Camelot: The Dream that turned into a Nightmare

Camelot failed by just 3/4 of a length to land the Triple Crown in yesterday’s  St Leger, but in truth it was a race which he should have won to secure his place in racing history.

His young rider Joseph O’Brien, who had been so superb on him in landing the 2000 guineas and the Derby, gave him a nightmare ride that put and end to the long held dream of his trainer, owners, racing fans in general of seeing him become the first horse since Nijinsky back in 1972 of achieving the fiendishly difficult treble.

Sent off the 2/5 favourite, Camelot settled and travelled supremely well at the rear of the field and it looked a case of when his rider would ease him out and push the button to use his trademark turn of foot to stride clear of his rivals.

But then it all started to go horribly wrong as Joseph made the decision to switch him to the inside behind a wall of horses three from home.

At this point the pace was beginning to upped, and the eventual winner Encke was in the perfect position and beginning to be wound up by Mickael Barzalona.

Camelot was cruising, lobbing along but with nowhere to go, and everyone held their breath as they waited for a gap to appear.

But it didn’t, and the three time classic winner was forced to check at a vital stage and O’Brien had to switch him right to deliver his challenge.

The manoeuvre cost him a vital length, but more importantly he had allowed Encke first run.

The Godolphin owned colt had a three length advantage as they headed into the final furlong, and O’Brien knew his fate was sealed.

The 19-year-old went from sitting motionless to complete panic in the blink of an eye. He gave Camelot several almighty cracks with the whip, and the colt responded bravely as his stamina was put to the test in the 1m 6f contest.

He began to eat away at Encke’s advantage, but couldn’t quicken in the style he had in the Epsom Derby over a trip which he had never run before.

As the line approached he was closing with every stride on the winner, but the post came too soon and he was denied his place in history by less than a length.

It was a tremendous effort, but a deadly hush fell on Town Moor as the expectant crowd were left stunned by what they had witnessed.

Camelot had simply been given too much to do, and his rider had made the fatal error of going inside rather than coming wide and covering the move of the other contenders when the pace quickened three from home.

That view was summed up by the winning rider, who said in his post race interview: “I knew Camelot was behind and on the inside and could see he had difficulty navigating. I asked my horse to go and he went very quickly.”

Camelot’s trainer Aidan O’Brien was quick to defend his son’s ride, and said the he should have employed pacemakers.

He said: “I can see the way the race unfolded where he went and why he was there. He had to stay creeping where he was – he could not go pulling Camelot to the outside turning in. He had to wait for the gaps as they came. That is what he did. If he had come four wide in the straight I would have been going mad.

“How many times do I do it and make a hash of it (running pacemakers), and then I made a hash of it by not having any. I regret that – I should have run a pacemaker or two.”

However it was clear that he was not a happy man, and I can’t see how pacemakers would have made any difference. If they had been in the field then they could well have created even further traffic problems for Joseph as they dropped out of contention given the route he decided to take.

It was quite simply a day where jockey tactics proved all important. Barzalona out rode Joseph and I am sure that in his heart of hearts the Irishman knows that.

It’s not the first time that his tactics have been called into question, but hopefully he will learn from this mistake.

Sadly however, it is a mistake which has cost Camelot and his connections a place in history and he will always be remembered as the horse that lost the St Leger rather than the great classic winner he is.

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