Royal Ascot: Poetic Flare at his best yet in St James’s Palace Stakes victory

“With the kind of business we run,” Jim Bolger said after the St James’s Palace Stakes on Tuesday, “the horses have to earn their corn.” The Flat season is barely three months old but if his County Carlow yard has an Employee of the Year award, they might as well engrave Poetic Flare’s name on it right now.

Bolger’s workaholic three-year-old was making his fourth Group One start in the space of just 46 days but came up with his most impressive performance yet to add the St James’s Palace Stakes to his win in the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket on 1 May. He was just half-a-length in front of Lucky Vega back then but had four-and-a-quarter to spare over the same opponent on Tuesday, as Kevin Manning was able to coast through the final 100 metres having wrapped up the victory with an irresistible burst of speed a furlong out.

Bolger suggested after Poetic Flare’s Classic success that he was the first horse he had trained that might be able to win all three Guineas in England, France and Ireland. As it turned out he was unplaced in Paris and edged out by Mac Swiney, another Bolger-trained runner, at the Curragh, but the 79-year-old trainer’s belief in his colt was fully rewarded here.

“I have to admit, genuinely, that I was expecting a performance like that,” Bolger said. “I would have taken anything but that’s what I expected, as he’d improved so much and he was so well.

“He’s exceptional, I haven’t had one that could take everything that he’s taken. I couldn’t make him hardy if he didn’t have it in the genes, but obviously it’s in the genes and we recognised that and we were able to get the very best out.

“I wouldn’t call it a knack because he’s the best horse I’ve bred, and he’s the first one to take it like that. Teofilo might just have done, his close relation, but he didn’t get a chance to prove it at three [due to injury].”

There is no sign that the well is about to run dry where Poetic Flare is concerned – quite the opposite, in fact, if his performance on Tuesday is any guide – and he could be back in Britain at the end of July to contest the Sussex Stakes at Glorious Goodwood, a race that is also a possible target for Palace Pier, the winner of the opening Group One Queen Anne Stakes on Tuesday.

“I’d welcome competing with the older horses,” Bolger said. “He’s entered in the Sussex Stakes and that’s a real possibility.”

With St Mark’s Basilica, the recent French Derby winner, also being lined up for a possible run in the Sussex, it promises to be a memorable renewal. Most bookmakers rate Palace Pier as being a shade of odds-on to win if all three turn up, with Poetic Flare at around 4-1 alongside St Mark’s Basilica.

In addition to winning two Classics, Bolger has also been in the headlines recently after accusing the Irish authorities of being lax in their efforts to keep steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs out of the sport.

The trainer said that a “level playing field” was needed in Irish racing, after suggesting that drugs are the “number one problem” facing the sport in October last year.

Having initially declined to comment on Bolger’s claims in an Irish newspaper over the weekend, the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board issued a statement on Monday in which it “reaffirmed” that “it is committed to the highest standards of integrity within Irish racing”. The IHRB also pointed out that there have been “significant increases in testing over the last number of years”, adding that its “focus is on risk-based and intelligence-led strategy which directs us to get the right sample from the right horse at the right time.”

Bolger himself declined to elaborate on his comments on Tuesday but is clearly not going to let the issue lie. “The two aren’t related but I’m very happy about it [Poetic Flare’s win],” he said. “I’ll be happy to talk about the drugs problem tomorrow or the next day or whenever, but not this evening.”

Cieren Fallon and Roger Teal took the other Group One contest on the meeting’s opening day as Oxted, without a win since last season’s July Cup at Newmarket, scorched through the final two furlongs to take the King’s Stand Stakes with Battaash, the 11-8 favourite, only fourth on his return from a long absence.

It was Fallon’s first winner at a meeting where his father, Kieren, was the leading rider 21 years ago.

“It means a lot to have a Royal Ascot winner,” Fallon said. “Dad has done what he has done and people always ask me: ‘Are you going to do what he’s done, are you going to do this?’. It’s great to have him behind me as well as my family, my bosses and my jockey coach, Michael Hills. I’ve got people round me to help me keep learning and progressing.”