Article Date: 30-April-2012
Blake's Blog: The Camelot Conundrum
After many months of speculation, Camelot has finally been confirmed as a runner in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket. He has been the ante-post favourite for both that race and the Epsom Derby ever since he maintained his unbeaten record by bolting up in the Racing Post Trophy in November, but many have been surprised that his connections have targeted Newmarket rather than going down the Derby trial route with him.
After all, the precedent was set with St Nicholas Abbey, wasn’t it? Also trained by Aidan O’Brien, St Nicholas Abbey was another unbeaten son of Montjeu that had produced a withering turn of foot to bolt up in the Racing Post Trophy, yet he was found notably lacking in the pace department against out-and-out milers when sent off at even money for the 2000 Guineas in 2010. Not only was the fact that such a similarly profiled horse was beaten in 2000 Guineas for the same connections considered significant, but just as much was made of the fact that that Aidan O’Brien later stated that it had been a mistake by him to train St Nicholas Abbey for the 2000 Guineas and it was the cause of the horse not running again that season.
Even more significantly, any son of Montjeu has an extremely damning statistic to overcome in the 2000 Guineas. Montjeu has sired over 150 horses that have been officially rated 100 or higher. Yet, of all those talented horses, not a single one of them has won a Group race at a mile or shorter as a three-year-old or older in Europe. Indeed, just a handful of them have won at Listed level within that criteria, with one of those being, interestingly enough, Hurricane Fly. It is very rare to have a black-and-white statistic of such notability in the case of a well-established sire and the significance of such a stat shouldn’t be underplayed in the case of Camelot.
For those reasons, many took the view that Coolmore surely wouldn’t risk a similar outcome that befell St Nicholas Abbey by running Camelot in the 2000 Guineas, but now that they have decided to take that risk, there are a couple of angles to the conundrum that are worth exploring and may shed some light on their decision making process.
Firstly, perhaps the comparisons with St Nicholas Abbey are not as appropriate as it seems. O’Brien did admit that it was a mistake to run him in the 2000 Guineas, but whilst most have presumed that he meant that St Nicholas Abbey wasn’t the right type for the race, closer examination of what he actually said at the time tells a different story. O’Brien revealed that St Nicholas Abbey did not have an ideal preparation for the race and felt that his mistake was rushing him into a hard race that he wasn’t ready for at that stage. Thus, given that it was a preparation issue rather than a race issue alone that led to St Nicholas Abbey’s season being derailed in the 2000 Guineas, one imagines that in the cold light of day, it wouldn’t have been a notable factor for Coolmore in making their decision on Camelot.
Secondly, from a commercial point of view, it is a no-brainer to run Camelot in the 2000 Guineas. Coolmore already have two of Montjeu’s best sons standing at Coolmore as Flat sires, Hurricane Run and Pour Moi, with St Nicholas Abbey likely to join them in the near future. All three of these were cut from the typical Montjeu middle-distance cloth, with none of them managing to win a race of any sort at shorter than 10f after their juvenile seasons. If Camelot could win the 2000 Guineas, it would very much set him apart from other sons of his much-missed sire and would make him a red-hot stallion prospect. “Not only is he the only son of Montjeu to ever win a Group race over a mile as a three-year-old in Europe, he went and did it in a Classic” is a potential headline that would undoubtedly have the Coolmore marketing team frothing at their mouths. Even if he gets beat, he will remain an excellent prospect in middle-distance races and will have every opportunity to grow his value later in the season. No harm done. Thus, in terms of risk and reward, Coolmore almost have a “free shot” at the 2000 Guineas with Camelot, but the decision that we have to make is whether we think he will win or not.
One thing that St Nicholas Abbey and indeed other previous impressive winners of the Racing Post Trophy have illustrated is that the race can create something of an illusion. By its nature, the race is contested by what are typically 10-14f horses of the future and when a high-class prospect such as St Nicholas Abbey or Camelot runs in it, they can be made look very speedy indeed. However, contesting the 2000 Guineas against specialist milers in a more strongly-run contest is an altogether different test and it is no coincidence that the last Racing Post Trophy winner to win the 2000 Guineas was High Top all the way back in 1972. As well as that, the significance of the aforementioned statistic regarding progeny of Montjeu really cannot be repeated enough. Camelot has looked like a top-class middle-distance prospect to date, but he has a huge amount to overcome in 2000 Guineas and for that reason, his current price makes no appeal whatsoever.
