He came, he saw, he conked out. Camelot’s failure to land the St Leger at Doncaster left more questions than answers as racing’s search for its next Triple Crown hero goes on for another year.
Did he fail to get the stamina-sapping extended 14-furlong trip? Was he given a poor ride? Should Aidan O’Brien have run a pacemaker? And if he did, would it have made any difference?
When it became clear that the writing was on the wall for the odds-on favourite, it was hard not to think the same for the concept of the Triple Crown. Perhaps it’s just not feasible for today’s thoroughbreds.
It had all looked so good beforehand as Camelot, coat gleaming and relaxed in the parade ring with his two handlers, looked primed to deliver the goods in front of a packed Town Moor crowd.
The writing was on the wall for Camelot and maybe the concept of the Triple Crown
While the rest of the field cantered to the start after the pre-race parade, Joseph O’Brien took his charge further up the course, moving steadily, as if to show him the turf that he would soon be galloping down. One sensed history was about to be made.
It wasn’t to be, of course; Encke proved too good under Mickael Barzalona, whose default setting on such occasions is to stand up in his irons, punch the air and flirt with exiting via the side door.
One can’t imagine his bosses are too amused with the Frenchman’s antics in the aftermath of victory – Dettori always makes sure he jumps off in the winner’s enclosure – yet there’s something quite charming about a young man so excited in his work that he cannot contain his emotions.
With one bubble burst, it’s now over to Frankel to preserve his immaculate record in the Champion Stakes, after which he will surely become the most exciting stallion recruit in living memory.
According to Tony Morris, Frankel is the best thoroughbred he has ever seen; high praise indeed from someone so respected in the industry and who has followed the sport for over half a century.
“I’ve only just accepted that there has been a better horse than Sea-Bird in my experience, so he has to be second,” says Morris.
“Brigadier Gerard was an outstanding miler and very good at a mile and a quarter, but I believe that Mill Reef would have beaten him at a mile and a half. And I think Frankel would have beaten the Brigadier at any distance.”
In his column this month, Morris discusses those racehorses that he considers all-time greats. None, he feels, can be placed above Frankel. So if you want to enjoy this brilliant colt one last time, better book your tickets for British Champions’ Day at Ascot on October 20. It’s an occasion not to be missed.
Graham Lee’s name would not normally appear in the same sentence as British Champions’ Day, yet the Grand National-winning jockey has made such a smooth transition from jump racing to the Flat that he could well be riding at the end-of-season spectacular.
At the age of 36, Lee has decided to switch codes, and with some results: he’s already bagged a Stewards’ Cup – one of the most competitive prizes on the level – hit the 50-winner mark and is being used by an ever-increasing list of trainers across the country.
Yet Lee feels he has a point to prove to those who rubbished his decision to dessert the winter game.
“It really annoys me that people think I’ve gone Flat racing because of injuries,” he tells Alan Lee. “That would imply my bottle had gone. I’ve done it because I didn’t have any good horses left to ride. I had nothing to look forward to.
“If anyone told me I’d have 50 winners this quick, I’d have told them to go back to the mental home! My only target when I started was one [winner]. When I got that, it was two.
“Lots of little things have challenged me but nothing major. It’s mad that this has happened, but I’m so thankful.” He’s not the only one.