Camelot will become the first horse since the legendary Nijinsky in 1970 and only the second since World War II to win the English Triple Crown if, as expected, he adds the St Leger to the 2000 Guineas and the English Derby to his CV at Doncaster. Add in the fact O’Brien’s son Joseph is Camelot’s jockey and you have a compelling story.
In any other year Camelot would be the flat season’s undisputed star attraction. This, however, is not any other season and Frankel’s astonishing exploits have dominated the headlines. Not that that bothers O’Brien.
“There’s always pressure but the big spotlight is on Frankel which is great for us. He’s a great horse and deserves it. If Frankel wasn’t here...’’
That’s not to say O’Brien, who was speaking at UCC yesterday where he received an honorary degree for his services to sport, is playing down how big an achievement it would be for Camelot to emulate Nijinsky.
‘‘This would be incredible; it’s something you could never even dream of. It’s very difficult to get a horse to do all the things,’’ he says. ‘‘We think he’s the horse of a lifetime but it’s just something you’re even afraid to think about really. It’s a massive ask, a horse that won a Guineas going to a mile six but we’re happy where we are with him. We’re looking forward to it.’’
Asked what makes Camelot special and the master of Ballydoyle pauses briefly before explaining: ‘‘I suppose his looks, he’s a very handsome colt, his movement and his pedigree. All those things just seemed to come together with him. Then as we put him to his exams, he passed every test all the way along and it’s very unusual for a horse to be like that.’’
Having Joseph on board adds to his father’s enjoyment. ‘‘It makes it very special. He knows him better than anybody, rides him and does all his work on him. It’s a relief for me and one pressure less I have to think about.’’
What happens after the St Leger is yet to be decided but the possibility of an appearance in the ’Arc is a tantalising one.
‘‘I think all the options are open,’’ O’Brien says coyly. ‘‘We’ve always taken one race at a time but we have a lot of options with this horse.’’
Camelot’s last race proved he has guts as well as class as he dug out a two length victory over Born To Sea in the Irish Derby in horrible ground at the Curragh at the end of June.
O’Brien dismisses the suggestion the race may have left a lasting mark. ‘‘Funnily enough he came out of the Irish Derby very well,’’ he says. ‘‘He only raced for two furlongs. Joseph nursed him until the two marker and when he asked him to quicken he jinked a little bit — I suppose he was surprised how soft the ground was — but the minute he got it together it was over really. He’s had a good break since then so hopefully [it will be okay].’’
A more immediate priority is today’s Irish Champion Stakes, a race O’Brien has won in each of the past two seasons and a record seven times in all. His hopes of overcoming Nathaniel, last year’s King George winner, and Snow Fairy rest with St Nicholas Abbey and Daddy Long Legs. O’Brien is hopeful St Nicholas Abbey, who was last seen finishing third behind Frankel in the Juddmonte International at York, can put up a strong showing.
‘‘York was his first time back to a mile and a quarter, so we’d have learned a nice bit about him. Nathaniel and the filly are going to be tough to beat but we’re very happy with our fellah.’’
And very happy too with his UCC degree. ‘‘It’s an incredible privilege for us. It’s something we’d never have expected and I can’t tell you how privileged we feel to be here getting it. It’s a great honour.’’