For me, Born To Sea is the one to side with. He was found to be lame after being beaten in the Killavullan Stakes at Leopardstown last October, but the impression he created when making a winning debut in a Listed race at the Curragh was excellent. Given that his pedigree and physique suggest he is unlikely to follow in the hoof prints of his three-parts brother Sea The Stars in a bid for the 2000 Guineas/Derby double, one suspects that John Oxx will have him primed for Newmarket. As well as that, Oxx has been uncharacteristically upbeat about his preparation and when the quiet man of Irish racing seems in any way confident in the build-up to a big race, it usually pays to take notice.
With regard to the 1000 Guineas, this corner has been a huge fan of Maybe ever since her impressive winning debut a year ago. I had a good look at her when she worked after racing at the Curragh last month and while she got a bit warm beforehand, she looked to have filled out very well during the winter and it is difficult to see her being beaten on Sunday. Interestingly, if she can win a Classic, she will be defying the stat that each and every one of Aidan O’Brien’s nine Classic-winning fillies since 2000 had met with defeat on their debut.
Clash of the Titans
In the aftermath of Quevega’s brilliant third win in the Ladbrokes.com World Series Hurdle at Punchestown, talk quickly and inevitably turned to the prospect of her taking on the mighty Big Buck's in the World Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. Being realistic, they are very unlikely to meet in that race, as it makes perfect sense for Quevega to chase history and try and win her fifth David Nicholson Mares' Hurdle. Others have raised the possibility of the two clashing at the Punchestown Festival, but it is well established that Big Buck's is a poor traveller, which rules out that option.
However, who’s to say that they couldn’t meet in the Liverpool Hurdle at the Aintree Grand National meeting? Big Buck's has won the last four renewals of that race and is likely to be targeted at it again, whilst Quevega has no problems travelling and will, as always, still be a fresh mare at that stage of the season. Granted, it will require Quevega’s connections to travel and deviate from their usual campaign, but one would hope that the existing sponsor BGC Partners or perhaps even a bookmaker/exchange would seize what would be an excellent marketing opportunity and offer a boosted prize fund if Quevega takes up the challenge.
Even without a financial incentive, while Quevega has already sealed her place in National Hunt racing history, challenging Big Buck's on his own turf would offer her the chance to earn the status of a legend. Racing fans love nothing more than a clash of the titans and with Frankel being very unlikely to ever meet Black Caviar, perhaps the focus should be on putting together a much more readily achievable clash between the two best staying hurdlers on the planet at Aintree?
Fairytales at Churchill Downs
After the drama of the 2000 Guineas has unfolded on Saturday, racing fans could do much worse than settle in for the evening and tune into the Kentucky Derby on RUK. Dirt racing in America may not be to everyone’s taste, but European racing could learn a thing or two from the Americans when it comes to selling racing to the general public. Each and every year, the Americans will find at least one human interest story amongst the runners for the Run For The Roses that will draw in even the hardest of hearts.
I suspect that the main candidate for a fairytale success this year will be Union Rags and if you have 25 minutes to spare, type “Union Rags: An American Love Story (Full Version)” into Youtube (or click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DP3hJ7d6uQ0) to get a taste for the incredible storytelling ability that the American racing media has. Though, those with experience of the inner workings of the bloodstock scene will no doubt smile wryly at the “happy coincidence” of the colt being repurchased for precisely the limit that the owner had told her agent to bid up to... Thanks to Graham Cunningham of RUK for highlighting this video on Twitter.
*In last week’s blog, Kevin highlighted Atacx and Equity Swap as horses that would be very difficult to beat on their next starts. They both ran at Navan on Sunday, winning easily at 9/10 and 9/2 respectively.
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