Encke spoils the party to rob Camelot of the crown
Wait goes on for another Triple Crown winner as hot favourite is undone by slow pace and devastating burst from Goldolphin's outsider
So, the holy grail remains out of reach, even to a horse named Camelot.
Instead of achieving immortality as the 16th winner of the sport's elusive Triple Crown and the first since Nijinsky 42 years ago, the 2,000 Guineas and Derby hero became instead the 10th contender to come up short in the most demanding of the three Classics, the St Leger.
Camelot, the 2-5 favourite, failed by three-quarters of a length to reel in 25-1 shot Encke and left stunned not only the capacity crowd but the Godolphin team responsible for the winner. "We thought he had a solid place chance, but realistically only that," said Simon Crisford, the racing manager to Sheikh Mohammed's operation. "But we're pretty happy to be the party poopers."
Attention was firmly on Camelot beforehand and remained so in the anticlimactic aftermath of the Ladbrokes-sponsored contest. It could hardly be said that colt, trained by Aidan O'Brien at Ballydoyle and ridden by his son Joseph, was either outstayed or outclassed by Encke, but he may well have been outmanoeuvred.
The first setback for the O'Briens came when Dartford, pacemaker for his John Gosden stablemates Thought Worthy and Michelangelo, took the field of nine along at a sedate gallop. Then, two furlongs from home, came the defining moment.
Camelot was moving easily, but was behind rivals on the rails; Encke, ridden by Mickael Barzalona, came alongside him in the clear and already in full sail. O'Brien set off in pursuit, but his mount did not produce his trademark acceleration and, though he made up three lengths in the final furlong once he engaged his fluid, groundsweeping stride, the blues' bird in front had flown.
O'Brien Snr, typically, blamed himself rather than his teenaged son. "I thought, with a pacemaker in there, that the gallop would have been strong, but I should not have taken that for granted," he said.
"From the start, Joseph was where he should have been, which is what you want on a horse going that distance. He had to get him to relax, but Camelot was just tanking that little bit because of the steady pace. Down the straight he had to take his time and wait for the gaps to come. When they did, the winner was in just that handier position and was gone.
"My regret is not running a pacemaker or two myself. A strong pace would have made it more straightforward because he would have settled a bit earlier. And it is easier to quicken off a fast pace."
O'Brien Jnr, 19, was clearly devastated by Camelot's defeat, too upset to give his version of events. "No one thinks more of the horse than him," said his father. "We were going up in distance, stretching the elastic band, and the way it all panned out he stayed on rather than quickened. That's the reality of it and well done to the winner."
O'Brien Snr missed a unique laurel of his own yesterday, for Camelot would have made him the first trainer to saddle the winners of all five British Classics in the same year. That he was thwarted in both yesterday's ambitions by his arch-rivals, Godolphin, will have made defeat the more bitter for the Ballydoyle stable and their Coolmore Stud backers. The Godolphin team themselves are no strangers to statistical milestones. The progressive and well-bred Encke gave the outfit's newest jockey recruit, Barzalona, who won the Derby last year for Coolmore, his first success in the world's oldest Classic – first run in 1776 – on his first ride.
"I could see Camelot was having difficulty navigating," said the Corsican, "so I kicked and asked my horse to go and he answered very quickly. He was very generous. And today, at least, he was the best."
Godolphin, whose sixth St Leger winner Encke was, are now the most successful owners in the race in the modern era and second only to the 9th Duke of Hamilton, who won seven times between 1786 and 1814.
Encke warmed up for yesterday's task with only a third place, behind Thought Worthy, in a trial at York last month, and trainer Mahmood Al Zarooni deferred to his boss, Sheikh Mohammed, over whether or not the Kingmambo colt should take part. "I thought not," he said, "but it was his decision and he was right and I was wrong.
"I've had two runners before, Rewilding and Blue Bunting, who were both beaten as favourites and today we have won it with an outsider. It can be a funny old game."
The Triple Crown Winners
1853: West Australian
1866: Lord Lyon
1897: Galtee More
1899: Flying Fox
1900: Diamond Jubilee
1903: Rock Sand
1917: Gay Crusader
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