Donn's Articles » Camelot


Although he was the long odds-on favourite for yesterday’s Investec Derby, and although the sages concluded that he was the most likely winner of the race by some way, Camelot did not go into yesterday’s race without some significant questions to answer.

Unusually for a three-year-old son of Montjeu who is bred for middle distances, until he passed the four-furlong pole as he hurtled down around Tattenham Corner yesterday afternoon, he had never before raced beyond a mile.  His stamina for a mile and a half was not a given.

Strangely, the questions concerning his stamina did not gain traction until after he had won the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket last month.  Winner of the Racing Post Trophy as a juvenile last October, a race that is much more a pointer to the following year’s Derby than the following year’s Guineas, he whiled away the winter months as the Derby favourite who might take in the Guineas en route, not the Guineas favourite who might run in the Derby afterwards.

It was understandable that twitterings concerning his stamina should have surfaced after the Guineas.  If you have the pace to win a Classic over a mile, if you can show the turn of foot that Camelot showed at Newmarket to take him from the back of the field to the front in the space of a furlong and a half, then you would be a rare bird indeed if you also had the stamina to excel at a mile and a half.

Very different attributes are required to win a Guineas over Newmarket’s straight mile compared to those that are required to win a Derby over a mile and a half of Epsom’s helter-skelter.  It is an unusual horse that possesses both sets of attributes.  Camelot does.

It is impossible to know where the Aidan O’Brien-trained colt now stands in the pantheon of racing.  You cannot rank the present with the past – where does Rory McIlroy stand alongside golf’s greats? – especially when you probably haven’t got to the bottom of the present yet.  What we do know is that Camelot is unusually good, and that he has the potential to be unusually better.

In completing the Guineas/Derby double, he has already joined Nashwan and Sea The Stars as one of just a triumvirate of horses to have achieved that feat in the four decades that have flowed under the bridge since Nijinksy.  The talk now is of an assault on the St Leger, an attempt to become the first horse since Nijinsky to win all three legs of the Triple Crown, and that is exciting talk.

Neither Nashwan nor Sea The Stars attempted the final leg of the Triple Crown.  Nashwan won the Eclipse and the King George, got beaten in the Prix Niel and was promptly retired.  Sea The Stars won the Eclipse, the International, the Irish Champion Stakes and the Arc.  In so doing, the John Oxx-trained colt proved himself to be an outstanding racehorse, but the fact that the St Leger was never on his radar prompted many to conclude that no horse would ever win the Triple Crown again.

The problem with the St Leger is that victory in the race does not necessarily enhance your value as a stallion prospect.  If you have the stamina to win a Leger, you can often actually decrease the magnitude of your attractiveness to commercial breeders, among whom speed is generally king.

With Camelot, however, the scenario is different.  He has already proven that he has the pace to win a Classic over a mile, and we know now that he has the stamina and the temperament to win an Epsom Derby.  If he were to go and win the St Leger now on 15th September, he would prove himself to be the consummate stallion prospect, with pace, stamina, temperament, durability, soundness of body, soundness of mind.  The complete package.

You get the feeling that his connections are up for the challenge.  Derrick Smith spoke about the Triple Crown after the Guineas, John Magnier didn’t dismiss the notion yesterday.  The significance of it has to be appealing to Team Ballydoyle, the link back through 40 years of racing history to Nijinsky and Vincent O’Brien.  Full circle.

In Camelot, they have a horse who could do it.

© The Sunday Times, 3rd June 2012