Aidan O’Brien seals Irish Derby double with Camelot at The Curragh
Camelot’s unbeaten record remains intact in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby at The Curragh. Racing on heavy ground for the first time, his trainer Aidan O’Brien had expressed concerns that the conditions could be too testing.
10:01PM BST 30 Jun 2012
Settled fourth of the five runners by Joseph O’Brien, the 1-5 favourite took up the running two furlongs out but was made to pull out all the stops by Born To Sea.
The winner hung to his left close to home but did enough to win by two lengths.
It may be a while before Grand National winning trainer Donald McCain wins a Classic on the Flat but he is becoming something of a specialist at prestigious long distance handicaps without a sign of a hurdle or a fence.
On Saturday, on bottomless going at Newcastle, McCain won a second ‘Derby’ of sorts when Ile De Re dug extremely deep to win the John Smith’s Northumberland Plate, the Pitmen’s Derby. McCain also won it two years ago with his popular hurdler, Overturn.
In winning Saturday’s gruelling marathon the heavily backed 5-2 favourite not only put a collective smile on punters’ faces but became the first horse since Attivo in 1974 to win the Chester Cup and Pitmen’s Derby in the same season.
After an inch of rain had fallen in 15 minutes, causing Thursday’s Newcastle card to be abandoned after four races, officials did very well to get its most popular meeting of the year on. They even received offers from locals to help mop up but those conditions were ideal for the winner, who also encountered them at Chester in May.
“It’s like being back jumping again,” said Crowley who, like Graham Lee, initially made a name for himself over jumps. “What a tough horse he is. He tries his hardest and he was knackered at the end.”
McCain said: “Every time something came to him he found a bit more but when I saw Graham Lee on one of them I was panicking a bit. I only got Ile De Re three weeks before Chester so it was nice to have a quiet couple of weeks after that race and get to learn something about him. He’s had a couple of hard races now and he won’t get this ground all summer so we’ll see how he goes before deciding what’s next.”
In stark contrast to both The Curragh and Newcastle, horses were taken out at Newmarket because of the fast ground but it did not stop the John Gosden-William Buick bandwagon rolling on from Royal Ascot when Michelangelo, a potential St Leger rival for Camelot, won the Tattersalls Millions Three-Year-Old Cup and the filly Polygon pulled off a 33-1 surprise to beat Dandino in the Fred Archer Stakes.
Michelangelo ran out an impressive two-and-three-quarter-length winner over Cameron Highland. Gosden-William is now keen to set him on a more recognised Leger trail by taking him to Goodwood for the Gordon Stakes and York for the Voltigeur.
It was not such a happy race for the two times Champion jockey Paul Hanagan. He was taken to Addenbroke’s Hospital in Cambridge for X-rays after a heavy fall from No Dominion three furlongs out.
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The result was never in serious doubt, but Camelot had to work harder than most of his supporters had expected at The Curragh on Saturday evening to become the first horse for 10 years to move on from winning the Derby at Epsom and double up in the Irish equivalent.
On heavy ground, Joseph O’Brien, Camelot’s jockey, had to ride vigorously inside the final two furlongs to keep his partner running all the way to the line, where he had two lengths to spare over Born To Sea.
While the margin was smaller than anticipated, however, Camelot extended his unbeaten record to five races, all but one of which have been Group One events, including three Classics. He could now go to Doncaster for the St Leger in September, where victory would make him the first horse since Nijinsky in 1970 to complete the Triple Crown.
Camelot’s participation on the unseasonally demanding ground had been in doubt for much of the day, but from an initial team of three,Aidan O’Brien, his trainer, eventually decided to omit only Imperial Monarch, who had shown a liking for heavy ground when successful in the Sandown Classic Trial in April.
The scratching of Imperial Monarch came as a surprise, as he had been shortening steadily in the betting to be the clear second-favourite behind his stablemate, It allowed Camelot an even clearer run at his third Classic win of the season, however, and by the time the stalls opened, he was one of shortest-priced favourites in the history of the race at odds of 1-5.
Camelot’s stablemate Astrology, who made much of the running in the Epsom Derby, set out to do the same at The Curragh, but weakened quickly half a mile from home as O’Brien brought Camelot, who had been settled in fourth place, closer to the head of the field. He was travelling as smoothly as anyone could have hoped in the conditions, but moved slightly to his left as O’Brien started to let him down.
Camelot lost a little momentum as a result, which briefly allowed Born To Sea, a three-parts brother to the brilliant Sea The Stars, to close the gap and move into a position to challenge. Johnny Murtagh could summon nothing more from Born To Sea inside the final furlong, however, and Camelot stayed on to record a solid, but hardly spectacular, success.
“I was very worried about the ground,” Aidan O’Brien said. “Joseph always thought that soft ground could be a big problem for him as he’s such a good-moving horse. All credit [to his owners] for letting it happen, I have to say I wouldn’t have had the courage to do it. It was an incredible effort, really.
“We knew when he won the [2,000] Guineas that he has speed, then at Epsom that he had the class as well. He had to have the courage on top of it all today, he was really tested.”
Ladbrokes, the sponsors of the St Leger, cut Camelot to 1-4 (from 1-3) for the final English Classic and O’Brien confirmed that an attempt to complete the Triple Crown at the forefront of the plans for Camelot.
“The plan was to have a break [after today] with an autumn campaign in mind, and it would be something incredible to dream about,” O’Brien said.
“It will be spoken about a lot, but that was the dream. We have a statue of Nijinsky inside the gate at Ballydoyle, and he looks at us every day going out and in. We’ve always dreamed that maybe someday we’d have a horse to be the statue on the other side.
“He’s always been so special in every way. I thought today was maybe a test too far for him, for a horse with that class. We were watching [our] horses all week, one after another dropping like flies in that ground. It was some shot coming off fast ground at Epsom onto that today. I can’t tell you how thrilled we are.”
Joseph O’Brien confirmed that the ground had not suited Camelot. “I was quite worried turning in that he was struggling,” he said.
“It’s a testament to the horse that he put his head down and had the heart to get away with it. I would have won considerably easier if the ground had been nicer.”
This was Aidan O’Brien’s seventh consecutive win in the Irish Derby, and he has now followed up at The Curragh with all three of his Epsom Derby winners.
Earlier on the card, however, he had suffered a rare reverse in the Railway Stakes, a race he had won in 11 of the previous 13 seasons, when his warm favourite Cristoforo Colombo was overhauled by Probably well inside the final furlong.
Cristoforo Colombo had finished third in a strong renewal of the Coventry Stakes just 11 days before Saturday’s start on much softer ground, and after striding into the lead a furlong out he had nothing left to repel the challenge of Probably.
“As a three-year-old, he’ll definitely be better,” David Wachman, who trains Probably for the same Coolmore Stud syndicate which owns the vast majority of O’Brien’s horses, said. “We’ll run him in some of the better races in the autumn and see how we get on.”