Camelot casts his spell for father and son
Aidan O'Brien's colt powers home in the Derby to give his trainer a fourth British Classic this year and could now go for a complete sweep in the St Leger
It would not have taken Gipsy Rose, the prognostication queen of the Romany community here on Epsom Downs, too many glances at her crystal ball to identify the winner of yesterday's 233rd Derby in advance. But a leap of faith in destiny might have been needed to believe that a colt named Camelot before he ever raced is now in line for a shot at racing's holy grail.
After the 8-13 favourite's smooth five-length demolition of his eight rivals, his trainer Aidan O'Brien did not rule out an audacious tilt at the rarely won, and these days wholly unfashionable, Triple Crown of the 2,000 Guineas over a mile, the Derby over a mile and a half and the St Leger over a mile and three-quarters. "Every trip he's raced over, he's coped," said O'Brien. "The way he races, he relaxes and gives himself a chance and he didn't look finished as he passed the post today. There are a lot of options and the St Leger is one."
Camelot made it four from four for O'Brien in this season's English Classics, the total augmented by the two fillies Homecoming Queen in the 1,000 Guineas and Was in the Oaks on Friday. The St Leger completes the set and no trainer has ever won all five in the same year. Camelot is 1-3 to achieve the landmark, and with it the first Triple Crown for 42 years, at Doncaster.
But then O'Brien is no stranger to either challenges or the compilation of statistics and yesterday added one particularly close to his heart. Camelot was ridden by his teenage son Joseph, making them the first father-and-son trainer-jockey combination to win a Derby. Joseph, who turned 19 just 11 days ago has now ridden nine top-level winners and although Camelot was one of the easiest, he still needed the tact and judgement that have become a hallmark of the short senior career of the intense, serious young man, champion apprentice in Ireland only two years ago.
There was a plan in his mind from the moment he walked the elegant bay son of Montjeu on to the track late in the pre-race parade and kept him well away from his perceived main rival Bonfire, known for his feisty, explosive tendencies. As Bonfire bounded hotly down the track in front of the grandstands behind a lead horse, Camelot kept his cool, easing sweetly from walk to silky ground-sweeping canter in a couple of strides.
"It's the Derby," said young O'Brien, who had earlier got his eye in round the switchback track as he won the Coronation Cup on another hot favourite, St Nicholas Abbey. "Everyone feels pressure in the Derby; it's one of the biggest races in the world, if not the biggest. But you have to block that out. If you're nervous and feeling that pressure and get tense, then the horse will feel that and that's never a good thing."
As the starting gates opened, Joseph let Camelot – racing for only the fourth time – settle to his faster stride as his Ballydoyle stablemate Astrology set a strong enough pace up front. The favourite, with only a couple of rivals behind him, still had 10 lengths to find on the leader as he swung widest of all round Tattenham Corner, but although it took a stride or two for him to fully engage top gear, once he did the outcome was inevitable.
He caught his stablemate a furlong from the line, roared home by a crowd who fully appreciated not only their bets being landed but the history of the moment and passed the post with his ears pricked. Astrology (13-2) failed by a short-head to make it a Ballydoyle one-two, caught on the line by Main Sequence (9-1). Thought Worthy was a further six lengths fourth, followed in by Mickdaam and Bonfire, who hated the quirky track.
"I think he must be a very, very good horse," said O'Brien Jnr of Camelot, "as he came down the hill very green. It was only his fourth run, and his first time racing on a track with bends and contours and cambers like this. It was a big ask and he was looking the whole way just to see where he was putting his feet. But once he got to the straight, he found his stride again.
"I could see Astrology up front – he was the only natural front-runner in the field and it was a huge advantage to have him there – and while I knew he wouldn't be coming back to me straight away, as he's a very good horse himself, I was confident I'd get to him and my horse quickened really well."
Camelot gave O'Brien his third Derby, after Galileo in 2001 and High Chaparral the following year. Since then, and before yesterday, he had fielded 39 runners, often in a mass attack on the race that sets the middle-distance standard for a generation. The scattergun approach is often used in the absence of an obvious superstar; in the Derby it has nearly come off a couple of times, notably with such as Dylan Thomas, Fame And Glory and Treasure Beach.
But it is when O'Brien employs the sniper's rifle to take aim that he tends to be most deadly. "From day one this horse has shown he's exceptional," he said, "but you are always afraid to dream."
The idea that Camelot might take on the sport's other unbeaten celebrity, Frankel, at some point this season is a tantalising one, but the more so is the idea of the Triple Crown, last achieved by Nijinsky in 1970.
Only two since then, Nashwan in 1989 and Sea The Stars three years ago, could have tried to emulate him, but neither took up the option. The marathon St Leger is seen as a kiss of death for the modern prospective stallion, though it has to be said that it did Nijinsky's stud career no harm at all.
John Magnier, the senior partner in Coolmore, the Co Tipperary empire where Camelot will eventually retire, gave a broad hint that the biggest dream of all will be a runner come Doncaster in September.
"This horse is special and the Triple Crown is in the mix," said Magnier. "As you get older you appreciate history and these things become important."
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