It was a great Scot, Robert Louis Stevenson, who wrote that to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive. He could have usefully added “most especially when you are arriving late and failing to win the Triple Crown”.
For that is what happened yesterday when Camelot’s late effort ended with him losing by less than a length at the end of the Ladbrokes St Leger.
The winner of the 2,000 Guineas and Derby was trying to be the first colts’ Triple Crown winner since the great Nijinsky in 1970, and came up just a few feet short after finishing with too little, too late, behind 25-1 shot Encke, trained for Godolphin by Mahmood Al Zarooni and enterprisingly ridden by 21-year-old French jockey Mikael Barzalona.
The defeat of Camelot, the 2-5 favourite, was a body blow to the sport which had such hyped hopes, and to trainer Aidan O’Brien, who thus failed in his attempt to become the first man to train all five Classic winners in a season.
Camelot’s owners, Coolmore Stud partners John Magnier, Michael Tabior and Derick Smith saw their dream shattered, but all credit to them for their sporting decision to have a go at the longest Classic. That they were beaten by a horse from their greatest rivals will mean much less to them than the fact that Camelot was not the total superstar they hoped.
Ridden by Aidan’s 19-year-old son Joseph O’Brien, Camelot looked less than happy from start to finish, though those who doubted he would stay the one mile six furlongs and 132 yard distance were proven wrong by the son of Montjeu. He was on a racetrack for only the sixth time, and seemed a tad discomfited as he is used to playing follow-my-leader with a pacemaker from his stable – this time there was no such guidance.
When they have the chance to reflect, Godolphin’s boys in blue will want to thank Scottish jockey Robert Havlin and trainer John Gosden who combined to make Dartford a strange sort of pacemaker. For rather than blasting off and leading stable companions Thought Worthy and Michelangelo on a fast trip, Havlin and Dartford set a muddling pace until five furlongs out when he really accelerated.
Since Michelangelo finished third you have to say it worked for Gosden’s team, but it worked against Camelot, since O’Brien had no choice but to hold up the colt to ensure that he got the trip. That meant he got trapped well behind the leaders and could not race at the strong pace at which the horse is most comfortable. When they turned into the straight, Thought Worthy came through to lead but his effort faded fast. The other Irish raider, Ursa Major, was staying on at the one pace, while Encke suddenly appeared ahead of Camelot and running into space.
At this point, over a furlong out, Barzalona won with a courageous move, sending his mount ahead and driving the colt three lengths clear. You could argue that O’Brien was caught on the hop and didn’t react quickly enough to the Frenchman’s move, but the more salient point is that Camelot didn’t go through his normal gears.
In both the Epsom and Irish Derbies, Camelot quickened up at this point and came down the outside to win more than cosily. Yesterday afternoon there was no similar immediate response. Despite O’Brien steering him through and cajoling him all the way, Encke had already flown and Camelot was always playing catch up in vain, closing in the last 50 yards to three-quarters-of-length.
“I should have run a pacemaker,” was Aidan O’Brien’s immediate declaration after the race. “You have to take your time on him over a mile and six which he [Joseph] did and, when he got out, he just stayed on rather than quickened.
“In the Guineas he quickened and in the Derby he quickened, but he just stayed on here. He ran a great race but just got beat. It’s disappointing for everybody but that’s the way it is. That’s racing.”
Barzalona was securing his second English Classic. The jockey memorably won last year’s Derby on Pour Moi with an audacious celebration before the line. It was also trainer Mahmood Al Zarooni’s second Classic success, after last year’s 1,000 Guineas win for Blue Bunting.
Encke provided Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin with yet another winner in the world’s oldest Classic. He joined Mastery, Rule Of Law, Mutawafeq, Nedawi and Classic Cliche as Godolphin’s Leger champions.
Barzalona was praised by Godolphin racing manager Simon Crisford.
“Mickael rode a beautiful race and when he kicked at the two-pole he put the race to bed,” said Crisford.
“We weren’t sure about his stamina going into the race but he’s quite stoutly bred, so we thought it wouldn’t be a problem.”
Earlier, the big sprint of the day, the Ladbrokes Portland Handicap, went to Doc Hay, superbly ridden by Ayrshire jockey Daniel Tudhope who pounced late to thwart Kieren Fallon and Face The Problem.
Continuing their bad day at the office, over in Ireland at the Curragh, the Coolmore-Ballydoyle favourite Fame and Glory faded badly after leading the Gain Feeds Irish St Leger, Niall McCullough forcing Tommy Carmody’s 16-1 shot Royal Diamond ahead to win on the nod in a bunch finish.
The Jim Bolger-trained, Kevin Manning-ridden Dawn Approach then won the Group One Goff’s Vincent O’Brien National Stakes for Godolphin, rounding off a great day for the stable.