Forget Andy Murray and Wiggo – it's Camelot's turn to shine

Sep 14, 2012
Neil Clark

Three-year-old Colt will make Triple Crown history if he wins the St Leger on Saturday

Getty Images

BRITAIN'S glorious summer of sport isn't over – get ready for another historic moment tomorrow, this time at the races, when a three-year old colt named Camelot aims to become the first horse to win the English 'Triple Crown' since 1970.

Camelot is trained in Ireland, by Aidan O'Brien. But as he's UK-bred and two of his three owners are British, we will still be able to claim it as yet another great victory for British sport if Camelot does the business at the St Leger at Doncaster.

The Triple Crown constitutes the three Classics for colts: the 2,000 Guineas, the Derby and the St Leger. They are three very different races, run on three different tracks (Newmarket, Epsom and Doncaster), over three different trips - respectively 1 mile, 1 mile and 4 furlongs and, finally, 1 mile 6furtlongs  and 132 yards.

To win the Triple Crown a horse needs a combination of speed, stamina and class. He also needs to maintain a very high level of form from early May (when the 2,000 Guineas is run) to September.

We rightly hailed Bradley Wiggins for his Tour de France win, and Andy Murray for surviving his five-hour epic encounter to win the US Open. But from an equine perspective, if Camelot were to win the St Leger it would be just as impressive.

The last horse to win the Triple Crown was the legendary Nijinsky, way back in 1970. Curiously enough, like Camelot, he too was trained in Ireland, and at the same stable in Ballydoyle, and by a man named O'Brien, though Vincent and Aidan were not related.

In September 1970, when Nijinksy was making his way into the record books, Britain was a very different country. It was the era of Ted Heath and Harold Wilson, when we still used the old pre-decimal currency, we weren't yet members of the EEC, and when cigarettes cost 20p a packet.

The interesting thing is that no horse has even attempted the Triple Crown since then.
Nashwan (1989) and Sea the Stars (2009) won both the 2,000 Guineas and the Derby, but neither contested the St Leger. Today, thoroughbreds tend to be more specialised with regard to distance and owners/trainers play it much safer trying to protect stud values.

Flat horses are as a consequence much less adventurously campaigned, unlike in the past when Classic winners regularly ran in long-distance Cup races in their four-year-old days. Overall there have been 15 winners of the Triple Crown, but only two since the First World War.
Can Camelot achieve legendary status?
He is currently trading at around 2/5 to make history, and Lester Piggott, the last jockey to ride a Triple Crown winner, has already expressed his confidence in O'Brien's runner. “It should be quite straightforward really; there aren't that many runners in the race, and he has the finishing speed - he should kill them over the last furlong and a half,” Piggott said.
The field might indeed be small - there are only nine runners - but there are other contenders. Newmarket trainer John Gosden has won the race three times in the last five years and saddles Thought Worthy, a full brother to Lucarno, who won the Leger for Gosden in 2007. Main Sequence, who finished second to Camelot in the Derby, ought to be suited by the longer trip. While Guarantee is one horse all but guaranteed to stay the trip - he was an impressive winner over 1m 6f at York on his last run.
Even if Camelot wins it's unlikely that he'll be remembered quite as fondly in the years to come as Nijinsky.

Nijinksy was having his eleventh race when he landed the 1970 St Leger: Camelot has up to now only run five times. Because of that he's yet to really capture the public's imagination.

The 'Nijinsky Horse racing team' won the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year team award. Sadly, there's little chance of that sort of accolade for Camelot given the competition this year from Bradley Wiggins, Jessica Ennis and Andy Murray, to name but three.
Still, Camelot deserves a very loud cheer if he can make history in South Yorkshire at around 3.45pm on Saturday.

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