In the 10 years since his second consecutive Derby winner, Aidan O'Brien has saddled the runner-up five times.
Then there was Dylan Thomas, only third in 2006, but still in front with 50 yards to go. Last year, Treasure Beach was nailed by Pour Moi even as they reached the post. "We're very used to coming home humbled," O'Brien says ruefully. But then he has never had a colt bestride the betting quite like the unbeaten Camelot, already a Classic winner and the mount of his teenage son, Joseph. Little wonder, then, if the next 18 days seem to spread before them as such purgatory.
"Everyone puts so much into it," O'Brien said. "This is what we all live every day for. These are bred and reared to be Derby horses. And Camelot is flesh and blood. The worry is horrendous. But all I can do is my best. It's not always going to be good enough. You just try to get over each day as it comes along."
That last ambition had been rid of all triteness only the previous day, when Furner's Green broke down after the winning post at Longchamp, slamming his young rider to the ground. "It was shocking and terribly sad for the horse to lose his life," O'Brien said. "But Joseph was very lucky to be able to move on to another day. The horse turned over at full stretch, accelerating faster than anything else in the finish. If he'd got there a length earlier, he might have had four horses coming up behind him instead."
O'Brien had opened the gates to his Co Tipperary stables to a press tour hosted by the Derby sponsors, Investec. As a series of priceless animals cantered under a soft sky of rolling squalls and sunshine, it was noticeable that only one drew his trainer's gaze all the way to the horizon. There is no mistaking the primary focus at Ballydoyle this season. For Camelot has still only had three races, and O'Brien suspects that even success in the 2,000 Guineas represented little more than a foundation stone.
"I knew Joseph had in mind to teach him a lot in the race," he said. "Everything had come so easy to him. Even the Racing Post Trophy last year was like a piece of work. So, though we knew he was bred to get a lot farther, Joseph rode him like a six-furlong horse. And he did learn a lot. He settled, and came through horses; Joseph used the stick on both sides, and he put his head down and ran through gaps."
This Caesar among thoroughbreds has always had a special aura. O'Brien remembers the first time he saw the new arrival break out of a walk. "He was doing one of those extended trots that dressage judges look for," he remembers. "Normally you have to make a horse do that, but he was doing it effortlessly. His movement is perfection, really."
Potentially this could prove the last great legacy of his late sire, Montjeu. But Galileo is still around, down the road at Coolmore, where O'Brien's patrons have harnessed the genes of these two great stallions ever more purposefully to Epsom. Sure enough, two daughters of Galileo – Maybe and Kissed – confirmed themselves the stable's leading candidates for the Investec Oaks in a couple of swinging workouts over the famous Tattenham Corner gallop, laid down by O'Brien's namesake and predecessor, Vincent. And Camelot is likely to be joined by several others in the Derby, perhaps including Ernest Hemingway – a big, long-striding animal who would need decent ground – if he pleases in his trial at York on Thursday.
But it is Camelot, his very name saturated with mythic quality, who is preceded by all the expectation, all the mystique. Perhaps this is the horse to salvage the Triple Crown; even one some day to stand up to the paragon of the previous generation, Frankel, who reappears at Newbury on Saturday. Just to get the next bit right, however, is challenge enough for now. "I don't want to blow him up in any way, or anyone to think that I'm trying to," O'Brien said. "But when a horse like this comes along, you just want him to pass all his exams and show everyone what he can do."
Chris McGrath's Nap: Musnad (9.20 Kempton)
Has offered encouragement on several occasions, most recently when finishing well at Doncaster.
Next best: Main Line (8.50 Kempton)
Difficult to know the substance of his impressive debut. Handicapper could only guess how much he had in hand – it might have been plenty.
One to watch: Dimension (James Fanshawe) has had a frustrating career and looked unlucky at Lingfield on Saturday, but eveything will fall into place soon.
Where the money's going: Excelebration is 3-1 from 7-2 with Paddy Power for the JLT Lockinge Stakes at Newbury on Saturday, for which Frankel is 2-5 favourite.Reuse content