The Quest For Camelot
Tuesday 11 September 2012
Quest for Camelot… it was a movie in 1998, a cartoon about a whip of a girl on a quest to save the kingdom of Camelot. It had nothing to do with a racehorse. But couldn’t one be creative and make it about a racehorse with, say, a cameo by John Magnier? Ballydoyle’s Camelot in the starring role, with the whip of a lad Joseph O’Brien on a quest to win the English Triple Crown. What are they saving? The integrity of the St Leger, of course.
Camelot’s pursuance of the Triple Crown has been fascinating. When he snatched the Derby in vigorous fashion back in June, I read all sorts of criticisms about Ballydoyle pointing him to the Leger. It was the easiest route, many said, the best way to avoid Frankel. It was a plodder’s race, Coolmore was copping out. In fact, I suspected back then that ‘the lads’ held the Triple Crown in very, very high regard. And when you’ve won virtually everything else, why wouldn’t you. Not since Nijinsky had a horse earned the elusive title, and where did Nijinsky come from? Well, from the bowels of Ballydoyle.
The St Leger may well be a plodder’s race these days, and that’s not Camelot’s fault, but if the Arc or the Eclipse were the final leg of the Triple Crown, I get the impression that Ballydoyle would be pointing their horse there. I don’t believe they are protecting Camelot’s unbeaten record, and aren’t we sensitive to that this season (Frankel has been sprayed with all sorts of reproach for his unambitious four-year-old campaign, especially given that defeat is clearly a pipe dream). And if, as Aidan O’Brien hinted this week, Camelot trains on next year, clearly they are not cotton-wooling his record.
Which begs the question. Why has the horse absorbed all this criticism on the way to the St Leger? Has the Triple Crown become so obsolete in European racing that a champion three-year-old, on the road to racing’s oldest grail, must defend why he is heading there in the first place?
The son of Montjeu is a magnificent animal, and Coolmore have done all the right things with him. Undefeated two-year-old sent out for the three-year-old classics. He won the Derby running away, pulling up somewhere down the road to London. He hated the going in the Irish renewal, but rallied and won it by two. Camelot is a horse of gravel and guts, of simple class and undeterminable talent. It’s simply unfortunate that Frankel is kicking around too… Phar Lap and Peter Pan, anyone?
Only two horses since Nijinsky have won the Guineas-Derby double. They were Nashwan and the immortal Sea The Stars. Neither horse progressed to the St Leger, and given the lure of the Arc de Triomphe, you can see why. There is a lingering myth that the Leger wiped Nijinsky out for his Arc bid, and probable cause behind it. Couple that with the unfashionable distance of the race in today’s breeding chain and you’ve got yourself a very elusive target. Bravo Camelot for even going there.