Camelot is a brilliant and unbeaten colt. This year he has already won the Two Thousand Guineas and the English and Irish Derbies. In the Ladbrokes St Leger on Saturday he is 1-3 to become the first to land the Triple Crown since the immortal Nijinsky way back in 1970. Yet he is a horse who has hardly had his due.
Of course it is partly the “Frankel Effect”. British racing does not have hold enough on the headlines to have two “wonder horses” to rave about and Frankel and his legendary trainer Henry Cecil have almost blocked out the stage since that colt’s astonishing runaway victory in last year’s Two Thousand Guineas. But it’s also something else which is rather irritatingly contradictory – that in a sport whose whole aim is to celebrate excellence, what Camelot represents is the ultimate example of one operation’s such consistent high achievment that we don’t really notice it anymore. We should call it the “O’Brien Effect.”
For while what Aidan O’Brien has already achieved at the early age of 43 may be familiar to racing fans, to all ordinary observers it is nothing short of “check your facts” unbelievable. Champion jumps trainer in Ireland in 1992-3, the same year that he was champion amateur rider, Aidan headed that list for the next five years before switching wholly to the flat in which sphere he has topped the Irish earnings table every season since 1997. in Britain he has already done the same thing four times and if Camelot duly collects on Saturday he is likely to do it again this year.
Add that Aidan is at Ballydoyle, the Tipperary training base from which his unrelated namesake Vincent O’Brien trained not just Nijinsky but five other Derby winners and the small matter of three consecutive, Gold Cup, Champion Hurdle and Grand National winners in his first career over jumps. Add also that Camelot and Aidan’s other top horses are now ridden by his impossibly tall but flawlessly calm son Joseph, and the sheer scale of the achievements becomes almost too much to take. Or to give credit for?
Because of course Aidan is backed by the Coolmore partnership,the most successful breeding and racing operation the game has ever seen. Vincent O’Brien’s son-in-law John Magnier still masterminds the simple but “plenty have tried and failed” concept of searching out the best bred yearlings, sending them to a master trainer and moneytising their racecourse success into multi million stallion valuations. The 1977 Derby winner The Minstrel was the product of the very first year of the scheme and three full decades on Magnier and his two principal partners Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith have refined the activity to where not having a champion every season is seen not only as a failure but as a major financial blow.
As ever continued success brings both moans of “monopoly” and the danger of public indifference. There are only so many ways you can describe and react to big race success and the permutations of the reticent Magnier standing Solomon- like in the back ground while the more talkative Tabor or Smith recite familiar platitudes and Aidan drops his voice to awestruck to extoll the wonders of his latest superstar. It’s not their fault but we, and indeed, he have heard it all before. In Camelot’s case, uncannily so.
Just three Octobers ago at Doncaster an unbeaten, racy looking colt by the star Coolmore stallion Montjeu knifed through the Racing Post Trophy field to establish himself as the top two year old in Europe and leave Aidan whispering about his briillance and dreaming of the Triple Crown. St Nicholas Abbey blew out in the 2010 Two Thousand Guineas, didn’t
get back on to the racecourse for a year, and in victory after victory since the trainer has berated himself for “messing up” his champion. When Joseph O’Brien swept brilliantly through last year’s Racing Post Trophy field in the same Derrick Smith silks on the also Montjeu sired Camelot, it was the public as well as the trainer who held back.
Up until now they have continued to do so despite every evidence that Camelot is “the real deal” and that the trainer has forsaken his reticence to say “we have never had anything like him”. When Camelot came from the very back of the pack to power through horses and win the Two Thousand Guineas in a photo, he was given marks for courage and Joseph for daring but there was a bit of “nothing like Frankel” about our reactions. When Aidan explained that they had been worried about the ground and that “this horse has an incredibly special amount of class” we thought he was just “bigging” Camelot up for not looking impressive enough.
The world knows that Frankel never ventured to Epsom but when Camelot sauntered five long lengths clear of St Leger rival Main Sequence the praise was more in the first father and son triumph than for the horse itself. And that was despite Aidan doing his St Nicholas Abbey “mea culpa” saying “the worry was that Camelot came out so early (last year) that the trainer would destroy him in the meantime He is super intelligent,a super quick thinker but very calm. He can probably do whateve you want .Whatever route everybody takes it will be very exciting .
When Camelot showed his own guts by battling through heavy ground to win the Irish Derby there was an element of shoulder shrugging at the lack of competition with Camelot starting at odds-on as he has every race and facing, as at Epsom, the smallest field in a hundred years. “Camelot is a great horse and won there despite Joseph saying that he absolutely hated the ground. Wouldn´t it be something to dream about now to go for the Triple Crown.”
No one need feel too sorry for John Magnier and his team who have already got £1.7 million back from the bold 525,000 gns they laid out for Camelot at the yearling sales and there will be many more millions to come at stud. But tilting at the Triple Crown is a bid for history not commercial improvement. In this Olympic year with so many athletic achievements of so many wonderful kinds, let’s relish the chance of seeing a magnificent beast strut stuff that so few have matched before.
The main opposition comes from the John Gosden stable who have won the race three times in the last five years. In Thought Worthy and Michelangelo they have two decent colts who will have a pacemaker to two them and if there is any hole in Camelot’s stamina for this extra half mile they will search to find it. But Camelot is rated way above them and gives every indication that the stronger the pace the easier he coasts behind it. For second place I much prefer the chance of Derby second Main Sequence at 14-1 than taking 7-1 Thought Worthy whose neck defeat of Main Sequence at York was as much to do with an opportunistic ride by his jockey than any obvious physical superiority.
As for odds-on Camelot, don’t back him, watch him. And remember the day.