In the Irish breeding industry, Coolmore is the unquestioned giant. But if Jim Bolger is not exactly a David out to slay Goliath, he certainly could be thought of as the "little giant" in the Irish arena, given the magnitude of what he has accomplished while operating on a far smaller scale.
As a breeder, owner, and trainer, Bolger's closest American counterpart may have been the legendary John Madden. Known as the "Wizard of the Turf," Madden owned and trained one Kentucky Derby winner—Plaudit, a horse he had purchased as a juvenile—and was breeder or co-breeder of five more, including the first American Triple Crown winner, Sir Barton. He also bred five winners of the Belmont Stakes. He was equally accomplished as a horse dealer and would sell a horse at any stage of the game if the price was right, often making a nice profit by combining his ability to spot latent talent with his training skills and selling after he had trained a horse to a few good wins.
Bolger, like Madden, historically has been willing to sell when the price was right. But he has done well indeed with the stock he has kept, proving himself an astute breeder as well as a top-class trainer. And given the quality of the stock he has produced recently, he looks likely to have an influence on European breeding for decades to come.
As of this writing, Bolger has indicated that he leans more toward keeping his latest accomplishment: Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby (Ire-I) winner Trading Leather, who could provide Bolger's Coolcullen operation with a nice stallion prospect. A son of 2006 European champion juvenile male Teofilo—a horse Bolger bred and trained—Trading Leather is out of Night Visit, an unraced daughter of 2000 Vodafone Epsom Derby (Eng-I) and Budweiser Irish Derby (Ire-I) winner Sinndar. Night Visit's dam Moonlight Sail (by Irish River) raced only twice, winning a conditions race at Chantilly over about seven furlongs, but is a full sister to 1991 French champion juvenile filly and 1994 U.S. champion turf female Hatoof and to grade I winner Irish Prize. All three were produced from the French group-placed Lyphard mare Cadeaux d'Amie, a half sister to multiple champion Mrs. Penny (by Great Nephew).
Trading Leather is a grandson of Galileo, who owes a substantial portion of his burgeoning reputation as a sire of sires to Bolger. Teofilo, whose stakes-winning dam Spearbhein (by Danehill) was also bred and trained by Bolger, was the leading second-crop sire of 2012 in Europe following the victory of his son Loch Garman in the Criterium International de Saint-Cloud (Fr-I). This year, Teofilo's runners include Havana Gold, who developed from a group III winner at 2 to capture the 2013 Prix Jean Prat (Fr-I) the day after Trading Leather's big victory. Bolger now has been responsible for breeding and training three of Teofilo's four group I winners, as he bred and trained both Loch Garman and Parish Hall (winner of the 2011 Dubai Dewhurst Stakes, Eng-I)—both produced from mares that Bolger bred.
Bolger did not breed Galileo's other top young son, 2012 European leading freshman sire New Approach. But he trained New Approach to European championships at 2 and 3, his victories including the 2008 Epsom Derby. And he is the breeder and trainer of Godolphin star Dawn Approach (by New Approach), who is sure to be a hot commodity at stud after earning a title as 2012 European highweighted juvenile male and tacking on an impressive classic victory in the 2013 QIPCO Two Thousand Guineas (Eng-I). A flop in the Investec Epsom Derby after failing to rate tarnished his luster somewhat, but Dawn Approach got back on track by winning the St. James's Palace Stakes (Eng-I) at Royal Ascot.
Trading Leather is actually the second Irish Derby winner bred by Bolger. The first was 2007 victor Soldier of Fortune (by Galileo), who was produced from Bolger's stakes-winning mare Affianced. While Affianced was not herself bred by Bolger, part of the reason he acquired her may well have been her sire Erins Isle, a multiple group II winner for Bolger before transferring to the United States and winning five grade I races there. Soldier of Fortune stands in France and is a freshman sire of 2013.
Bolger's successes are hardly limited to the Galileo tribe. In 2007 he narrowly missed training 2006 European champion juvenile filly Finsceal Beo (by Mr. Greeley) to a historic classic triple, winning the Stan James One Thousand Guineas (Eng-I) and Boylesport Irish One Thousand Guineas (Ire-I) with her and losing the Poule d'Essai des Pouliches (French One Thousand Guineas, Fr-I) to Darjina by a head. Finsceal Beo was one of a number of top horses Bolger developed for other breeders and owners, but his own program produced multiple champion Park Express (by Ahonoora), dam of New Approach. And potential members of his broodmare band in the near future include 2013 Etihad Airways Irish One Thousand Guineas runner-up Rehn's Nest (by Authorized) and 2012 Moyglare Stud Stakes (Ire-I) runner-up Scintillula (by Galileo), both of which are owned or co-owned by Bolger's wife Jackie.
Aside from private sales of his runners in training, Bolger also has enjoyed success in the sale ring. In 2010 Bolger topped the opening session of the 2010 Goffs November mixed sale with the Mr. Greeley mare Blas Ceoil, who sold in foal to Sea The Stars for €300,000. In 2011 his multiple group II winner Banimpire (by Holy Roman Emperor) sold for €2.3 million at the Goffs November mixed sale, while a Sea The Stars half brother to Soldier of Fortune set a new record for the Goffs November weanling sale at €850,000. Another Bolger offering at the Goffs weanling sale was a Sea The Stars filly out ot Teofilo's winning full sister Senora Galilei; she went for €300,000. Last year Bolger topped the Goffs February sale with Teo's Sister, another winning full sister to Teofilo, who sold for €500,000.
While Bolger has had lean years as well as great ones, in recent years it seems as though almost everything he has touched has turned to gold. Time will tell how deep an impression his Midas touch will leave on European breeding, but the early indications are that pedigree students will remember his name for a long time to come.