SINCE saddling High Chaparral to win the 2002 Epsom Derby, Aidan O’Brien has had 39 unsuccessful attempts to win back flat racing’s most prestigious prize. However, the unbeaten superstar-elect Camelot flies the flag for Ballydoyle in tomorrow’s Investec-sponsored showpiece and is no bigger than 4/6 with Paddy Power to bring the losing streak to an end.
The impeccably bred son of the late Montjeu began his three-year-old campaign last month with a relatively comfortable win in the QIPCO 2000 Guineas at Newmarket. What made it all the more impressive was the fact that connections felt that the one mile trip was plenty short enough for him and that he’ll actually come into his own over 10 furlongs and further.
Camelot can by no means yet be labelled a great and if you want to be ultra-critical, it’s possible to sit and pick holes in his form to date. However, sometimes reputation can beat the form book and it’s obvious the Coolmore enterprise feel they’ve unearthed a potential star.
So, can anything lower his colours tomorrow? The answer is a tentative “yes” and if they are ever going to be lowered it will be around Epsom. Let’s face it, there have been 14 odds-on Derby favourites beaten and the last three to try (Entrepreneur 4/6 in 1997, Tenby 4/5 in 1993 and El Gran Senor 8/11 in 1984) have all failed.
At a recent stable visit to Ballydoyle, O’Brien warned that Camelot was not guaranteed to stay the 12 furlong trip as he seems to have inherited strong speed influences in his bloodline (Kingmambo and Danehill). This could explain the decision to only send two runners to the race rather than the usual four or more, as a Derby run at a breakneck pace may not be ideal.
Another potential concern is the relative lack of experience of his big-race jockey Joseph O’Brien. Yes, he’s won Group One races all over the world, but he’s only ridden around Epsom three times in his life and plenty more experienced than he have encountered problems in the past.
He rode Camelot with arguably too much restraint at Newmarket; as if he was aboard a six furlong horse, and was certainly caught napping when narrowly beaten on St Nicholas Abbey in Ireland last time. It may be clutching at straws to suggest his pilot could be the reason he may get beaten, but there is chance enough to warrant putting me off backing him at well odds-on.
Second favourite Bonfire is a logical alternative to Camelot but is plenty short enough at just 4/1 with Coral. Andrew Balding’s Dante Stakes winner was double that price a couple of weeks ago and has both stamina and temperament issues to contend with. He is by no means a certainty to stay as his close family all seemed at their best over 10 furlongs. There is also every chance he will boil over in the preliminaries as he is reportedly a bit of a ‘Jack the Lad’, though that’s apparently of no concern to his big-race jockey.
Now, the two horses that genuinely interest me at decent prices are Aidan O’Brien’s ASTROLOGY and David Lanigan’s MAIN SEQUENCE. The former was no superstar as a two-year-old and after winning his maiden, he was beaten when stepping up to Group Two and Three company. However, he was always expected to flourish as a three-year-old and looked a completely different proposition when routing a small field in the Dee Stakes at Chester.
Admittedly, he beat three horses that may not have handled the atrocious ground like he did and the 11 length winning margin may well be flattering. It was just the manner of the victory that really caught my eye and I love the way he has matured both physically and mentally. He had the balance to manoeuvre himself around the unique bends at Chester and those attributes will stand him in good stead around Epsom.
The booking of Ryan Moore is also a huge positive as he’s sure to commit a fair way from home on a horse we all know stays – he’ll even get further in time. Camelot and Bonfire both have slight stamina doubts, so look sure to be switched off and delivered late. In fact, there is every chance that Astrology may be allowed to open up in front as Main Sequence and Mickdaam are others that will be looking for cover.
There aren’t many stronger jockeys in the game than Moore and if Astrology sets sail for the judge at the two furlong pole, it may take a very good one to close him down. Treasure Beach, At First Sight and Fame And Glory are all examples of O’Brien second and third strings who have nearly stolen this race from the front in recent seasons. I expect Astrology to follow in their footsteps and even if he does get reeled in by his stablemate, he warrants each-way support at 10/1 with Coral.
As for Main Sequence, he has done nothing but improve all season and has a 100 percent record. If he was trained by Sir Michael Stoute he’d be half his current price (10/1 with Paddy Power) and he showed at Lingfield last time this trip holds no fears. He’s another who looks sure to be in the mix up and should hit the frame at worst.