The return to action of a Derby winner is always a matter of moment, particularly one with the charisma of Camelot, who seemed to be involved last year in more tales and trials than any knight of the table round. The colt, bearer of the Ballydoyle arms, so nearly achieved the holy grail of the Triple Crown, narrowly denied the final leg, the St Leger, by a Godolphin rival trained by the now disgraced Mahmood al-Zarooni.
Camelot was the catalyst for the break-up between Frankie Dettori and Sheikh Mohammed, after the jockey donned the Coolmore silks on him in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. And he cheated death during the winter as he came through major surgery to repair abdominal damage caused by a bout of colic.
It would have been easy enough for John Magnier and his partners to have retired the son of Montjeu, particularly as the box until a year ago occupied by his late sire was, and is, waiting for him at Coolmore Stud. But Aidan O'Brien described him more than once as the best he has trained and, although it is known that such utterances always have the promotion of a stallion career as part of their agenda, it will add spice to the season that the Camelot legend is being further tested. And yesterday at the Curragh, the first chapter of the new adventure was completed without incident.
The handsome four-year-old, racing for the first time since his seventh place in the Arc, was a comfortable winner of the 10-furlong Mooresbridge Stakes. O'Brien's son, Joseph, had to give him a push and a shove in the straight to remind him to quicken and race, but that was all it took; the rider's whip remained sheathed. Camelot, the 1-3 favourite, was a length and three-quarters clear at the line, with his pacemaker Triumphant denying Parish Hall second place by a head.
The next challenge will be the Tattersalls Gold Cup back at the Curragh next month, followed by the Prince Of Wales's Stakes at Royal Ascot in June. "He was probably only 70 per cent fit today," said O'Brien Snr. "It's a long season and there'll be plenty of improvement to come. After such major and dangerous surgery as he had you are never sure if they'll retain their speed and ability, but it seems he has. We have a plan mapped out, but we'll take it one race at a time."
If O'Brien is to win a second successive Derby, it will not be with the winter favourite Kingsbarns, who missed the 2,000 Guineas after a setback and has now been ruled out of the premier Classic. Of the other Ballydoyle candidates, Ruler Of The World and Magician are bound for trials at Chester this week, Nevis goes to Lingfield on Saturday and Battle Of Marengo to Leopardstown on Sunday.
The nearest Staffordshire-based Reg Hollinshead, who died yesterday at the age of 89, came to Classic glory was with Remainder Man, second in the Guineas and third in the Derby in 1978. But in a career that began in 1949 and yielded 2,000 winners he won the respect of all who knew him, both as a trainer of horses and of jockeys; three of his apprentices – Kevin Darley, Pat Eddery and Walter Swinburn – went on to be champions.
Chris McGrath's Nap: Cross My Heart (4.20 Yarmouth)
Looked a useful sprinter in the making last time out.
Next Best: Miss Tiger Lily (2.40 Kempton)