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‘Camelot can put the seal on a great year for British racing’
ANYONE with clear memories of the last time Flat racing’s Triple Crown was won is most generously described as being “of a certain age”.
It’s been a decade-spanning, memory-challenging 42 years since the feat – the trio of 2,000 Guineas, Epsom Derby and St Leger – was last successfully achieved when Lester Piggott steered Nijinsky to success at Doncaster in 1970.
And it is to Town Moor we turn tomorrow to see if Camelot can become the first colt since then to conquer racing’s biggest mountain when the world’s oldest Classic takes centre stage over a stamina-sapping mile and three quarters.
Those taking the short trip to South Yorkshire, or the rest watching on television, will witness history if Aidan O’Brien’s brilliant three-year-old can add to his successes at Newmarket and Epsom.
For those wondering how big a deal this could be just take a look at the statistics. In the entire history of the sport, only 15 horses have achieved racing’s version of the Grand Slam. Prior to Nijinsky, the last horse to win all three races was Bahram. In 1935.
In fact, since Nijinsky only three other horses have even managed to win the Guineas and Derby double – Nashwan in 1989 and Sea The Stars 20 years later – before Camelot’s extraordinary feats this year. Those earlier heroes were not campaigned at the Leger.
The Sir Henry Cecil-trained Oh So Sharp won the fillies’ version – the 1,000 Guineas, Oaks and Leger – in 1985 but, for whatever reason, this treble is less acclaimed in racing circles than its counterpart for colts.
This huge gap between Triple Crown winners has been down to racing fashions as much as a dearth of quality contenders.
While the Triple Crown in America, the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes and which was last won by Affirmed in 1978, is a priority for US trainers and breeders, the same cannot be said for the British equivalent.
That’s down to a number of factors.
Firstly, a change in breeder preferences over the decades has seen horses built for speed rather than distance. At the beginning of the thoroughbred era, in the 18th Century, horses would often race over gruelling distances and in as many as four heats a day.
Now, the ideal distance for a three-year-old is from a mile to a mile-and-a-half and, subsequently, the St Leger’s prestige and status has declined through the ages as the focus has fallen on how fast, rather than for how long.
Secondly, the Triple Crown in the States is held over five increasingly frenetic weeks. Hype grows quickly and, following the Kentucky Derby, each race leads to the other.
In Britain, though, it’s a long haul over five months and there is plenty of sporting action to take the attention in the summer months, not least on the racing track itself with Royal Ascot, Glorious Goodwood and the Ebor Festival to name just three headline-grabbing events.
The Triple Crown was designed that way, of course, the idea being that the best horse would prove himself and his class over the course of a whole season rather than several in-form weeks.
But the Derby and the St Leger don’t naturally follow each other, and they have never been comfortable bedfellows.
So the arrival of Camelot at Doncaster has the chance to alter perceptions radically.
For a start, success will give Ballydoyle-based O’Brien every British Classic contest in 2012 – a remarkable achievement on its own.
It will also put the horse in the history books forever, a keen consideration for his owners, who have won just about everything else there is to win.
He will be heavily fancied as well. Head and shoulders above his peers this year, Camelot is hovering around the 1-3 mark for those who can put on the sums required to make a healthy profit.
He could also help to redefine, and breathe new life into, the St Leger. While it is not regarded as a poor man’s Classic by any means, its status has been in the shade compared to its illustrious rivals.
It will show off the talents of a marvellous horse who not only took on three entirely different disciplines but mastered them all.
And in a season which has seen the imperious Frankel hit new heights, success for Camelot will truly put the seal on a great year of British racing.