What is Camelot? Webster defines it as a time, place, or atmosphere of idyllic happiness. Nice. The horse isn’t bad either…
When Camelot exploded home from his competition in the Group 1 Racing Post Trophy last fall at Doncaster, the highly touted juvenile colt was immediately made a strong winter book choice for the 2012 Epsom (Investec) Derby. It is easy to see why. Ridden by the son of the omnipresent trainer, Aidan O'Brien, the grand looking colt looked like a big cat waiting to pounce on a field of mice until the young O’Brien said it was time to go. After taking over the race in a shot, the heavy favorite won stylishly to the wire as his rider needed to ask for nothing more.
The victory in the prestigious two-year-old race marked only the second career start for Camelot after making easy work of a maiden affair at Leopardstown last July.
It was decided the son of Montjeu would make his sophomore debut in the season’s first Classic, the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket on May 5, where he did not disappoint his backers, although this time he would only win by a neck. It was nonetheless impressive though, as he once again demonstrated an explosive late run under a confident ride by Joseph O’Brien, that quickly ended doubt as to who would win the Group 1 race.
With the first classic in the books, Camelot enters tomorrow’s 1 ½ mile Epsom Derby as a heavy favorite to win his fourth race without a defeat. Despite never having run further than a mile, all signs point to the jump up in distance to present no problem for Camelot. Not only has he given every impression of a colt screaming out for more distance in each of his three starts, but his sire Montjeu is also well known for passing on a love for distance to his offspring. Keep in mind that he has sired three of the last seven winners of the Epsom Derby, including last year’s winner, Pour Moi. The elder O’Brien has also made no bones about stretching his young star out, and his confidence becomes even more evident through his declaration that he is interested in making a run at the English Triple Crown with Camelot.
While the American Triple Crown has become so difficult to win largely because all three legs are contested within the short span of five weeks, the English Triple Crown presents an entirely different, but equally daunting challenge. Made up of the 2,000 Guineas, the Epsom Derby, and finally the St. Leger, the English version allows plenty of time for recuperation, (the St. Leger is not run until September) but spans three-quarters of a mile from the shortest (2,000 Guineas) to the longest (the St. Leger is 1 ¾ miles.) Needless to say, it takes a very special horse to beat the best at such a range of distances. Believe it or not, the American drought of enjoying no Triple Crown winner in 34 years is actually eight years shy of the English dry spell, as it has not been achieved since the great Nijinsky completed the feat back in 1970.
So as American race fans embrace for I’ll Have Another’s run at immortality in eight days, fans at Epsom Downs will be hoping to see Camelot also march towards greatness in less than 24 hours. He will be an overwhelming favorite in a field of nine, with Bonfire and Main Sequence as the two given the best chance to pull the upset. Considering this horse’s press clippings, many see tomorrow’s result as a foregone conclusion, but the history of the race shows that it is not always kind to the overwhelming choice, with three of the past four odds-on favorites for the Epsom Derby going down to defeat.