Legendary status not yet certain
Taking on Frankel must be balanced against the danger of Camelot losing his record, says Ian McClean
Like a climber reaching base camp, it is time to momentarily pause and reflect before looking ahead to the final summit. The ripple of Camelot's achievement in winning the Epsom Derby reached as far as the following day's New York Times where it trumped even I'll Have Another's Triple Crown bid for precious column space in a broadsheet not renowned for its racing coverage.
The frailty of the thoroughbred and the transience of opportunity were sadly mirrored in that horse's 11th-hour withdrawal from the Belmont and the possibility of accomplishing a feat last achieved in the US by the mighty Affirmed in 1978. America will have to wait at least another year.
It only serves to bring into even sharper focus Camelot's future and what it might entail. One thing is for certain -- with a CV beginning to match his christening and reputation (now unbeaten in four races including three Group Ones, two of them Classics) Camelot is big box-office. Between Friday evening and last Wednesday (after the extended UK Diamond Jubilee bank holiday), fuelled by the whiff of a Triple Crown, tickets for the premier enclosure at Doncaster sold out online.
Two Camelot questions are being hotly debated: What has he accomplished so far and what should he do next? The hyperbole surrounding his Derby victory is not entirely reflected in the cold slide rule of the handicapper's rating -- falling short of Workforce, Authorized and even Aidan O'Brien's last winner, High Chaparral.
In victory last Saturday, Camelot defeated the smallest field since 1907. At least half the field will struggle to win a Group race of any kind and his main market rival, Bonfire, floundered on the tricky Epsom contours. In four races Camelot has defeated a total of 34 rivals. Between them all, his victims have won just four races -- two of those on the all-weather. It is easy, seductive almost (and compulsive when it comes to the media) to dilute perspective. After all, Marcel Duchamp walked into a plumbing suppliers in New York in 1917, bought a urinal, signed it and called it art.
That is not to say Camelot is not as 'magical' as connections have always claimed. Or that there isn't something sacred in the unblemished perfection of flawless accomplishment. Camelot has effectively reached base camp; to conquer Everest he needs to overcome his elders. When 'the boys at Coolmore' sit down at the table this week there are a number of options for Camelot. After all, he is currently favourite for the Irish Derby, King George, St Leger and the Arc -- and if they'd priced up Crufts or the 1,500m at the Olympics he'd be favourite for those as well. I'm certain the top two items on the agenda will read 'Triple Crown' and 'Frankel'.
It was interesting to hear John Magnier say after the Derby when asked about the pursuit of a Triple Crown: "We're all so old but if you'd asked me 30 years ago I'd have looked the other way". But a lot has changed and Coolmore (and those who make it up) is a different beast now. Historically, winning a St Leger has been inimical to the reputation of a young stallion.
However, Coolmore has migrated from a fledgling challenger brand back in the day to its position as world-leading brand today. Where it once followed, it now leads, and it could in that capacity single- handedly restore a creaky Leonard Cohen of a Leger back to cool high fashion.
Another cheery conundrum to spice up the Camelot round-table is the accompanying squad of Group One horses presently in the yard and how to deploy them. Magnier, as a postscript to the Derby, also referred to the fact that the Ballydoyle operation is presently going through "a good patch". Yes, and I also hear Michelangelo did a spot of painting and decorating.
Aidan O'Brien has already won seven Group Ones this year including all four UK Classics and one in Ireland. The world record number in a season is 25, held by Bobby Frankel. O'Brien's best total was 23 back in 2008. At this stage of that season he had won six. In the wings, the yard holds older horses of the calibre of So You Think, St Nicholas Abbey and Excelebration, all of whom operate in Camelot's range, not to mention Fame And Glory.
So while Camelot is the headline act, his chosen targets will be calculated as part of an overall grander scheme. The Triple Crown might represent the very pinnacle of a three year-old's achievement, but Camelot v Frankel would be the ultimate Everest for racing.
Sunday Indo Sport