiner columnist Ruby Walsh won the National Hunt award for the fifth successive season and confirmed that he hopes to return to the saddle at Cheltenham this weekend, having had his spleen removed following a fall at the same venue last month. “I knew it was a bit worse than being winded” he recalled. “A couple of hours later I realised it was the spleen and after a bit of persuading decided to have it taken. I was a bit disappointed it was only two pounds in weight” he joked.

Aidan O’Brien claimed the Flat award for the first time in the scheme’s six-year existence and having trained 23 Group 1 winners, the Master of Ballydoyle was a certainty to gain overdue recognition.

The point-to-point honour went to John Thomas McNamara, who surpassed the previous record of winners by a jockey in this sphere previously held by Enda Bolger and went on to ride his 500th winner.

Patrick Mullins, 19, was given the Outstanding Achievement gong for managing to wrest the champion amateur jockeys’ title from Nina Carberry while studying for his leaving cert, and partnering Cousin Vinny, trained by his father Willie, to become the first horse to do the Cheltenham-Punchestown champion bumper double.

The final award for contribution to the industry, went to David Fox, who celebrated 50 years as a jockeys’ valet in 2008.

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