Monday 23 April 2018

Camelot holds court in Guineas

Not even Frankel's presence unnerves O'Brien's latest star, writes Ian McClean

It's lucky horses don't get stage-fright, otherwise the spectacle of the world's highest rated horse Frankel breezing before racing at Newmarket's Guineas meeting yesterday on the anniversary of his unforgettable front-running annihilation, might have unnerved a few.

It is fortunate that Camelot is blessed with an even temperament as neither the presence of Frankel, the weight of expectation as winter Classics' favourite, nor the opposition of 17 peers proved enough to thwart the growing legend surrounding his capability.

Perhaps it's like the 46A -- you wait all your life for a legend and suddenly three arrive all at once in the last four years. Both Sea The Stars and Frankel won the 2000 Guineas as a prelude to igniting the fuse of the entire Flat season -- throughout which they each remained unbeaten. There seems no reason that Camelot shouldn't follow those illustrious names and, therefore, from the purist's point of view, the opening British Classic got the right result yesterday.

In the end Camelot's win was a comfortable one, but whereas his win at Doncaster in the Racing Post Trophy looked like a knife cutting through butter, yesterday was more like a chain-saw tackling a particularly knotty oak. Much of course had to do with the cloying conditions, but it was heartening to see that the unbeaten son of Montjeu can win ugly, as well as pretty.

In addition to the messy conditions, Aidan O'Brien's latest colossus had to overcome a messy race. The 18 runners split into three separate groups spread right across Newmarket Heath and if Camelot has an icy temperament then his pilot Joseph O'Brien, riding his first British Classic winner, was every inch his match as he sat well off the initial pace.

He began his move after the three-furlong marker before hitting overdrive inside the last. Only French Prix Djebel winner French Fifteen could go with the favourite, but you felt that in the end Camelot was always holding him fairly snugly. Whilst it's all easy in hindsight, there were many reasons why Camelot should have skipped the Guineas entirely, and the Coolmore contingent obviously thought hard before committing.

The ground was far from ideal; Montjeu's progeny prove better as they step up in distance; Racing Post Trophy winners have a terrible Guineas record -- only one of the previous 14 to try actually prevailed and that was High Top as far back as 1972; and perhaps most significantly the experience with similarly profiled St Nicholas Abbey backfired badly on this day just two years ago.

Aidan O'Brien admitted as much afterwards when he conceded there had been "a lot to overcome" and referred to St Nicholas Abbey as a horse "I felt I destroyed this day two years ago"; and which is "only finding his brilliance again now".

Fortune yesterday certainly favoured the brave.

So Camelot, the horse tailor-made for the Epsom Derby (for which he is now odds-on in some lists), has bagged the Guineas. It takes O'Brien's Guineas tally to six.

The Master of Ballydoyle will be mindful that the Derby is a race that has eluded him since High Chaparral beat Hawk Wing in 2002. Ten years is a long time for anyone, but it's an eternity in Tipperary. Meanwhile Ladbrokes offer just 3/1 that the latest equine sensation will lift the Triple Crown -- an achievement last accomplished by Nijinsky back in 1970.

Connections of the horse placed behind Camelot in the 2000 Guineas are plotting Classic success of their own. Nicolas Clement, trainer of runner-up French Fifteen, said: "I'm delighted with that and the winner was exceptional. It's possible we could go for the French Derby or St James's Palace next."

Mikel Delzangles was thrilled with the effort of Hermival, which finished third having emerged as the comfortable winner of the group racing on the far side.

"It's a pity he was on his own on that (far) side and he was in front very early. I can't complain, he ran a great race and the two in front of him are definitely good horses," he said.

Johnny Murtagh felt the John Oxx-trained Born to Sea (12th) "ran too free".

Interestingly, Timeform were lukewarm on Camelot's performance -- rating it lowest of the last five Guineas winners and a yawning 19lbs below Frankel's scintillating performance 12 months ago.

Finally, an interesting Derby contender emerged later on the card in the Listed Newmarket Stakes. The muddling race was won decisively in the end by the Henry Cecil-trained Noble Mission, a full-brother to none other than Frankel. Cecil said afterwards: "He's not there yet and he'll need another race before we decide where to go next. He's in the Dante but I don't want to fly too high too soon. You want to fly high at the end."

Camelot, which started and continues to fly high, may beg to differ.

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