Sunday Supplement: The Slipped Triple Crown

Tony Stafford

Tony Stafford: Sunday Supplement

Sunday supplement 

by Tony Stafford

Nice bloke that Lee Westwood. Supports Nottingham Forest, you know. I was in the box at Doncaster on Saturday and had a nice chat with him. While I was watching the closing stages of the golf last weekend when he played so well in company with Rory McIlroy, I didn’t get the impression of what a big bloke he is. No wonder he had plenty of the beef on his plate. Nice catering at Doncaster.

He said on the telly after his great effort that he would be going home for the week before returning for the $10million shoot-out in the Players Championship, starting on Thursday. I hope either he or Rory wins it.

Lee probably needs it more, especially with Hoof It recovering from a Hobday operation and Mrs Lee – sister I believe to Andrew Coltart, she’s neat and Scottish anyway – needing a few dollars to pay for the move to Florida.

Mrs Lee looks a very nice lady, with a bit of a wee sparkle in the eye. Whether it’s because she recently read THAT book, you know the saucy one that people like her who “never read” have read and the one you see people with on the bus and the tube. I don’t even know the name of it and cannot be bothered to track it down via google!

At one time, while I got down to the serious business of choosing whether it would be summer pudding or that chocolate concoction that would round off my repast – I’d started with the smoked salmon – Lee’s famous trainer, Mr Michael Easterby, he of the interesting trousers and many thousands of acres, emerged over the threshold.

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“Lee, he’s got another horse for you”, said someone, a frivolous comment that threatened to make Mrs Lee bridle with Scottish anxiety at the waste of more good money. But that soon passed over.

If I can relate a Mick Easterby story, which also emanates from a day at Doncaster, in this case a summer evening, and concerns a case of mistaken identity.

I was at Doncaster to witness a runner for Prince Ahmed Salman’s Thoroughbred Corporation – the green and white stripes that no longer adorn the British turf, following his sad death a decade ago. In those days, along with Willie Carson I was part of the entourage, dealing among other things with securing boxes at the last minute, and it was in one of said boxes that we watched a two-year-old win a seller with alacrity.

I suggested this horse could have potential and was despatched to bid for it at auction. The easy part was getting it, the hard part trying to work out who would train it. Then the Prince had a brainwave, saying: “Who’s that funny guy? He’s a trainer from the north.”

Always willing to help, and with the capacity always to make two and two five, I had a Eureka moment. Mick Easterby! I suggested. And so, through the good offices of his nephew Tim, who trained for Thoroughbred Corp at the time, the two-year-old found its way to Mick. There was no great outcome in terms of results from the horse, but a couple of weeks later at Newbury, closure of sorts was effected.

“There’s the trainer I was talking about!” exclaimed the prince, pointing to an exceedingly portly gentleman, at least 35 years younger than Mick and dressed rather more sartorially, given that his bulk necessitated similarly generous garments to my own. It was Charles Egerton, Etonian, future London Marathon hero and like Easterby a genius trainer, but landed gentry rather than lifelong-scrimping Yorkshire landowner.

I related the story to Mick for about the third time on Saturday, and Lee listened with some gentle amusement. Don’t suppose it took his mind off next week’s $10 million possible payoff, or his upcoming responsibility at the St Leger winner’s presentation.

Like all of us in that particular box, Lee will have been rooting for Camelot, along in his case with Nottingham Forest.  Later, long after the presentation to Simon Crisford for Encke, whose turn of foot at the crucial time was the difference as Camelot did not instantly find the acceleration that had characterised all his earlier efforts, I saw Forest had fallen behind, but I didn’t want to upset our golfing hero.

In the car on the way home, they had gone 2-0 down, but rallied to 2-2. Lee’ll be happy.  Among the inner circle of the Camelot brigade, only Paul Smith, son of Chelsea fan Derrick, shares my and my pal Harry Taylor’s Arsenal allegiance, but his team’s 6-1 romp was almost an ironic sidebar to the deprivation of history for the great horse.

This defeat will be considered, like most Premier League reverses, in black and white by most people. In truth it will make no difference to his status as a great or even his future prospects at Coolmore stud as the true successor to his own recently deceased sire Montjeu. To win what he has in the style he achieved it was far out of the ordinary.

Earlier, as I stood on the balcony on the far point of the stand’s fourth floor looking over the daunting five-furlong straight, I must say I felt trepidation at what this horse was attempting. In my and indeed Michael Tabor, John Magnier and Derrick Smith’s lifetime, only Nijinsky (1970) followed Bahran (1935) as a Triple Crown winner.

On Saturday, it was not just the quality of horse that stood in the way of Aidan, Anne-Marie, Joseph and the three other young O’Briens’ making history, it was some exceptional trainers, John Gosden, Sir Henry Cecil, Mahmood Al Zarooni, David Lanigan, Tommy Carmody/ Johnny Murtagh and William Haggas that challenged the favourite.

