The unbeaten three-year-old Camelot goes for the Triple Crown at Doncaster on Saturday in the Ladbrokes St Leger and he will be the first horse for 42 years to achieve the feat if successful.
His trainer and jockey, Aidan O’Brien and his son Joseph, today talked about being associated with Camelot at a media visit at Ballydoyle, Tipperary, Ireland, organised by Ladbrokes and Doncaster Racecourse.
Aidan O’Brien said: “Camelot will work at half speed from tomorrow onwards and will travel to Doncaster on Saturday.
“Everything has been good so far, although there are always worries.
“We always had it in our heads that he would have three or four runs this year. After Epsom, our grass gallop was flooded and all his work was on the woodchip.
“When he ran in the Irish Derby, I don’t think I have ever known the ground so heavy at the Curragh. He runs very low to the ground, not rising much, so it was very touch and go whether he would run. He went through the race very easily, only racing for two furlongs – he just couldn’t quicken in the same way that day.
“We gave him a good break and his weight started to increase which was unusual. He will be heavier for the St Leger than he has been going into any other race but with three-year-olds they often don’t change until later in the year.
“His body is built more like a miler in that he is round and strong as opposed to angular and lean. That is a little thing that would be in your mind.
“After his races, he just stands there and doesn’t blow which is very unusual. Most horses are bit agitated after a race. I think he must have a tremendous heart and lung capacity.
“The horse is a very independent thinker. He is very sharp minded, very intelligent and very relaxed. If he was in a barn of 40 horses and some horses started messing, usually the barn would go mad but he wouldn’t.
“When most horses walk off they need other horses with them but he does not mind being by himself. He doesn’t look for company and makes his own mind up about things.
“We are in the zone where you don’t want to talk about things – you just want to keep everything smooth. None of us know what is going to happen tomorrow. Accidents never just happen, they are always caused along the line. There is always a list of circumstances which cause accidents.
“We just have to try and cover everything. It is a fickle time but we just have to stay focused.
“We have to prioritise – we think Camelot is like no other horse. Who knows what is going to happen – we don’t take anything for granted. We will do our very best – it’s all we can do.
“We knew that Sue (Magnier) had the name Camelot for 10 years, since the last Derby winner and we were not going to influence her in any way. She made her own mind up about it.
“It is a mystical kind of name and everything about this horse has not been normal.
“We (O’Brien and his wife Annemarie) breed horses – you don’t look for just speed anymore, it is class you look for (in stallions). They have to have speed, stamina and courage – they are the three most important things when you are breeding horses. The Ladbrokes St Leger will expose the last two.
“Camelot has always done things of another standard – different to any other horse. He showed his versatility from the start and anything he was asked to do he did.
“Everything about this horse is different – he is obviously flesh and blood but you wonder as there is a different vibe around this horse – he is a different kind of a character. He is just not like the normal horse that is made from flesh and blood – there is a bigger aura around him.
“That has been evident from day one when we saw him at the sales. The lads (John Magnier, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith) were whispering about him, saying not to go and see him, as he was obviously going through the ring! He was highly thought of before he even got here. You did not have to be a rocket scientist to see he was different.
“We have a had a lot of horses since we came here and many have failed their tests and not got near the final exam, or we never dreamt of asking them to sit it because we did not think there was any chance of them passing it.
“He is very unusual. To be going for the Triple Crown is something I could never dream of happening. There are still days to go and then we will see what happens. That is the reality of it.
“I heard Lester (Piggott) saying the Leger was nearly two miles and you are asking a Guineas winner to run two miles, pulling him way beyond his comfort zone. There are a lot of things that could happen.
“We take every day as it comes and try and do our best to have him as good as we can have him. That’s all we really can do. He nearly has to be a Gold Cup horse to get that trip.
“Our experience of having Guineas horses and the different trip horses shows that when go beyond a mile and a half that is when real stamina has to kick in.
“We ran a lot of horses in the Gold Cup that failed before Yeats came along. Some horses go there and it takes so much out of them they never go back there. Extreme distance can break hearts. The Triple Crown is the full test of the three-year-old.
“We always had in our heads that Camelot would run three or four times this year. Things change and the lads will make a decision later.
“I was talking to Lester at the Curragh yesterday and he said Alleged got beaten in the Leger and won two Arcs.
“We are delighted with any pleasure that Camelot gives – his Triple Crown attempt is exciting and something to look forward to.
“Joseph knows Camelot better than anybody and he will go out there and do his own thing. It will be an interesting day.
“I try not to think about, living in the present. We have been privileged to have this horse and be part of it.
“I can do a lot of harm to him between now and then (Saturday)! So far so good and we have another four days after today.
“His coat is very tight, he is very happy and he is very fresh still – hopefully that will be good enough. I am never confident, but always hopeful and that is the way it has to be. When you are competing in these top races on a regular basis that is all you can be. There are so many things that can happen and go wrong. We are very lucky to have a very serious horse which is a massive factor.
“We were dreaming about Camelot a long time before he appeared at Leopardstown (his first run on 14 July, 2011). He was doing exceptional things.
