Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Chance of Dual Triple Crowns

Nothing rallies racing fans like the prospect of a Triple Crown. For this reason, racing fans across the nation are tremendously eager to see Kentucky Derby (GI) and Preakness Stakes (GI) winner I’ll Have Another compete in the Belmont Stakes (GI) on Saturday in attempt to become America’s twelfth Triple Crown victor and the first one in thirty-four years. But what a plethora of fans throughout the country do not realize is that there is another nation with a chance to end an even longer Triple Crown drought.

That country is none other than England, a nation that has not seen a Triple Crown victor since Nijinksy II captured the 2,000 Guineas Stakes (GI), the Epsom Derby (GI), and the St. Leger Stakes (GI) in 1970. Since then, only three horses have won the first two legs: Nashwan, Sea the Stars, and most recently, Camelot.

Camelot, a horse with the perfect name for an athlete in pursuit of the Triple Crown, or the Holy Grail of horse racing, was a top juvenile in Europe. The colt captured a maiden special weight at Leopardstown Racecourse in Dublin, Ireland last July prior to conquering five rivals in the prestigious Racing Post Trophy (GI) at Doncaster Racecourse in the United Kingdom. With ease, the Aidan O’Brien trainee drew away to win the esteemed race by 2 ¼ lengths, becoming the winter book favorite for England’s premier race and second leg of its Triple Crown, the Epsom Derby (GI).

In just his third start, Camelot went to post in the 2,000 Guineas, the first jewel of the English Triple Crown. As a field of eighteen three-year-old Thoroughbreds began their one-mile journey about Newmarket Racecourse, the highly-touted Camelot found a position near the back of the pack with the young Joseph O’Brien – famous with United States racing fans for winning the Breeders’ Cup Turf (GI) aboard St. Nicholas Abbey in 2011 – aboard. With the finish growing closer, Camelot was maneuvered through traffic by O’Brien, drawing even with the group one-winning French Fifteen. Camelot, despite his brilliance, had plenty of disadvantages going against him. Not only is he bred through and through for stamina rather than the one-mile distance of the 2,000 Guineas, but the colt did not particularly care for the soft going at Newmarket. Nonetheless, he pursued victory, crossing the wire a neck ahead of French Fifteen.

Very highly regarded, Camelot continued on to the prestigious Epsom Derby at Epsom Downs. In the fifth race on the card, the Aidan O’Brien trainee again found a spot near the rear of the field as Joseph O’Brien coolly settled aboard him, appearing absolutely confident in his superb mount. The 2,000 Guineas victor remained several lengths off the lead as the nine horses continued their mile and one-half journey, relaxing beautifully beneath nineteen-year-old O’Brien. As stablemate Astrology set the pace and kicked away from the field, Camelot began to make his move on the outside. With urging from O’Brien, Camelot accelerated impressively, rapidly gaining ground on his stablemate in the long straightaway. In spite of the fact that it appeared Astrology would battle him to the wire, Camelot kicked clear under confident handling from O’Brien, winning by a remarkable 5 lengths.
The scary part about his unbelievably impressive Epsom Derby victory? Joseph O’Brien yet again did not believe the colt relished the going.

A week after Camelot’s Epsom Derby triumph, America’s sweetheart, I’ll Have Another, will attempt to become the twelfth Triple Crown champion in the United States. Should I’ll Have Another win the Belmont Stakes on June 9, he will be the first horse since Affirmed to win the coveted Triple Crown trophy. As long as the thirty-four-year drought is in America’s Triple Crown, England’s Triple Crown drought is even lengthier. A horse has not captured the three-race series since Nijinksy II swept it in 1970, making it forty-two years since a horse has conquered the English Triple Crown.

There are many differences between the American Triple Crown and the English Triple Crown. Both series often commence on the first Saturday in May, though the beginning date of the English Triple Crown is not as set in stone as ours. Whereas the American Triple Crown spans just five weeks, the Triple Crown in the United Kingdom begins in May and ends in September. However, the distances of the English Triple Crown are much more grueling: one mile, a mile and one-half, and a mile and three-quarters.

Due to the demanding distance of the final leg of the English Triple Crown, the two horses that won both the 2,000 Guineas and the Epsom Derby between Nijinksy II and Camelot, Nashwan and Sea the Stars, avoided the St. Leger Stakes. You have to go back to when Nashwan swept the 2,000 Guineas and the Derby in 1989 to find the most recent year in which both an English horse and an American horse had a chance to win their respective Triple Crowns. However, Sunday Silence lost the Belmont in his attempt whereas Nashwan skipped the St. Leger. Rather, it was Dark Mirage that won the Triple Tiara for fillies in New York and With Approval who captured the Canadian Triple Crown that year. An English Triple Crown triumph and an American Triple Crown coronation has not occurred within the same year since 1935, when Bahram and Omaha triumphed in their corresponding race series.

The confidence in Camelot’s chance at winning the Triple Crown is overwhelming. The colt is clearly the top of his class, by far and away. The main worry is the exhausting mile and three-quarter distance of the St. Leger, should he enter the race. However, as a son of the late great Montjeu, Camelot should certainly be able to handle the distance. Montjeu captured several races at a mile and a half and is the sire of last year’s St. Leger victor, Masked Marvel, as well as Scorpion, who won the St. Leger in 2005. Camelot's dam, a group three-winning daughter of the great Kingmambo, should also aid him in the taxing journey.

Camelot has an incredible chance to capture the Triple Crown in England. His chance to do so will be three months after I’ll Have Another’s date with destiny, but one can only imagine the joy among the racing world if both great colts rewrite the history books and end the droughts in their nations. 2012 could truly be one of the greatest years racing has ever seen.

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  1. Nice piece.
    Although I won't be cheering for I'll Have Another on the second Saturday in June, I'm certainly in support of a Triple Crown sweep by Joseph O'Brien and Camelot.
    Thanks for highlighting this.

    - Emily Nocturne, the Test of Champions

  2. Thank you for teaching me something new! As I was reading, I wondered if it had ever happened--both in the same year--and you answered it.

    May both horses come home safe, healthy and sound--regardless of their placement in the pack.

    I will be watching and cheering for IHA on Saturday, likely loudly. And now I know to watch for Camelot (LOVE that name/connotation) in the St. Leger!