09/12/2012 3:43PM

Hovdey: Camelot takes rare shot at English Triple Crown

Patrick McCann
Camelot is a son of the 1999 Arc de Triomphe and French Derby winner, Montjeu.

All eyes will be focused on the Town Moor at Doncaster Racecourse in Yorkshire County on Saturday when the heroically named Camelot attempts to dust off the history books and become the first winner of the English Triple Crown in 42 years.

To accomplish the rare feat Camelot will need to negotiate the mile and three-quarters and 132 yards of the St. Leger Stakes, nearly the full circuit of the Doncaster course, starting just around the corner from the finish post, up and over the iconic Rose Hill and around a broad, distant turn, then on to a finishing straightaway of about 4 1/2 furlongs.

The unbeaten Camelot is a darkish bay with a pair of distinctive white glyphs where most colts carry a blaze. He will be accompanied on his journey by 10 other 3-year-olds, but most importantly by Joseph O’Brien, the tall, lanky 18-year-old son of trainer Aidan O’Brien who has so far been unflappable in Camelot’s five victories.

O’Brien, the trainer, refers to Camelot as “too good to be true,” and describes his colt as graceful and lilting in stride as a “dressage horse.” O’Brien still worries that if his Camelot is to be beaten it will be the trip of more than 14 furlongs that does it.

“You just never know until they try,” said O’Brien, who has won three St. Legers from his Ballydoyle base of operations in Ireland.

Despite a rainy summer in Yorkshire, the course should be good to firm for Saturday’s test, which goes off at 3:40 p.m. local time. The St. Leger, sponsored by Ladbrokes, carries a purse of about $884,000, which is only slightly less than Camelot cost as a yearling. A son of 1999 Arc and French Derby winner Montjeu, he was bred in England by Highclere Stud and races for the Coolmore partnership of Derrick Smith, Susan Magnier, and Michael Tabor.

Camelot’s Triple Crown adventure began last May when he made his 3-year-old debut in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket and battled to a narrow win over 17 opponents at a mile. He came back a month later to set the table for the Triple Crown by coasting home in the mile-and-one-half Epsom Derby, then added the Irish Derby for good measure in July.

There have been 15 winners of what eventually became known as the English Triple Crown since West Australian swept the Epsom Derby, the 2000 Guineas, and the St. Leger in 1853. Since 1935, however, when Bahram became the 14th Triple Crown winner, the concept of a Triple Crown winner has become nearly obsolete.

Nijinsky was unbeaten when he added the St. Leger to his victories in the 2000 Guineas, the Derby, the Irish Derby, and the King George IV and Queen Elizabeth Stakes in September of 1970. But when Nashwan took the first two legs of the Crown in 1989 he was pointed instead for the Arc de Triomphe, while Sea The Stars did the same in 2009. Nashwan never made it to the Arc, but Sea The Stars capped his career with a memorable win in Paris under Mick Kinane.

“I’ve no doubt Sea The Stars could have won the St. Leger,” Kinane said. “He did some remarkable things, and always with something left. But that wasn’t the point. Winning at a mile and three-quarters would have done nothing for him as a stallion these days.”

Kinane, who won the 2001 St. Leger aboard Milan, also rode Camelot’s sire, Montjeu, to significant victories, including the 1999 Arc de Triomphe.

“There’s a lot of Montjeu in Camelot,” noted Kinane, who was at Doncaster this week to compete in the Leger Legends charity event. “And Montjeu would have had no trouble with the mile and three-quarters. He would have been too immature mentally, though, to have handled the Guineas like Camelot.”

Many of those grasping for an alternative to the heavily favored Camelot have turned to Main Sequence, a son of American sprint champ Aldebaran who was undefeated in four starts – including the Derby Trial Stakes over an all-weather course at Lingfield – when he took the field against Camelot in the Epsom Derby. Main Sequence ran the best race of his life that day, but it was only good enough for second, five lengths back of the winner.

Since then, Main Sequence has been a respectable fourth to Imperial Monarch in the Grand Prix de Paris at Longchamp and a close second to Thought Worthy in the Great Voltiguer Stakes at York. Ted Durcan, who won the 2009 St. Leger aboard the Godolphin-owned Mastery, rides Main Sequence once again for trainer David Lanigan.

Thought Worthy’s Great Voltiguer victory at a mile and a half was accomplished from the front all the way on what John Gosden, his trainer, concedes was clearly a false pace.

A son of Dynaformer, bred by his American owner, George Strawbridge, Thought Worthy has raced six times over six different courses and won three. He also tried Camelot at Epsom and found himself 11 lengths back at the end in fourth.

Gosden, in the midst of a banner season, has won the last two runnings of the St. Leger, three of the last four, and four in all, dating back to Shantou in 1996.

This time around Gosden has three in the field, including pacemaker Dartford and Michelangelo, a son of Galileo owned by Bjorn Nielson. Gosden and Nielson teamed last year for a mild surprise in the St. Leger with Masked Marvel, but if they’ve got a similar result in mind this time around, Michelangelo will need to improve mightily over his last race in the mile-and-one-half Gordon Stakes July 31 at Goodwood, when he was third, beaten 2 1/2 lengths by Frankel’s little brother, Noble Mission.

O’Brien also has three in the field, although it stretches the imagination to think that Camelot’s stablemate Imperial Monarch would spoil the day in spite of his sharp win in the Grand Prix de Paris. Earlier in the year Imperial Monach also handled Thought Worthy without much fuss in the Classic Trial at Sandown.

