Bolger made the right call with Mac Swiney as the colt named after the famous Irishman bidding for Derby glory


When Irish trainer Jim Bolger named the foal he had bred himself Mac Swiney, he backed up his judgment and raised the stakes.

Calling a horse to a real person – alive or dead – means that his performance is being scrutinized more closely. No one wants it to be a dud. On Saturday in front of 4,000 spectators at Epsom, Mac Swiney could become a Cazoo Derby winner.

The judgment of 79-year-old Bolger has not proved right for the first time. The son of New Approach, who trained Bolger to win the 2008 Derby, has already won Classics, beating stablemate and English 2,000 Guineas winner Poetic Flare in last month’s Irish 2,000 Guineas.

Rory Cleary celebrates after Mac Swiney’s win in the Irish 2,000 Guineas last month

This afternoon, Mac Swiney puts down the most important Flat race of the season as just one of two previous winners at Group One level – the other being Mark Johnston’s Gear Up, who won the Criterium de Saint-Cloud last season.

It is also likely that winning a race that is a British institution with a colt named after Terence MacSwiney, playwright, author and Irish Republican politician who died in Brixton Prison in 1920 after being arrested by the British government on charges of sedition, the fierce patriot will give Bolger almost as much satisfaction as bringing in his share of the £1.125 million prize money.

Bolger: “I’ve been thinking about naming a horse after him for quite a few years. Then I realized the 100th anniversary of his death was approaching. Luckily I chose the right one.

‘Horses should be named in the spring of their two years. This guy had been broken in and ridden from October and had a canter in the winter.

“We knew then that we had two nice two-year-olds. I then had to choose the names for the right horses and I felt that the New Approach colt could more than pay tribute to the memory of Terence MacSwiney.”

Mac Swiney is the son of New Approach (above), who trained Bolger to win the 2008 Derby

Mac Swiney is the son of New Approach (above), who trained Bolger to win the 2008 Derby

Bolger’s record in the Derby, allied to Mac Swiney’s form, is a compelling case for support.

New Approach aside, Bolger has had a Derby third with Star of Gdansk (1991) and two seconds with St Jovite (1992) and Blue Judge (1993) from just nine runners.

That record might have been even better if the training of St Jovite, the best horse and a half that Bolger says he has ever trained, won the Irish Derby at the Curragh and King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes at the Curragh. Ascot, after his two-long defeat to Dr Devious, went more smoothly.

Bolger said: ‘He was held up with a heel infection a few weeks before the Derby and missed about 10 days of regular exercise.’

Bolger has a reputation for plowing his own furrows. He grew up on a farm in County Wexford, where his first equine experiences were with four workhorses running the operation before the first tractor arrived in 1954.

Aidan O'Brien's Bolshoi Ballet is the favorite for Saturday's Cazoo Derby in Epsom

Aidan O’Brien’s Bolshoi Ballet is the favorite for Saturday’s Cazoo Derby in Epsom

He developed and traded show jumpers before graduating in Thoroughbreds and began training in 1976.

Now more than three-quarters of the horses in his stable are his and run in the name of wife Jackie. Quite simply, winning and finding a good horse is an economic necessity.

Given the unpredictable nature of horse training, there are always precarious times just around the corner.

Bolger said, “I suppose it’s some kind of miracle. I’ve been doing it for 40 years. I’m probably pretty good at the survival game right now. I don’t stress too much and luckily the doctors say that a little stress is not a bad thing.’

If St Jovite is the best mile horse Bolger has trained, he thinks Mac Swiney’s sire New Approach was the best over mile. He won his Derby despite failing to settle and pulling too hard early in the race at the hands of jockey Kevin Manning, Bolger’s son-in-law, who also rides Mac Swiney.

The rain is positive for Andrew Balding's Chester Vase winner Youth Spirit

The rain is positive for Andrew Balding’s Chester Vase winner Youth Spirit

New Approach had arrived in Epsom after finishing second in both the English and Irish 2,000 Guineas. Bolger makes a telling comparison to Mac Swiney, who suffered from a respiratory infection when he was fourth race-fit with Derby favorite Bolshoi Ballet during his seasonal debut at Leopardstown last month.

The trainer said: “Mac Swiney is as good as New Approach after his Guineas run. I expect it to perform better over longer distances. I’m pretty sure he’ll get a mile and a half and get it right.”

The unexpected rain that fell in Epsom yesterday can only increase Mac Swiney’s chance.

Bolshoi Ballet deserves to be a favorite. His six-length win in the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial was a standout achievement. Significantly, his trainer Aidan O’Brien, who has won the Derby eight times, would only saddle up Ryan Moore’s mount if his normal course of action was to pop up with bony hands.

It could be a vote of confidence in a foal whose sire Galileo was also O’Brien’s sole Derby runner when he won the race 20 years ago.

Inexperience is the big question mark against Frankie Dettori’s mount John Leeper, who is named after trainer Ed Dunlop’s late double Derby winning trainer father.

Dante Stakes winner Hurricane Lane looks solid as Third Realm took home the Lingfield Derby Trial. The concern for the Roger Varian trained foal is that no horse has won the Derby from his No. 2 stable.

The rain is positive for Andrew Balding’s Chester Vase winner Youth Spirit but a negative for William Haggas-trained Mohaafeth, although it should dry up today.

While Joseph O’Brien’s Southern Lights may exceed his odds as he was unlucky to run behind Bolshoi Ballet last time.

The latter may dance home, but this could be the day Bolger calls out the Derby melody again.