O'Brien within sight of the grail with Camelot's Triple Crown bid

 

Ballydoyle

The life-size bronze of Nijinsky that welcomes visitors to this thoroughbred empire has a particular resonance this week. Forty-two years ago the great horse emerged from the gates to become the most recent winner of the rarely achieved racing Triple Crown as he added the St Leger to his 2,000 Guineas and Derby victories. On Saturday, Camelot will head to the oldest, longest and toughest Classic test with the same holy grail in his sights.

But his trainer Aidan O'Brien has the present, not the past, in his thoughts. "We're not thinking of the history books," he said yesterday. "They are for people to look back at in the future. We're doing this for now, for the good feeling on the day, for the satisfaction of achievement for the team here and for the pleasure it will give those who see it."

Should Camelot, who is the 1-3 favourite for the £550,000 Ladbrokes-sponsored prize, prevail, he will fulfil a long-held ambition for O'Brien, who recently followed his namesake and predecessor at Ballydoyle, Nijinsky's trainer Vincent, with the award of an honorary doctorate. "It's always been a dream to find a horse to do this," he said, "but sometimes you don't speak dreams out loud, you keep them to yourself. But now we're so close to it coming true we hardly dare breathe, hardly dare talk about it. We just get on with each day, try to keep focused, try to take care. There are always accidents with horses, but accidents don't just happen, they're caused by events back along the line. Right now, we're in the zone."

The Triple Crown, achieved only 15 times in 202 years, requires a combination of the speed, stamina, durability, courage and class to win at the top level over a mile in the spring, a mile and a half in the summer and an extended mile and three-quarters in the autumn.

It is a special test that requires a special horse. As O'Brien watched Camelot skim smoothly in his exercise yesterday, in the silken hands of work rider Kaname Tsuge, and then pick at grass quietly under a 350-year-old oak tree, he was almost in awe of the dark bay colt's capabilities.

"He is flesh and blood," he said, "but from day one there has been a different aura about him, which allowed me to start dreaming. He's sharp-minded and intelligent, but allows himself to relax. He's an unusually independent thinker; he's not one to be led by example and doesn't look for company. He's happy not to be one of the herd."

Camelot gallops with an unusually long and low action. "He hardly rises from the ground," said O'Brien, "His movement is very efficient. And I think he must have unusually large heart and lung capacity. His recovery rate after a race is extraordinary, he doesn't blow and heave like most horses. His name is mystical, and so is he."

The St Leger, for which the son of Montjeu was one of 11 confirmed at yesterday's penultimate stage, will represent Camelot's most daunting test. "He'll be going beyond his comfort zone for the first time," said O'Brien, "and if there is a slight worry, it's that in putting on weight over the summer he now looks a bit more like a miler than long and lean like a stayer. But he's had only three runs this season and his coat is still tight and he's fresh and happy."

Whether or not Camelot races on next year has yet to be decided, but it is no secret that the box that once housed his late sire is waiting for him at Coolmore Stud. "We would love to keep him," said O'Brien, "and nothing has been discussed beyond the St Leger, But it may be decided that his genes are too unique and important to risk."

This area of Co Tipperary is overlooked by Slievenamon mountain and legend has it that warrior prince Finn McCool chose as his bride the first from a group of women to race the 2,365 feet to the summit. It seems, then that speed, stamina and determination have long been qualities cherished in these parts.

Turf account: today's selections

CHRIS MCGRATH'S NAP: Cosmic Halo (4.20 Leicester)

Bred to flourish with a test of stamina and not only upped in trip after a staying-on effort last time.

NEXT BEST: Mighty Clarets (5.20 Leicester)

Course and distance winner who is consistent, is dropping down the ratings and has run well in this type of contest before.

ONE TO WATCH: Albany Rose (Rae Guest) blew her chance with a stumble at the start last time when returning from a break but finished notably strongly.

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