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The fall of Camelot

The fall of Camelot
Camelot the horse

Camelot will rule again

I cannot recall when I last saw a jockey looking as dejected as young Joseph O’Brien appeared to be on Saturday. After he had failed to steer Camelot to victory in the St Leger Stakes at Doncaster.

History beckoned for Camelot. A win in this race would have meant that he equalled the great Nijinsky in winning the Derby, 2000 Guineas and St Leger – the so called Triple Crown of racing.

But it was not to be.

Ex champion jockey John Francome said that he didn’t like the look of how Camelot was running after 4 lengths.

Trainer Aidan O’Brien said post race that he was concerned after 2 lengths when he thought the pace of the race was too steady and not fast enough for his Camelot.

O’Brien is a top man. A class act. His interviews are usually sprinkled with Irish sayings that I hear from my relatives in Dublin on a regular basis. Aidan usually speaks plenty but says little if you, as they’d say in Ireland, take my meaning. He is always gracious in defeat and always modest in victory.

I have never seen a post race interview from Aidan O’Brien like the one he gave to Emma Spencer yesterday. He spoke plenty and said a great deal.

In true Aidan O’Brien style, and in an effort to deflect attention away from the ride Camelot was given by his young, talented son; the ‘Merlin of Coolmore’ instead blamed himself.

O’Brien said that defeat was his fault. He should have entered a “pacemaker or two” to set a faster pace for Camelot to follow.

Within seconds of the race ending some people were laying into 20 year old Joseph O’Brien for, among other things, “leaving Camelot with too much to do.”

For my part, my thoughts were that Camelot was racing OK coming into the bend (John Francome begs to differ).

My concerns were in the home straight when it seemed to me that the jockey was indecisive as to where to place Camelot. One moment the jockey moved Camelot towards the inside in an effort, so I thought, to get a run up the rail. Then, realising that wasn’t going to work, he switched Camelot out. And then he needed to move again as the horse was caught in a pocket of other horses.

By the time Camelot had been switched to the outside and got a clear run in front of him, it was too late.

The winner, Encke, was clear and going on to win under an excellent ride from the talented Mikael Barzalona. Credit where it is due, the Godolphin horse was the deserving winner.

I suspect Joseph O’Brien is still beating himself up about losing and blaming himself. I feel sure that his diplomatic Dad is telling him not to. And that it was he, his Dad’s fault, for not entering a pacemaker.

Mum is probably trying to cheer up the pair of them.

John Francome has forgotten more about racing than I will ever know, so I bow to his knowledge and opinion. Some out there on Twittersphere have accused Francome of blindly sticking up for a jockey. In my experience, Francome doesn’t do that.

I think Joseph O’Brien messed up only when it came to the positioning of the horse. I think a few seconds of muddled thinking cost Camelot a better chance of finishing first, not second.

I loathe the whole pacemaker tactic. I am old fashioned. I believe a horse should be able to win on its own merits and not because it is tracking the path of a stablemate.

But O’Brien senior is right in saying that a pacemaker would have given Camelot a faster pace to follow and, crucially I believe, would have concentrated the mind of his young and still inexperienced jockey.

And when I read the critics of O’Brien the jockey, that is what annoys me. So many of those calling him names are young people themselves. It seems to me that punters in their twenties are quick to point the finger at a contemporary.

Did they not make mistakes when they were 20? Do they not now?

Have they not learned anything since they began their first serious job?

Joseph O’Brien, at the age of 19, won the Epsom Derby. What the hell have you, the critics, achieved?

When you have been around racing as long as I have you have seen this sort of thing before. I can recall people saying that Ryan Moore would never be any good. He was lightweight.

That Richard Hughes and Frankie Dettori should have stayed in Ireland and Italy and that they would never be top jockeys in England.

When they were young and inexperienced they got things wrong in the saddle. From time to time, they still do. They say so themselves. Who among us doesn’t?

A race is over in the bat of an eyelid. Jockeys have to make race altering decisions in a split second.

Like all of us, they sometimes get those choices right and on other days they get them wrong.

None of the office workers slagging off young Joseph O’Brien today have ever, nor likely will ever, face the pressure that he was under yesterday. The expectation of a racing nation.

I actually think that expectation was part of the problem. While I thought Camelot would win, I never thought so with the level of confidence of some and, as advised to members, I would not have had money on him at odds of 4-9. Before the race I heard someone had put £9000 on to win £4000. Now there is my definition of a mug punter. Or rather someone with more money than brain cells!

People had begun to talk as though this race was a mere formality for Camelot. But they never understood how hard it is to win races over such differing distances. Some folk, including too many punters, seem to think horses are machines. That all a jockey has to do is press a start button and the animal will win.

The presumption that Camelot would win yesterday overlooked how hard it is to win those three high profile, but very different races.

And the presumption made by some that Camelot only had to turn up to win was an insult to the horses that have done so.

Nijinsky was a great racehorse. Those of you who were not around to see him race take it from me, Nijinsky was special. That is not a belief gained by wearing rose tinted spectacles. It is fact.

In securing the triple crown in 1970 he beat some top class horses.

I never believed that Camelot had beaten the same level of competition prior to yesterday and I tell you now, a horse as good as Nijinsky racing today, would have left Camelot far behind.

Indeed I think Camelot gets closer to Nijinsky each day at home than he ever would have done on a racecourse.

A statue of Nijinsky is one of the first things you see when you enter the Tipperary based stables. It was from here that the legendary Vincent O’Brien (no relation to Aidan) trained Nijinsky to be only the 15th ever winner of the triple crown of racing. And, as things stand, the last horse to do so.

There is one truth that almost everyone was agreed on about yesterday’s race. Including his trainer.

Camelot on the day did not have the turn of speed required to win over that distance. When the jockey got him into a good place and said “Go”, there was little response. Joseph had to use the whip to get Camelot to run on well into second.

The O’Brien family, operating from their mightily impressive Coolmore stables, bought the name Camelot ten years ago. They waited a long time until a horse came along that they thought worthy of that name.

And they got it right.

Yesterday we may have witnessed the fall of Camelot, but today they will not be sat crying into their Guinness. They will be hard at work continuing the great work they undertake year in, year out.

Camelot may well be back and, if so, will surely pay another visit to the winners’ enclosure.

He is a very, very good horse. You do not win the Derby, the 2000 Guineas and come second in the St Leger without being exactly that.

I sense some racegoers were expecting another Frankel yesterday. Listen up. Frankel is a freak. I keep telling you to savour watching Frankel as we are very unlikely to see his like again. And that includes you twenty somethings.

Camelot, the King of Ireland, is not dead. He simply lost his crown.

If his owners want him to, he’ll be wearing it once again before too long.

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