O'Brien's Camelot to cast Derby spell
In the 10 years since High Chaparral's conquering of Hawk Wing gave Aidan O'Brien his second successive Epsom Derby, Ballydoyle's glorious association with the great race has become as much a burden as a bond.
Today, that should finally change. In total, nine horses are set to go to post for the 2012 renewal of the premier Classic; in truth, it is all about one -- Camelot.
Having snuck home in the 2,000 Guineas with a bit to spare under the trainer's 19-year-old son Joseph, the unbeaten colt will bid to deliver Montjeu, his recently deceased sire, a remarkable fourth win in the prestigious feature in just seven years. More than that, though, he is endeavouring to follow the mighty Sea The Stars.
In 2009, after a gap of 20 years, John Oxx's superstar secured the Newmarket/Epsom double with aplomb. Camelot is skimpily priced to emulate that feat just three years later and become the first odds-on shot to oblige since Shergar in 1981.
Three horses have crashed on the odds-on rock in the meantime, while it won't be lost on Aidan O'Brien that two of those, his namesake Vincent's El Gran Senor and Coolmore's Entrepreneur, were also classy Guineas winners. Indeed, few are better versed on how difficult it is to saddle the first past the post in the £1.3m Group One.
The current Ballydoyle incumbent's last 39 runners in the 12-furlong race have all been beaten. Treasure Beach, denied a head by the fellow Coolmore-owned Pour Moi 12 months ago, was his fifth runner-up since 2003, and his third in-a-row.
Moreover, he had the second, third, fourth and fifth home behind Sea The Stars in 2009. Epsom, with its uneven nuances, carnival atmosphere and that crippling weight of history, is an unforgiving, revelatory cauldron of expectation.
If there is a chink in Camelot's armour, the famous Downs will surely find it. Yet, the more you inspect his opposition, the more plausible his legend becomes.
Bonfire edged the Dante at York, but looked more than a little complicated in the process. Thought Worthy, well held by Imperial Monarch at Sandown, laboured home in a blanket finish to a Newmarket Listed race. Neither will be nearly good enough.
Main Sequence, representing Tipperary's David Lanigan and Mayo's Ted Durcan, is of interest after showing a telling turn of foot at Lingfield to maintain a 100pc record.
Along with Astrology, the favourite's Ryan Moore-ridden stablemate, he has some appeal, but neither appeal as likely Epsom Derby winners. Camelot patently does.
While critics might point to the Guineas form not holding up too well, the narrow margin of victory there did not reflect his utter superiority. Under a masterful steer from his talented young pilot on his seasonal bow, he did just enough to squeeze home over an inadequate trip, but this is the contest in which he was bred to excel.
The same could reasonably be said of Joseph O'Brien. Together they promise to emerge as a truly formidable partnership, and talk should soon turn to a potential assault on the Triple Crown. Anything less will be a galling anti-climax.
The task of St Nicholas Abbey ought to be equally straightforward in the Coronation Cup. Last year's victor faces little in the way of a worthy rival among the five that take him on, so a sixth win for the stable in eight renewals can set things up nicely.
In the 'Dash' handicap, Pat Shanahan and Colm O'Donoghue team up with Oor Jock, but the one that represents value at fancy prices is Fitz Flyer under Kieren Fallon. A pacey sort that wasn't given a hard time of it when he didn't get his own way at York, the four-year-old can improve on just its fourth start for sprint king Dandy Nicholls.
At Haydock, there are four Irish-trained runners on duty. Eddie Lynam's unexposed Slade Power, second to the subsequent Irish 1,000 Guineas runner-up Ishvana at Dundalk last month, strikes as the brightest prospect of the quartet.
Best Bet: Slade Power