To find a new O'Brien was one thing. But what if they have come up with another Nijinsky? Never mind a new Lester, as well. You could only conclude that these people have a fair idea what they are about.
A new champion arrives from Ballydoyle today to claim the greatest prize on the British Turf, and so end an exasperating series of near misses for the Co Tipperary stable since Galileo and High Chaparral won consecutively in 2001 and 2002. Aidan O'Brien clearly reckons Camelot a match for anything he has trained in the meantime, and today expects his own teenage son, Joseph, to demonstrate as much in the Investec Derby.
Aidan has long established himself as a worthy heir to his predecessor and namesake, Vincent O'Brien, but his patrons at Coolmore Stud have now made a corresponding investment in Joseph. At first, no doubt, it seemed incongruous for so commercial an organisation to advance so many opportunities, so soon, apparently in a spirit of nepotism. But you have to keep in mind two things. For a start, Coolmore itself was founded on a partnership between Vincent O'Brien and his son-in-law, John Magnier. Any who witnessed the delight that united the Coolmore partners and the O'Brien family when Joseph won at the Breeders' Cup last autumn will testify how they like to combine business and pleasure, even when the stakes are highest. Equally, Magnier has plainly acknowledged Joseph as a complete natural – and perhaps the only feasible stable jockey who might both absorb and modify the intensity of his father.
So it is that Joseph arrives at Epsom today, tall and puppy-cheeked, in faint evocation of another who won his first Derby as an adolescent. After Never Say Die, in 1954, Lester Piggott won another eight, including four for Vincent O'Brien.
Certainly, it is hard to imagine any other rider, new to the post, coolly informing Aidan that he would be nearer last than first at halfway in the 2,000 Guineas. And it is nearly impossible to picture Aidan biting his tongue, as he did. After all, the consensus had been that a mile would prove a bare minimum for a son of Montjeu as a three-year-old.
In the event, however marginally, Joseph was vindicated in his audacity. Camelot crept through from the rear and was driven out firmly to thwart French Fifteen by a neck. Purely on the substance of that form, he would have to be counted a ridiculous price today. Close up in fifth and seventh were exposed colts, sent off at 66-1 and 250-1 respectively, while the subsequent Irish 2,000 Guineas winner, Power, was manifestly not himself back in 17th.
But Camelot has long been thought likely only to achieve his full potential once stepped up to the Derby trip. In fact, connections spent much of the winter inclined to start him off in an Epsom trial instead. To weave through any Guineas field, of any standard, on only his third career start – well, it represented all the corroboration you should need, for all the rumours announcing Camelot as a genuine star in the making.
It looks most instructive that only Astrology, who made all in the Dee Stakes and should duly control the pace today, was declared among four other Ballydoyle acceptors at the five-day stage. With recent Epsom Classics dominated by progeny of the Coolmore stallions, Montjeu and Galileo, it has become customary for its main stable to be multiply represented. This time, however, three legitimate contenders have dropped out – Imperial Monarch to contest the Prix du Jockey Club in France tomorrow – and so left Camelot's rider, with hardly any experience of this bewildering track, facing the smallest field since 1907. There is a decided sense that no horse from his own yard was ever going to beat Camelot.
On that basis, it is hard to imagine one stabled elsewhere doing so. Perhaps the best that can be said is that the air of destiny preceding Camelot is shared by Bonfire. Raised in the same paddock as a foal, Bonfire was stabled four doors away from Camelot among Highclere Stud's consignment to the yearling sales at Tattersalls in October 2010.
Magnier paid 525,000 guineas for the obvious paragon, who was one of the last lots at the sale. As the son of a first-season sire, Manduro, Bonfire was always going to be less expensive. Andrew Balding tried to buy him for an Australian client, but they dropped out at 85,000 guineas and John Warren, himself of Highclere Stud, had the last bid at 90,000. Warren was acting for one of the Highclere Thoroughbreds syndicates managed by his brother-in-law, Harry Herbert. Having registered Balding's interest in the colt, they decided to send him to Kingsclere.
Bonfire beat Fencing, the Guineas sixth, by nearly five lengths in his trial in the Dante Stakes. But questions remain. Warren accepts that Bonfire's pedigree leaves his stamina for the extra distance open to doubt, while the colt has suggested a dangerously fragile temperament. Moreover, two of his big rivals at York, Ernest Hemingway and Mandaean, bombed out completely, while Ektihaam managed to push him close despite failing to settle before being rushed into contention.
Main Sequence warrants plenty of respect, despite taking an unconventional route via a 50-1 maiden win, two handicaps and a trial switched to the all-weather. He should travel well and has dealt comfortably with each new challenge, but this will represent a much more severe test at the trip than hurtling round Lingfield, and his pedigree is very much oriented to speed.
Conversely, the rest on the whole seem to go about their work much too slowly, but if there is one to outrun his price today it might be Rugged Cross. He flattened out on his return, as though in need of the run, and is bred to relish a proper test of stamina. But there is just too much wizardry around Camelot, who looks ready to turn a growing legend into reality.
Derby selections: Our experts' tips
James Lawton, Chief Sports Writer
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Sue Montgomery, Racing Writer
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Hyperion, The Independent's tipster
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