Photo: Emma-Louise Kerwin/Goodtosoft.co.uk
The list of English Triple Crown winners in the last 75 years is about as exclusive as could be. It seems sweeping the series of the 2,000 Guineas, Epsom Derby and the St. Leger has proven to be even more elusive than the American version that is currently suffering through a 34-year drought. In fact, I will now review the entire roll call of horses to complete the feat in the last three-quarters of a century: Nijinsky. That’s all; the entire list is made up of but one. That number may be just days away from doubling though, as Camelot will be heavily favored to complete the coveted English Triple Crown Saturday at Doncaster. Only one-year-old at the time, I watched replays and read as much as I could about the great Nijinsky and his career on the course, as well as witnessing his remarkable success as a sire, both of which led me to believe that the Vincent O’Brien trained son of Northern Dancer was one of the finest thoroughbreds of my lifetime. And now there is Camelot. But is he really worthy of becoming the first champion since Nijinsky to turn the trick?
Of course only time will tell, but suffice to say that Aidan O’Brien’s unbeaten son of Montjeu has the English race fans excited. An impressive winner of his only two starts as a two-year-old including the Group 1 Racing Post Trophy Stakes, Camelot has dominated the biggest races for sophomores in England and Ireland with a combination of power and precision. Beginning the year at Newmarket with a late running score in the one-mile, first leg of the Triple Crown, Camelot got the job done against 17 other hopefuls on a soggy turf course and a distance likely shorter than his best. A score at Epsom Downs followed to secure two-thirds of the series. In the Derby, the Coolmore star easily stretched out to 12 furlongs on a much firmer turf condition. Four weeks later he stepped out of the English Triple Crown to take Ireland’s most important affair for three-year-olds, the Irish Derby, in convincing style. This type of resume, all accomplished in his first five lifetime starts, would seem to suggest that Camelot should be the toast of all European racing, but in fact he is not. That honor goes to the great four-year-old Frankel, who will look to win his 14th and final race, without a loss, in next month’s Champion Stakes at Ascot. Meanwhile, Camelot has impressed, but in all honesty, has been winning against a very suspect group of sophomores. Save the potential Triple Crown winner, you could easily call this the weakest crop in many years.
Maybe the perceived lack of quality competition will take some of the luster away from Camelot in the here and now, but in the long run, a win over the 1 ¾ miles plus of the St. Leger on Saturday will make Camelot a name that will live on for as long as we celebrate the breed. It will be forgotten soon enough that he did not need to defeat any world beaters, but the fact that he won three such important races at different tracks, and at vastly different distances will be all that history will remember. It is time for a Triple Crown winner, no matter which side of the Atlantic you call home, and it seems Camelot is just the horse to get it done, and by the way, his next race after the St. Leger should be the Arc, where he will get all the quality competition that a young horse could ask for.
[For more later this week on Camelot and his quest for the Triple Crown, please visit Dan Munn's Across the Pond]