Seven up for O'Brien as Camelot defies the mud
Another Irish Derby win for Tipperary trainer as three-year-old slogs home
Camelot, the horse fast becoming a legend, defied atrocious underfoot conditions at the Curragh last night to give his trainer, Aidan O'Brien, a remarkable seventh successive victory in the Irish Derby.
The three-year-old, ridden by O'Brien's son, Joseph, was more workmanlike than imperious in victory, but his two-length defeat of Born To Sea was, in the end, comfortable enough.
Camelot, a 1-5 shot, settled fourth of the five runners, with only Born To Sea behind him, as his stablemate Astrology blazed the trail.
As the leader faded at the turn for home, Akeed Mofeed and Light Heavy went on, but O'Brien jnr had them comfortably covered and Camelot moved smoothly to the lead a quarter of a mile out.
Once in front, though, he could not deploy his lightning acceleration on the heavy, rain-softened ground and started to waver, head high, as O'Brien asked him to lengthen and fend off the challenge of Born To Sea, who had followed in his wake in the straight.
But as well as class, the son of Montjeu owns courage and the two qualities saw him home.
"He hated the ground," said his 19-year-old rider, winning his first home Derby, "and he was struggling all the way. I was worried on the turn in, but he has a massive heart."
The victory took O'Brien's Irish Classic total to 28, one more than his namesake Vincent, his predecessor at his Co Tipperary training centre.
"We were seriously worried about the ground," said O'Brien snr. "He doesn't even walk on that at home so it was a massive call to run him. He was tested in every way tonight and I cannot say how delighted we are with him."
The field for the €1.25 million (£1 million) contest was the smallest since Civility beat four rivals 100 years ago. And had it not been Ireland's showcase event, Camelot would not have been asked to take part.
"It was like winter ground out there," said John Magnier, principal of the Coolmore stallion operation that Camelot will in due course join, "but for us to pull out would have been the tail wagging the dog and a disservice to the organisers and sponsors. And we got away with it."
Camelot, unbeaten in five races, will now have a break before building up to his tilt at the St Leger and his bid to become the first Triple Crown winner since another Ballydoyle legend, Nijinsky.
With the conditions at Newcastle also more redolent of midwinter than midsummer, perhaps it was not inappropriate that the winner of yesterday's richest domestic contest hails from a yard immediately associated with steeplechasers and hurdlers.
Ile De Re, trained by Donald McCain, found the qualities needed to land the two-mile Northumberland Plate, a daunting examination of stamina on the best of ground, let alone on a quagmire.
And after the six-year-old, who led more than half a mile from the finish, slogged bravely through the Gosforth Park mud to repel Crackentorp by half a length, his rider, Jim Crowley, who once earned his living over obstacles before turning successfully to the Flat, reported: "That was hard work. The horse was absolutely knackered towards the end but he kept trying his absolute hardest. It was just like being back jumping again."
The grey, the well-backed 5-2 favourite, now has his place in the history books as only the third horse, after Elizabetta in 1910 and Attivo 38 years ago, to add the Northumberland Plate to another of the calendar's historic, long-distance handicaps, the Chester Cup, in the same season.
The dual champion, Paul Hanagan, faces a week on the sidelines after being unseated at Newmarket yesterday when his mount, No Dominion, stumbled. The rider had X-rays on an elbow and a leg but reports last night indicated he had escaped serious injury.
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