Camelot charges to Irish Derby victory despite conditions
Worries about The Curragh's testing ground aside, the superiority of Camelot on all known form was unquestionable prior to Saturday's Group 1 Irish Derby, and the brilliant colt overcame the soft to heavy conditions to maintain his perfect sequence.
Sent off the 1-5 favorite, Derrick Smith, Susan Magnier and Michael Tabor's Group 1 Two Thousand Guineas and Group 1 Derby hero traveled like those odds suggested he would for much of the contest, but, when committed at the quarter-pole, instantly had Born to Sea to contend with. Shaking him off soon after as the whip was applied, the bay stretched away to a two-length success.
In doing so, Camelot became the first since Nijinsky to win this trio of classics, and John Magnier confirmed that they want to emulate that great with Triple Crown glory in the Group 1 St Leger.
"I said to (trainer) Aidan (O'Brien) when he came to Ballydoyle that there was room for another of those statues," Coolmore's owner said, referring to the monument to Dr. Vincent O'Brien's great that stands at Rosegreen. "That's Derrick and Michael's dream, to have a Triple Crown winner, and we will try to make him one."
The Curragh's decision to stage their feature race on a Saturday evening acted as a relaunch of sorts for the Irish Derby, but much of the build-up to the most recent renewal was focused on whether Camelot would actually show. Heavy rain hit most of Britain and Ireland this week, and connections were in no doubt as to the testing nature of the track, which led to the withdrawal of Moyglare Stud's Speaking of Which. His absence, along with Camelot's stablemate Imperial Monarch, undermined the opposition to the pride of Ballydoyle, who had become the necessary ingredient to determine whether the new recipe was one for success. Despite the excitement of seeing him again, the prospect of defeat due to the unusual conditions hung like a specter over the occasion.
With the die cast and Camelot committed, Joseph O'Brien took his usual languid approach and settled him well off the pace set by Astrology with only Born to Sea and Johnny Murtagh behind. Apparently sitting pretty on the home turn as Akeed Mofeed took over with Light Heavy pressing him on the lead, Camelot was moved to the fore with a quarter-mile remaining and he jinked left there. Straightened for the final drive, the son of Montjeu was able to handle more than a furlong of harrying from the Tsui homebred with his jockey reverting to hands and heels in the final yards.
"It's incredible -- he hasn't set foot on grass at home since Epsom, as we've been flooded," Aidan O'Brien remarked after greeting his 10th winner of the race and seventh in succession. "He's passed every test all the way along, but I thought today would be too much for him, as we were asking him to swim against the tide. It was a massive call and I thought it was impossible, but John (Magnier) was very adamant that he wanted to support the race, and all the people and sponsors.
"Joseph always said he didn't like soft ground and his wheels were spinning the whole way. He's been working on all-weather for the last month, so it was an incredible performance in the circumstances. I definitely would have wilted under the pressure and not had the courage to run him, so fair play to the lads.
"I think it's a testimony to the horse, as our horses had been running very ordinary all week, but he's very special and Joseph only wanted to nurse him and get him over the line. He's so calm after the race and doesn't blow -- I've never seen a horse like him after a race and we are privileged to have anything to do with him. The plan was to give him a break after today and look to the autumn with him.
"Every morning going in, we salute Nijinsky and we never thought we would have one that could pass all the same tests. Today was so special."
Joseph O'Brien, who became the first to claim to victory for a father-son partnership in this race, added, "Camelot has done extremely well to win today on ground he struggled on all the way. There is a patch down the back which the horses cross for the gallops and he stumbled and lost his footing there, so I was worried turning in. He showed the heart that he has from there. He relaxed well and everything went to plan apart from the fact that he hated the ground."
John Magnier left nobody in any doubt as to the regard he holds Camelot.
"We are looking for the next Sadler's Wells," the Coolmore supremo said. "This horse has been tested all the way through and has shown the two-year-old form, the Guineas form, the hard, the soft and the battling and that's what you want -- you have to have all those qualities, so that's my commercial. Sadler's Wells ran in the bog here when winning the Beresford and did all those things, too."
As far as the decision to let him take his chance, Magnier added, "It is like winter ground, but we had to run. Given a choice, we probably wouldn't have done, but that would have been like the tail wagging the dog. We didn't do the right thing, but we just got away with it."
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