Camelot’s well-being only hurdle to historic hat-trick
On the basis of the final two furlongs of Epsom’s blue riband race, the extra two furlongs that Camelot – and teenage jockey Joseph O’Brien – will encounter in Doncaster’s St Leger on September 15 will not be a test too far.
Five lengths down to stablemate Astrology with two furlongs to go, this scintillating colt simply treated the front-runners with contempt – and won this unique one-and-a-half mile test by an effortless five lengths while pulling away from his floundering rivals as O’Brien slapped the victor’s shoulder in triumph.
Only the ill-fated Shergar, who failed to add the St Leger to the Derby and 2000 Guineas in 1981, has shown a comparable burst of acceleration in Epsom’s home straight, still the ultimate test of a thoroughbred’s speed, stamina and balance.
A 1-3 favourite with sponsors Ladbrokes for the Doncaster Classic, the biggest threat to Camelot is likely to be the horse’s well-being, assuming, of course, that the horse’s spirited owners accept the Triple Crown challenge in the knowledge that victory would enable their colt to be compared favourably to the brilliant Sea The Stars, the 2009 record-breaker, and Sir Henry Cecil’s unbeaten wonderhorse Frankel.
The one certainty is that Camelot’s trainer, Aidan O’Brien, and his whole team at his Ballydoyle stables, and adjoining Coolmore stud, will not rush a decision.
It will be slightly more poised than the trainer’s celebratory kiss with his wife Anne-Marie after their 19-year-old son, one of the youngest Derby-winning jockeys, had galloped into the record books.
It was the only part of Camelot’s Derby victory that was not choreographed to precision by a supremely talented trainer – a quiet genius behind the sunglasses that he wears in all weathers – and whose attention to detail included building a replica of Tattenham Corner at his Ballydoyle base in Ireland to enhance his horse’s chances.
For, apart from this being O’Brien senior’s third Derby win, and the first for a decade, this was a Derby – fittingly in the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee year – which was rich with racing landmarks that will be appreciated by the sport’s most famous supporter.
It was the first time, in the Derby’s 243-year history, that a father and son have trained and ridden the victor.
It was the 100th Group One winner of businessman Derrick Smith, who co-owns Camelot with Michael Tabor and Coolmore supremo John Magnier.
And the victory leaves O’Brien senior on course for an unprecedented clean sweep of the English Classics – only the St Leger remains after the filly Was won an incident-filled Oaks 24 hours earlier in Camelot’s colours.
As he struggled to comprehend this phenomenal run of success in the minutes and hours that followed the Derby, O’Brien was surprised by Camelot’s calmness as this thoroughbred entered the narrow chute which leads to the claustrophobic winner’s enclosure under the Royal box.
That Camelot was so unflustered, amid the hullabaloo, pointed to a horse of near-perfect temperament, who will make even more money at stud when his racing career ends – prophetically the horse’s sire Montjeu, a great champion over a mile, died earlier this year.
“You can’t even dream of days like this,” said the winning trainer. “I was always happy, I know his (Joseph’s) body language by now and he looked confident.
“No-one can describe the feeling, things like this don’t happen. We’ll give the Triple Crown a lot of thought and do whatever is best for the horse. The Triple Crown would be incredible.”
O’Brien’s son, destined for a career as a jumps jockey because of his 6ft tall frame, could not have been more modest.
“I was a bit worried as he didn’t come down the hill at all. He didn’t handle the track that well, so he did well to win,” explained the teenager, who has seamlessly become Ballydole’s go-to jockey because the knowledge he has gleaned from his father’s gallops more than compensates for his relative lack of big-race experience.
“He’s a very special horse and I’m just very fortunate to be on his back. I owe a big thanks to the owners and everyone in the yard.”
O’Brien, whose modest celebrations were in complete contrast to Mickael Barzalona’s flamboyance 12 months previously on Pour Moi, received many pieces of advice before the big race.
The most relevant was a message that Lester Piggott, the winning-most Derby rider, passed to the jockey’s mother. “Tell Joseph don’t be in any hurry.”
He was not. For, while O’Brien – who bears an uncanny physical resemblance to Piggott – was briefly perturbed when entering the home straight, his eight rivals knew the game was up.
David Lanigan, trainer of the fast-finishing runner-up Main Sequence: “He’s run a great race and to come second in a Derby with my first runner is amazing.”
Astrology was ridden by Ryan Moore, who said: “He’s run a good race but just got tired in the last 150 yards.”
William Buick was fourth on Thought Worthy for John Gosden and said: “I was very happy with him, he’ll make a lovely Leger horse.”
Champion jockey Paul Hanagan was fifth on the Richard Fahey-trained Mickdaam and said: “He came home really well but didn’t handle the track and didn’t have the pace early in the race.”
Malton-based Fahey said: “He could be a Leger horse, but on the day he wasn’t good enough. He needs a break.”
Yet, while Thought Worthy and Mickdaam have promise, it is difficult to see either stopping Camelot from becoming a Triple Crown winner in a diamond year for racing – and the O’Brien family.