Wednesday 13 December 2017

O'Brien rides into Ballydoyle dynasty

Chris McGrath

When John Magnier and his partners at Coolmore sit down to discuss their next move with Camelot -- and, in the circumstances, you would like to think they will do so at a round table -- they need only ask if their courage can match his talent.

The Epsom Derby winner could become the first to attempt the Triple Crown since it was last won, also from Ballydoyle, by Nijinsky in 1970. Or he could even be planted, as an apparently immovable object, in the path of that irresistible force, Frankel. Whatever they decide, their latest champion seems qualified to take them places barely charted even during their own, ground-breaking careers on the Turf.

Their navigation can only be emboldened by the quality of their crew. True, Camelot's teenage jockey may himself be bemused by some fairly immoderate praise for his performance on Saturday.

In the smallest field since 1907, you would be disappointed in any professional rider who contrived to be beaten on a colt capable of winning by five lengths.

The young man is not yet infallible -- as evidenced by his troubled passage aboard Imperial Monarch in yesterday's French Derby. After all, the runaway success of St Nicholas Abbey earlier on the Derby card -- precisely the sort of thing this blossoming horse was supposed to do round Epsom, when he began his disappointing three-year-old campaign with a reputation akin to that of Camelot -- renewed the suspicion the partnership should not have been beaten in their two previous outings.

But then, several more seasoned riders had an equally frustrating experience in what proved a terribly messy race at Chantilly yesterday. And none, in the bigger picture, can fail to be impressed by the nerve and maturity Joseph has disclosed since his promotion as stable jockey to his father Aidan.

Moreover, these will be especially precious assets in Camelot's future assignments. You only have to remember how Joseph rode the colt, when fast-tracked to Group One company at Doncaster last autumn. Camelot had been unable to learn much, in winning his maiden so easily, but his jockey managed to treat the race like a half-speed over the gallops in Tipperary.

One way or another, Joseph's emergence has certainly heightened the sense that the Coolmore-Ballydoyle hegemony has entered a new phase. Aidan has now saddled the winners of all four Classics run in Britain this season, and Camelot could well introduce a purely ceremonial quality to the remaining one, back at Doncaster in September. Whether the Ladbrokes St Leger might, nonetheless, contain a latent menace to his longevity, by testing the limits of his stamina, is another matter.

Since Nijinsky won the Triple Crown, the race has increasingly been considered inimical to your prospects in the big races that follow. Nijinsky had also taken in the Irish Derby and King George, however, and Camelot could easily sit out the whole summer now, not least with so many others competent to represent the stable in such races. On the other hand, a break until September would in turn make it seem unlikely that Camelot will meet Frankel, whose connections have promised to try him over a mile-and-a-quarter this season. For it would surely be pushing things to stretch Camelot over the Leger trip, and then drop him all the way back down to that distance.

It would be maddening if Frankel and Camelot fail to put their unbeaten records on the same table at some point. All these dilemmas lie ahead, however. For now it is simply worth savouring a colt whose very christening, in his trainer's reckoning, attests to a "magical" quality.

Maybe the queen noted how Camelot, having reiterated that status, remained so insouciant as he was unsaddled in that claustrophobic winner's circle. In his trainer's words, he was "in the zone" throughout. With a temperament to match his exemplary physique, Camelot looks a legitimate heir to his late sire. While Montjeu can produce stock that is not always so robust, mentally, he has now come up with a fourth Derby winner.

The queen might also have appreciated those human touches that sweetened the moment: the tears of pride in the trainer's wife and jockey's mother Anne-Marie; or the way Aidan celebrated first with the employees who led back the colt, before giving his son a quiet squeeze on the leg.

At Coolmore, Camelot's next race must doubtless be a business decision. But horse and rider alike are showing everyone -- not just Magnier, but all who shared the queen's fascination on Saturday -- that business and pleasure can coincide even when the stakes are highest. (© Independent News Service)

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