“It will be very hard to get Camelot out of his comfort zone,” Gosden said. “He’s the best horse, and it may sound strange given the mile and three-quarters, but at the end of the day Camelot may just have too much speed for the rest of them.”

Karen Sweatman More than 1 year ago
Almost forgot, GO CAMELOT, take that crown!
Karen Sweatman More than 1 year ago
How can Frankel be considered the greatest of all time by the brits when he's never banged heads with this horse? They are in the same country. Not a Zenyatta-Rachel Alexandra situation? No. The "greatest horse of all time" should be the one holding the triple crown or bidding on it. Frankel has distance limitations, or so they think. Therefore, he should only be considered the greatest miler of all time. Two wonderful ponies, they are lucky. I'm jealous. It's been such a miserable year for the sport here. No star attractions at the Breeders Cup in 2012. Forget the glory and excitement, I'm just hoping for as few injuries as possible.
Grass Is Greener More than 1 year ago
You are obviously a casual fan. The game is in trouble in this country because we are not able to move fans like you past the casual stage. The Frankel and Camelot situation is actually very close to that of Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra. Camelot is a 3yr old colt while Frankel is 4. Camelot has raced only 5 times, and in strictly 2yr old or 3yr old companies only. The races that Camelot were entered in were not eligible for Frankel, therefore it would be impossible for them to meet. You can still infer their comparative ability by looking at common opponents. For example: The 3yo colt Born to Sea finished 2nd by 2L to Camelot in the Irish Derby. Born to Sea has since run in the Irish Champion Stakes and lost to St. Nicholas Abbey by over 6L (St. Nic Abbey finished 3rd in that race while Born to Sea finished 5th). One race before the Irish Champion Stakes, St Nicholas Abbey lost to Frankel by 7L in the Juddmonte International Stakes. One could infer that Frankel is 13L better than Born to Sea, while Camelot is 2L better. Therefore, it is very possible that Frankel is 10L better than Camelot. Camelot's connection probably won't agree about the 10L, but I think they will readily concede that Frankel is a faster horse. By the way, Frankel's connections never said that he had a distance limitation. They just thought that his running style while he was an immature 3yo did not suit stretching out in distance. Frankel is fortunate that he had an owner and a trainer who had won almost all the biggest races, so they had no pressure at all to bring him along slowly. Frankel has now won a 10f Group 1 race impressively and will make his next start in another 10f G1, the British Champion Stakes which is the richest flat race in the UK, a very prestigious race.
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
its not that FRANKEL has dogded CAMELOT they are of diferent ages one a 3yo the other a 4 yo.CAMELOT has choosen not to face the older boys yet,the triple crown is restricted to 3yos.if they meet it would be later in the season,right now it would be almost unfair to have them face each other camelot WOULD BE AT A DISADVANTAGE.
Pat More than 1 year ago
Pleasure watching this animal run..just when you think he had enough he kicks into another gear. Trainer right..only if the horse gets bored and says water fountian will he lose.
Bwell More than 1 year ago
Could he be coming to America? Spacing between races would work for the B.C. Classic. OR A date with Frankel?
Paul_Tuon More than 1 year ago
As much as I admire Aidan O'brien's training prowes, I think he's overly concerned regarding Camelot's chances, and may over trained his star colt in fear that he may not get the mile and 6 1/2 furlongs. Having followed Camelot's races thus far, I am not as overly concerned as O'Brien is. Camelot is towering over his rivals and I think he has no problems handling his rivals. The only concern that I have is that if Camelot doesn't show up and not feeling well on raceday. If he's semi-feeling good--not necessarily feeling super good--he'll destroy this field. That's how strongly about Camelot's chances. Having said that, there's always a dark horse that usually came out of nowhere and spoils the party parade--or in this case, Camelot's Party Parade. That darh horse, in my mind, is Guarantee; and given the statement I just stated above regarding Camelot's chances of a virtual lock, I may have to retrack my statement, since the name of my dark horse is Guarantee and he may as well runs to his namesake and guaranteeing a win. Kidding aside, I still believe Camelot will win and if any horse in this field is capable of upsetting Camelot it would be Guarantee. He's improving steadily and who knows how much more he'll improve. I pick Camelot to win and Guarantee a chance of an upset. It should be a good race to watch but not wager.
Who Dey D Ray More than 1 year ago
Imagine being a 78 year old Englishman and witnessing only ONE UK Triple Crown in your lifetime!
stevejPS More than 1 year ago
Thanks Mr Hovdey..just one small note. It's not "Yorkshire County" Yorkshire IS the county ('shire' means 'county') So that would be superfluous. Kinda like Orange County County
Big Jeff More than 1 year ago
So what... Wow " I think I'll read this whole article and try and find something I can correct" Get a life.
Max Power More than 1 year ago
This was actually kinda interesting. You redcoats deserve us to call your towns the right names, thanks sir.
dotti primrose More than 1 year ago
I think it's a great point.
DrSmoke120 More than 1 year ago
Of course your are correct, but given his primary audience for this article are yanks like me who didn't know that little tidbit, I can see why identify it as such. I am just amazed that a horse who one at a flat mile can have a chance going 1 3/4! I hope TVG has it on or it is being streamed.
Pat More than 1 year ago
hey.. I saw that also mate.. Like "Z" and "Zed"...mericans say it differently..but context still good. So we will give him a mulligan on this one. Cheers.
Donny Beisbol More than 1 year ago
Mount Fujiyama. Rio Grande River. Or my personal favorite... Salsa Con Queso Sauce