Camelot is coming…
(Image : BBC - Footage : Doncaster Racecourse)
LADBROKES ST LEGER STAKES (Gr1)
Doncaster, Turf, 2937m
15 September 2012
Charles Engelhard’s epitaph simply read “Here lie the remains of the owner of a Triple Crown winner”. Not “feted businessman”, not “gems billionaire”, nor anything else, just “owner of a Triple Crown winner”. For all his achievements in the world of business and philanthropy, Engelhard is best remembered for his association with the 1970 English Triple Crown hero, Nijinsky, and to illustrate how rare the feat is, Nijinsky’s Triple Crown came 35 years after the previous ace, the Aga Khan’s Bahram who achieved the feat in 1935. It is a little known fact though, that the American mining magnate kicked off his career on the turf in South Africa, with the late George Azzie as his trainer. Engelhard was a regular dinner guest at the tables of like-minded South Africans, the Oppenheimers, the Mosenthals, the Gallos, the Barlows, high society as you can see, and his first horses included the Durban July victor, Numeral, the much-celebrated Hawaii, Sea Rover and a supreme colt called Elevation, whose championship achievements he was to be denied by his premature death. Engelhard’s successes in South Africa inspired him to invest abroad, principally in the progeny of the great Italian champion, Ribot, and from these flowed the Classic winners, Ribero and Ribocco, and the English Champion juvenile of his year, Ribofilio (who was to stand subsequently at the Oppenheimer’s Mauritzfontein Stud outside Kimberley).
It was the homage Charlie paid to Ribot and his progeny that ironically led him to his Triple Crown winner, when he sent his Irish trainer, Vincent O’Brien to the Canadian sales at Woodbine, to buy the sole entry by Ribot in the catalogue. On his arrival, O’Brien was little impressed by the son of Ribot, but instead recommended to Engelhard that he acquire an exceptionally good looking colt from the second crop of E.P. Taylor’s diminutive champion, Northern Dancer. At $84,000, Nijinsky topped the Canadian Yearling sale, a princely sum for a horse from a relatively obscure breeding region of the world. The rest is history.
If winning the Triple Crown means anything, it’s worth remembering that Bahram went on to head the British Sires’ list, and founded an enduring sire line through his son Persian Gulf, as much a success in South Africa as anywhere, through the champion sires Abadan II and the multiple Premiership leader, Persian Wonder. Nijinsky topped the American and European sires’ premierships, and commanded a fee at his height of $300,000 while standing at Bull Hancock’s Claiborne Farm. It was this early association with the Oppenheimers, which led to their inclusion among the founding shareholders in the all-conquering stallion.
This Saturday, we face the first serious possibility of a Triple Crown winner since Nijinsky (in other words, in 42 years) as Camelot goes to post the hottest favourite in history for the third leg, the St Leger at Doncaster. On his performances so far, it will take a train to stop him.
For a horse with Triple Crown aspirations, Camelot went an unconventional route. The English 2000 Guineas (the first leg of the Triple Crown) has traditionally been something of a graveyard for winning graduates of the Racing Post Trophy (a Group One mile for two-year-olds, run at Doncaster at the end of the British season), though it’s been a great forerunner for recent winners of the Investec Derby (understandably, because it’s often run in the wet and is a good test of stamina for a two-year-old with aspirations over more ground at three.) Its recent Derby-winning advertisements number some of the standout racehorses of recent generations, including: Galileo, High Chaparral, Sir Percy, Motivator, Authorized, Sea The Stars, Workforce and Pour Moi, besides Camelot. In contrast to his facile five length victory in the Derby, Camelot just got home in the dying strides of the Guineas, suggesting the further he goes the better he will be, a daunting warning for those seeking to take him on this Saturday. Tune in to DSTV Channel 232, and witness history in the making.