Updated on 09/17/2012 1:56PM

St. Leger Stakes: Encke denies Camelot a sweep of English Triple Crown


DONCASTER, England – The cheers that greeted Derby and 2000 Guineas winner Camelot as he loped past the finish post on his way to the start for Saturday’s classic St. Leger Stakes turned to stunned mumbles some 10 minutes later, after chances for the first English Triple Crown winner in 42 years went down by three-quarters of a length at the hands of the 25-1 longshot Encke carrying Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin blue.

Before a sellout crowd of more than 31,000 at Doncaster, bathed in warm, sunny Yorkshire weather after three days of clouds and rain, Camelot was attempting to emulate the Triple Crown success of Nijinsky in 1970 and 13 others before him in sweeping the English 2000 Guineas, the Epsom Derby, and the St. Leger.

But whether or not the pace was false or the trip unlucky or the journey of about 14 1/2 furlongs just too far, the odds-on Camelot ended up second best to a horse he outclassed badly on paper, and now must be listed alongside Cotherstone (1843) and Ladas (1894) as colts who finished second in the St. Leger – a race first run in 1776 – after winning the first two jewels in the crown.

Aidan O’Brien, Camelot’s trainer, was kicking himself afterward for not entering a pacemaker that he felt would have assured a quicker run through the first half of the race. As it was, Camelot found himself at the back of the nine runners on a modest pace with Main Sequence, who had missed the break.

“That’s exactly where I would have wanted him to be going this distance,” O’Brien said. “My first thought though was that it was a steadily run race after going a couple of furlongs, and Joseph couldn’t do anything about it.”

O’Brien was referring to jockey Joseph O’Brien, the trainer’s 18-year-old son, who was too distraught in defeat immediately after the race to deal with the press. That left most of the talking to Mikael Barzalona, Encke’s jockey, who at age 21 was winning his second English classic after taking the 2011 Epsom Derby aboard Pour Moi.

Barzalona, who upset the Dubai World Cup with Monterosso earlier this year, gets high marks for taking the race to Camelot when the serious running began halfway down the long Doncaster stretch.

At that point, O’Brien had been waiting for a clear path off the rail with the heavy favorite. But Encke and Barzalona, racing alongside and just ahead, beat Camelot to daylight and struck for home.

“I knew Camelot was on the inside and could see he had difficulty navigating,” Barzalona said in describing the final quarter-mile. “I asked my horse to go, and he went very quickly.”

Camelot tried to answer, but appeared slow to change gears, unlike his electrifying kicks in the one-mile Guineas and 1 1/2-mile Derby. It was only in the shadow of the line that Camelot made it as close as he did, just catching Encke’s flank, while Michelangelo, one of three John Gosden runners, finished third, three lengths farther back.

“The favorite was unlucky,” said Gosden, who was gunning for his third straight St. Leger victory. “If he’d gotten out when he wanted to, he would have won by 1 1/2 lengths.”

Encke is an American-bred son of Kingmambo who has been in the mix of European 3-year-olds not named Camelot taking turns beating each other all season long. Trained by Mahmood al Zarooni, Encke was third to Thought Worthy in the recent Great Voltiguer, but his St. Leger performance more closely resembled his close second to Noble Mission in the Gordon Stakes at Goodwood, when he opened daylight and gave way grudgingly.

Still, the 2012 will be remembered as the race Camelot lost.

“I saddled Alleged in the St. Leger when I worked for Vincent O’Brien, Nijinsky’s trainer,” Gosden noted. “He won two Arcs, so you know he was a good horse. But a quality horse can be beaten in the St. Leger, and Alleged was beaten that day by the Queen’s filly Dunfermline.”

Aidan O’Brien pointed to the key moment in the stretch as making the difference.

“When the gaps came, the winner was in probably a handier position and was gone,” O’Brien said. “When Camelot got out, he just stayed on rather than quickened up. But that was always liable to happen, because we were running him a bit farther than his distance. That’s the way it is, and well done to the winner.”

O’Brien added there was no decision yet on whether or not Camelot would run as a 4-year-old, but at the end of the day Saturday it hardly mattered.