Myth or legend?

  • By: Ian Ogg
  • Last Updated: September 16 2012, 13:32 BST

Ian Ogg reflects on Camelot's performance in Saturday's Ladbrokes St Leger at Doncaster.

Camelot: Below par or not quite as good as we thought?


That was what greeted Encke's victory in the Ladbrokes St Leger at Doncaster - followed by some grumpy old man mutterings from my father about Mickael Barzalona's antics as he crossed the line which appeared as though they might cause him to unseat.

Silence and disappointment that we hadn't witnessed history being made - a pause to listen to Matt Chapman's criticism of the ride Joseph O'Brien gave the beaten favourite.

A change of channels to hear John Francome commenting that he never felt that Camelot was travelling as well as he had done at Epsom, that the horse wasn't at his best, and then another change of channels to the CB40 Final at Lords; that, too, was to end in disappointment.

So many had wanted to witness an imperious performance from 'the horse of a lifetime', the making of history, a moment in sport to cherish but it didn't happen and the recriminations begin - with every disappointment there must be someone to blame.

The jockey is the immediate focus for the outsider but Aidan O'Brien was quick to deflect criticism onto himself and his lack of tactical nous but there was another telling comment in his post-race remarks: "We expected him to win."

O'Brien is polite, courteous and fascinating when dealing with the endless demands of the media and understandably cautious about the prospects of those in his care and had said all that one would have expected in the lead up to the unsuccessful Triple Crown bid.

Afterwards, however, that remark: "We expected him to win."

Far from unreasonable in itself - after all he was hardly alone in that view - but perhaps, for once, they took their eye off the ball.

The widely held belief that Dartford would set a strong pace to draw the sting out of the favourite and, more tellingly, the firmly stated belief that they had a horse on their hands that was superior to any of the exalted blue bloods that have passed through the gates at Ballydoyle before him; that defeat was out of the question no matter what was thrown at him.

He was ridden with supreme confidence, threading his way through with his jockey exuding calm but when he was pulled out on the two furlong pole Camelot appeared momentarily unbalanced.

He needed a stride or two to be straightened out and to go forward on a true course and, in that blink of an eye, Encke had flown having displayed a hitherto unnoticed change of gear and the race was lost.

The bare bones of the result show that Encke beat Michelangelo by a length and a quarter more than he had done in the Gordon Stakes at Goodwood; the pair had pretty much run to form.

Camelot finished five lengths in front of Main Sequence at Epsom, on Town Moor the distance was four and three quarter lengths; the pair had pretty much run to form.

How to we react when the result isn't what we expected?

Michelangelo was deemed to have underperformed at Goodwood except by his trainer who said "I did not expect him to win today" and accordingly was sent off at half the price of the winner.

Encke had, of course, been beaten in the Great Voltigeur since but that was a falsely run race which fans of Main Sequence and Thomas Chippendale had been quick to point out but that luxury wasn't afforded to the Godolphin-owned colt.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing - it doesn't, however, always lead us to the right conclusion.

At Epsom, Camelot was on the outside rounding Tattenham Corner and was asked to make his ground from three furlongs out and it took him the best part of a furlong to get past Bonfire and Rugged Cross - with whom he only had a few lengths to find - and it wasn't until inside the distance that he really began to put distance between himself and his pursuers.

By the time he got himself organised in the Leger, he had little more than a furlong and a half in which to find his full stride.

I, for one, would have liked to have seen him wound up from a similar distance out on Town Moor and to have left nothing to chance but, it seems, that would have been contrary to the instructions given.

O'Brien senior said "You have to take your time on him over a mile and six" which, given the differing nature of his ride in the Derby, smacks of concerns about his ability to see out the trip and, as any sportsman knows, as soon as doubt enters your mind you're in trouble.

Camelot may not have been in the same form that he was on the Downs, he may not have produced the turn of foot that connections had expected from him but, by playing his cards later at Doncaster than they had in the Derby, too much was left to chance if the race didn't go according to plan with insufficient time to resort to Plan B.

Perhaps, as alluded to earlier, there was no back-up plan with their confidence in the horse absolute although that would be a surprising - albeit entirely human - oversight given the meticulous nature of the operation which saw two handlers and four minders in the parade ring with the son of Montjeu.

Conjecture is all we have and conjecture is all we are left with, with those closest to the horse unlikely to say any more than they already have done.

It's to be hoped that Camelot returns next season to be given the opportunity to create the legacy that has been expected from the moment his team laid eyes on him.