Sunday 21 January 2018

Frankel clash 'not fair' on Derby hero Camelot -- O'Brien

Richard Forristal

Richard Forristal

In equine terms at least, this has been the summer that just keeps giving.

At the Curragh on Saturday, Camelot knuckled down in unseasonably bottomless ground to grind out his third successive Classic in the Irish Derby.

The exceptional Montjeu colt wandered a little under Joseph O'Brien when Born To Sea applied some pressure inside the distance, but he soon regained his composure to deliver his cool 19-year-old rider a first victory in the €1.25m Group One. No real drama.

Following on from his Epsom rout, Camelot concluded a spectacular month of June that was also graced by fellow heavyweights Frankel and Black Caviar. Between them, the terrific trio have run 38 times and have never been conquered.

A showdown between Frankel and Camelot in the Juddmonte at York in August is a decider that most racing fans would love to see, but it's unlikely to happen. Speaking yesterday, O'Brien pointed out that, following a break, such a potentially hard race over 10 furlongs would not be an ideal prep for a historic tilt at September's St Leger.


Having confirmed Camelot none the worse for Saturday's exertions, he said: "The options are either a racecourse gallop or a run somewhere before the St Leger.

"What is there for him really, though? Probably not a lot. I'm not ruling anything in or out, but the Juddmonte, I don't think that would be fair to him. If we went back to a mile and a quarter, he could then find it very hard going back to a mile and six for the St Leger."

All roads will lead to the Doncaster, then, where Camelot will bid to emulate Nijinsky. The most recent Triple Crown hero in 1970, the totem of Vincent O'Brien's Ballydoyle tenure, was also the last to do the Classic treble that was annexed here.

This time, the current Ballydoyle impresario secured his 10th Irish Derby triumph, and a seventh on the spin, which is a record for any of the 10 Irish and British Classics.

Following his curious decision to withdraw Imperial Monarch -- a proven mud-lover and the horse many reckoned would push the first string hardest -- for ground-related reasons, Camelot returned an SP of 1/5, the shortest-priced winner in over 100 years.

Sadly, to a certain extent, all those figures do is confirm the ongoing malaise of what should be the crown jewel of Irish Flat racing. Truth is, this was a non-event, one that John Magnier admitted Coolmore had felt a duty to support.

"We obviously have a good loyal international sponsor," he said of Dubai Duty Free, "and they have committed to another three years, so it would have been like the tail wagging the dog if we didn't run. We got away with it."

Undoubtedly, it was a brave decision by the Camelot team to run in such unfavourable conditions, but the task became eminently easier for the removal of Imperial Monarch and the Dermot Weld-trained Speaking Of Which. Notwithstanding the Curragh's best efforts and the presence of such a rare talent as Camelot, the race continues to flounder as a meaningful international contest.

There wasn't a single foreign runner on Saturday and, in accounting for his four rivals -- the smallest field for exactly 100 years -- Camelot didn't get the opportunity to stretch his number of Group One-winning victims to any more than the two he had previously met.

This time last year, the mighty Frankel had already beaten off eight.

From the point of view of generating public interest, switching the Derby to a Saturday evening slot had minimal perceptible impact.

Despite averting a clash with Kildare's Leinster football game and Ronan Keating's repeated flagging of his post-race concert to 236,000 Twitter followers in the preceding days, attendance was up just 6pc to 23,211 on last year's Derby crowd, which had been down 2,500 on 2010.

No doubt the television viewing figures will be enhanced due to the prime-time slot, but the fact remains that the only real winner here was Coolmore. Same as it ever was.

Yesterday, O'Brien's Oaks heroine Was and Maybe were two of three non-runners in the Barclays Bank Pretty Polly Stakes to leave another depleted field of just four for the day's Group One. Sapphire, sent off at odds of 10/11, set out to make all under Pat Smullen, but couldn't repel the challenge of John Gosden's Izzi Top (6/4).

Now unbeaten in her last four, the progressive William Buick-ridden four-year-old had a length and a quarter to spare at the line.

"She didn't like the ground, but if they are good enough they get the job done," reported her Newmarket-based handler, who also plundered the €114,000 pot with Dar Re Mi in 2009.

"It's always nice to win this, because Pretty Polly was trained where I train at Clarehaven. They built the yard in 1899, 1900, and she was champion race-mare in 1904, '05 and '06, so the race is going home."

Smullen had better luck in the Friarstown Stud International, with the 4/7 favourite Famous Name stretching his unbeaten run in Group Threes to nine in routine fashion.

Weld revealed that the redoubtable seven-year-old, winning this for a third time, would next bid for an elusive first Group One in the Zuchtrennen at Munich.

Earlier, Tyrone-based Andy Oliver's Sendmylovetorose (9/2), withdrawn at Royal Ascot after a nasty incident in the stalls, never put a foot wrong this time under Colm O'Donoghue to maintain her 100pc record in the Group Three Grangecon Stakes.

Irish Independent

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