Article Date: 04-June-2012
Blake’s Blog: An Easy Triple Crown Choice
If the Epsom Derby is considered the ultimate test of a three-year-old colt, Camelot passed with flying colours.
Unflappable during the drawn-out preliminaries, he settled beautifully in the early stages of the race and, while he wasn’t completely at ease on the idiosyncratic track, the manner in which he quickened to make up eight lengths on the leader and power away by another five was deeply impressive.
Just as impressive as the performance of the winner was that of the winning jockey. The Epsom Derby, in a similar manner to the Aintree Grand National over jumps, is a race of such importance and profile that it can unsettle even the most experienced of jockeys. Just 19 years of age, Joseph O’Brien showed a level of composure in an extremely high-pressure situation that a rider double his age would envy.
Inevitably, talk quickly turned to the possibility of a historic bid for the Triple Crown. Some commentators have claimed that the Triple Crown is an irrelevancy, a relic of a time long past that is simply not a realistic aspiration for any horse in the modern era. However, the palpable excitement surrounding the fabled series that has been building ever since Camelot won the 2000 Guineas suggests that a large section of the racing public still believe in it and its significance.
While Camelot’s connections were understandably non-committal in the aftermath of the race, there is no doubt whatsoever from this corner that he will bid for equine immortality in the St Leger.
Of course, any fan of racing would love to see Camelot tested against his elders at both 10 and 12 furlongs to find out where he ranks amongst the greats, but one must also remember that we are dealing with what is already a hugely-commercial stallion prospect and any decisions made by his connections from here on will be made with the objective of maximizing his value whilst minimizing the risk of devaluation.
Having already become the only son of recently deceased Montjeu to win a Group race over a mile as a three-year-old in the 2000 Guineas, Camelot’s speed is not and will never be in question, thus the usual drop to 10 furlongs for a Derby winner in a bid for commercial appeal is not a necessity. More importantly, the traditional commercial fears about running a stallion prospect in the St Leger are not applicable.
While, as an individual race, the St Leger may have fallen a long way behind the likes of the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes or the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in the ranks of stallion-making races, as the final piece of the Triple Crown jigsaw, it takes on a much greater significance.
The Triple Crown hasn’t been won since 1970 and holds almost mythical status in racing circles. Plenty will point out that winning the St Leger at 1/3 to complete the Triple Crown will prove little. In terms of form, they are probably correct, yet, Nijinsky is still spoken of in reverential terms over four decades after he cantered around Doncaster at 2/7 to secure the Triple Crown, despite the fact that he was subsequently beaten in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and the Champion Stakes at Newmarket.
Quite a few winners of high-profile Group 1 races are quickly forgotten, but to win the Triple Crown is to create a legacy that will remain for as long as racing exists. The commercial value of such reverence should not be underestimated and the Coolmore outfit will be all too aware of it. Coolmore will be just as aware of the fact that such reverence can be achieved with comparatively little risk in the St Leger, as Camelot will almost certainly be sent off at 1/3 or even shorter at Doncaster. Compare this to, for example, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, where he would probably face a full field of 18 rivals and be at the mercy of a poor draw and/or all-too-common trouble in running that could lead to him being beaten through no fault of his own.
Thus, while there may be other races before and after, make no mistake, the St Leger is the most important race remaining in Camelot’s season. History beckons, and it would take a brave man to bet against Camelot answering the call.
Promoting A Champion
While the St Leger at Doncaster will almost certainly be the ultimate destination for Camelot, there has to be a very good chance that he will follow the path of Aidan O’Brien’s two previous Epsom Derby winners and run in the Irish Derby at the Curragh on June 30th. If he does, it will unquestionably be one of the biggest marketing opportunities in recent memory for Irish racing.
There is a no more effective marketing tool in sport than excellence. Horse racing is a minority sport and like every other minority sport, its most alluring shop window is the best of the best it has to offer. Sports fans will go out of their way to tune in to see the very best in any sport, be it getting up early to watch Ireland in the Rugby World Cup, staying up late to watch a high-profile boxing match involving an Irish fighter or crawling through barbed wire to see Ireland beat England in any sport, even cricket. The majority of the same fans would not cross the road to watch a routine event in those sports, but the biggest and best events will bring them out.
With this in mind, Camelot is surely an easy sell for Irish racing? An unbeaten superstar that is on the verge of being the first horse in 42 years to achieve one of the rarest and most difficult feats in any sport, the Triple Crown. With the Irish Derby being the highest-profile race in the Irish Flat season, it will be the perfect opportunity for Irish racing to make the most of this potential history maker.
Significantly, this year’s Irish Derby is going to be run as an evening meeting for the first time on June 30th, with the feature race being run as the last race on the card at 7:40pm. The thinking behind this admirably brave and forward-thinking break with tradition is to put racing in front of a primetime audience on terrestrial television, but simply putting it in front of the public’s nose at the right time isn’t enough.
The Irish Derby may have been something of a damp squib in recent years, with it failing to attract the Epsom Derby winner since 2004, but this year could be very different. This year it could well have the perfect headline act in Camelot, and it won’t be a walkover either, as Light Heavy, Speaking Of Which and possibly Parish Hall would arguably offer a greater equine challenge to Camelot than he faced at Epsom. Not only will that make for a more marketable and exciting spectacle, but it will offer Camelot the chance to further solidify his standing as the best colt of his generation, what with the value of the bare form of the 2000 Guineas and Epsom Derby being open to question.
Make no mistake, if Camelot runs, it will be as good an opportunity that Irish Flat racing has had to make an indelible impression on the general public and attract new fans in a long time. We will hopefully have the horse, we have the primetime slot on the biggest day of Flat racing in the calendar, now all we will have to do is get the marketing and promotion right.
Billboards, social media, national papers/radio/television, racing’s marketing machine needs to go into overdrive as soon as Camelot is confirmed as a runner, with the aim being that everyone knows exactly who he is and why they should care about him. We cannot make the mistake of thinking that people will show up on their own accord. The fact that less than 10,000 people turned up on a sunny day at Leopardstown to see the world’s greatest horse Sea The Stars was testament to that. This is too big an opportunity for Irish racing to miss.
Heffernan Sublime, Again
For the second year in succession, the Epsom Oaks was an unsatisfactory race, with the steady early pace putting the emphasis as much on position and rider skill as on the talent of the horses. While it was Johnny Murtagh who rode them all to sleep from the front on Dancing Rain in 2011, this year it was Seamie Heffernan who showed off all his talent on the Aidan O’Brien-trained Was.
In many ways, the race was won in the early stages as, despite his poor draw, Heffernan somehow managed to claim the perfect position behind the dictating leader on the rail. While there was an element of good fortune in the leader hanging off the rail to give Heffernan the gap that he took just under three furlongs out, position is key in slowly-run races and Heffernan put Was in the best possible spot to capitalise. What was unquestionably the best ride in the race resulted in what was probably the third-best filly on the day scrambling home to win by a neck. Jockeyship won the day.
Considering that Heffernan has secured no less than 15 Group 1 wins in the last five years, a tally that is second only to Johnny Murtagh amongst the domestic-based jockeys during that period, it is remarkable how unheralded he is on the domestic scene. In particular, his riding from the front is right up there with the best in Europe.
Still on the right side of 40, Heffernan is arguably in his prime and one can’t help but feel that, outside of Ballydoyle, he doesn’t get the rides that his talent deserves. Though, as long as the Group 1 winners continue to flow, one suspects Heffernan will not be losing any sleep over that particular injustice.
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