“We did not originally intend to run him so early but he arrived. Then we did not want to go through all the two-year-old races with him because we were thinking of the following year. We gave him a break and he came back, just ready to run in the Racing Post Trophy. But his work had been exceptional. I remember his second last piece of work before the Racing Post Trophy – I can say it now. Daddy Longs Legs had won the Royal Lodge. Camelot worked with Daddy Long Legs and beat him 25 lengths. We decided it was either a very bad Royal Lodge or Camelot was something different. His heart recovery, demeanour and everything was different.
“Joseph rode the Group One (the Racing Post Trophy) like it was a piece of work. Regarding the Guineas, I was very conscious that our horses take a couple of months to get going and Montjeu had never had a three-year-old Classic winner over a mile.
“The ground was soft and I had a clear idea about the way Joseph was going to ride him.
“We had not won the Derby in 10 years and I cannot tell you how badly we wanted to win it. There were two lovely Derby trials here (in Ireland) and by going to the Guineas we could have destroyed Camelot’s Derby hopes.
“It was a big call therefore to let Camelot run in the Guineas – he was green and we wanted to educate him as he had only had two very soft runs. So we had to teach him a lot. Joseph buried him, used the stick in both hands and he came through horses into the dip. Camelot learnt and grew up a lot after the Guineas. He is an exceptional and very brave horse.
“He is by Montjeu with big Kingmambo and Danehill traits in him. Joseph usually puts Camelot asleep in races and then comes home.
“If he had been by more of a fashionable miler, going to the Guineas would have been more obvious and the Racing Post Trophy is not usually a good trial for the Guineas.
“The Triple Crown is a dream – what has changed with the lads is originally they wanted to make stallions and got them off to stud quick. Now it is make a stallion and expose him because they have a lot of mares. I suppose things have moved on – people are not so forgiving as they were and want to see horses being tested. The lads are prepared to race on the older horses and that previously did not happen.
“There are an awful lot more disappointments and you do your best – sometimes it is good enough – sometimes it is not. When it is not you try and analyse why not, move on and try not to dwell on it.
“Camelot does not blow after his races and he comes out of them very well which is very unusual too.”
Will Camelot race as a four-year-old?
“We always want that but I know for the breed he is very unique and very important. Personally, we want him to race on because that is what we do but I know he is unique and always there is a danger that something could happen to him. It could happen in a paddock but when you are training them, they are more at risk. It would be a dream come true if he was still around next year.
“Nothing has been discussed past the Leger and everyone is even afraid to talk to each other.
“I would imagine they would go a good even gallop in the Leger but everyone has to do what they think suits their own horses.
“His training regime has not changed since the Guineas. He was probably trained a lot harder for the Derby because we were on the grass but we have been on woodchips since then which is easier.
“The old adage was ‘class outs’ but I don’t know – this is a big test. We could have given him a race, at York or somewhere, but instead we gave him a proper piece of work at Leopardstown. They went a good gallop and worked a mile and a half. Fame And Glory took him along after the lead horse. Camelot needed it then (about three weeks ago).”
Joseph O’Brien commented: “Camelot is an exceptional horse with a brilliant turn of foot. Whether he will stay a mile and three quarters, that’s the big question and nobody knows the answer until Saturday. It may only be just over two furlongs further than he has been before but that is still a lot.
“Camelot is still learning and has not had as much racing as some horses of his age. I am very lucky to ride him and I would like to thank Mr and Mrs Magnier, Mr and Mrs Tabor and Mr and Mrs Smith.
“He is a jockey’s dream to ride as everything comes naturally to him. You let him come alive in your hands and he is actually very easy to ride. He is just unbelievable and is not like any other horse I have ever ridden.
“Camelot loves his racing and knows he is one of the best. He has a great outlook on life. I remember after he won at Epsom, he just looked at the cameras and pricked his ears! I know I am very lucky just to have anything to do with him.
“I have been riding since ever I can remember. Galileo was one of the first big horses I can remember.
“I used to ride out before going to school and ride ponies when I got home. Dad always said to me don’t let school interfere with your education!
“Halfway To Heaven was I suppose the first big-name horse I rode at home.
“I have to follow a regime to keep my weight down but it’s not too bad. If I am riding, I will usually eat the night before and then just have some fruit and water in the morning.
“I am very, very lucky in that I am riding such good horses so I don’t have to ride too light. I usually ride at 9st but can get down to 8st 12lb if I really have to.
“When you are actually riding, the adrenaline really gives you a good feeling and you don’t get tired.
“Being a jockey is all I ever wanted to do. I passed my exams but didn’t really like school.
“The Triple Crown would be a dream come true. I have seen the videos of Nijinsky and Lester Piggott and if Camelot could emulate that it would be unbelievable.
“There are no certainties in racing though and we just don’t know about the extra distance in the St Leger.
“Camelot always had a lofty reputation at the sales and as a yearling.
“To be associated with him is a dream come true.”
The four-day Ladbrokes St Leger Festival starts at Doncaster on Wednesday, 12 September.