In the pre-parade I was struck by the size and strength of all the runners, even pacemaker Dartford, and when I talked briefly to William Haggas when the Highclere team, which included Tory ex-minster Michael Howard, stepped away, he said: “It would be a great race, even without Camelot”.

He like me considers the St Leger – brought to new vibrancy by the ever-astute Mike Dillon and sponsors Ladbrokes – virtually a two-mile race, and it was in that context that Camelot’s initial inability to quicken instantly should be judged. I prefer to remember his brave, albeit unavailing last-furlong effort which clawed back almost all the three lengths by which Mikael Barzalona went clear of him.

It was an event to round off that amazing summer of sport and if not the right result for all of us in that box, and most racing fans, it showed the enduring appeal of horse racing. There’s no certainty in racing, just as Rory McIlroy must be aware there’s no certainty in golf. Especially if Mrs Lee reads that book again!

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11 replies
  1. Craig
    Craig says:

    Fascinating read Tony…. Lee Westwood seems to be a genuinely down to earth nice guy given his wealth and status. I wonder though if he would have won a major by now if he had a more ruthless streak when racing just off the pace in his own sport…and if he spent less time quaffing champers at race meetings. 😉 He’s similar to Michael Owen who seems happy to have sacrificed the last several years of his football talents in favour of the nags, whilst being paid a lot of money to win nothing by his employers at Liverpool, Man Utd. and now Stoke City!

    I wasn’t in the Fancy Box at Doncaster yesterday. I had a terrible draw in a rented terraced house with broken central heating, threadbare carpets and one of those old cathode ray tube TV sets that has backside the size of Frankel’s arse. 🙁

    However, it was sufficiently capable to afford me a decent view of one of the worst rides I’ve ever seen by a jockey. As Joseph’s dad would say (if he wasn’t biased), listen Tony…listen…listen…he was way too far off the pace…listen Tony….he got boxed in…listen…he tried to find a gap….listen Tony….then he ran into another horse…listen…listen…then he tried to switch out to the right Tony…listen…listen Tony…..only to find his run checked again by traffic….listen Tony…listen….finally, when he did get a clear run…listen…..he had way too much ground to make up….listen Tony….Camelot was finishing like a train….listen….it had nothing to do with Enke’s ‘turn of foot’….listen…the fact is he was given the freedom of Doncaster by younf Joseph…and…listen…it’s not the first time he’s thrown away a ‘classic’ by racing too far off the pace…listen Tony….let’s face it….if Camelot had had a jockey on board instead of an idiot dressed in silks….listen….he WOULD have won….and, listen Tony….I didn’t even have a bet on the race…so…listen…’s not ‘pocket talk Tony….my 50p each way wouldn’t have affected the price much anyway…but listen…listen…listen….Tony….I don’t think you could have been watching the same race as me if you think Camelot was beaten by something quicker or better on the day….listen… it was an absolutely appalling effort by young Joseph….listen…it was the equivalent of Lee Westwood shanking a three iron into a pond when about to claim The Open….. Camelot was given a total ‘Jean Van Der Velde’ of a ride….and….listen…young Joseph should never be allowed near a racecourse again, until he has learnt how to steer a simple shot into Ballydoyle’s history of major triumphs.

    Listen Tony…thanks for listening! have a good day now. 🙂

  2. Liam
    Liam says:

    Horses have bad days, like people some times that even get the runs and on other days never mind the Jockey some people give others the shoots.
    Young Joseph did fine these last few months so one off is just a bad hair day.

  3. chas anderson
    chas anderson says:

    i agree with craig the worst ride ever then do the same again on fame and glory he had a a nightmare of a day chas

  4. lorenzo
    lorenzo says:

    There will be harsh criticism of J P O’Brien as big Mac rightly observed in the aftermath yesterday and AOB’s defence was driven by admirable paternal loyalty rather than objective analysis. Barzalona got first run and Camelot’s pilot did not have him positioned well enough to cover the move. He showed courage and stamina to stay on to the line but lacked the necessary acceleration over the longer trip. However it was not all the jockey’s fault. I believe the horse was over hyped by the media. He has not beaten any of the older generation and the record of those closest to him in the three G1 victories this season is extremely modest. The subsequent achievements of French fifteen, Hermival, Main Sequence, Astrology, Born to Sea and Light Heavy have yielded not one victory at group level. He is not another Nijinsky, but the best of a poor classic crop, though Encke may well do okay as a four year old

    Conversely I think his failure should not discourage others from trying. In a poor year, when there are no Frankels or Sea The Stars around, Camelot only just fell short. Who would argue that Sea The Stars could not have beaten Mastery and Kite Wood in 2009, or a fit and healthy Nashwan would not have put away Michelozzo in 1989 ? The Triple Crown is certainly achievable and if a Derby winner who is of a class comparable to the likes of Charlottown or Santa Claus can almost do it, then a horse who is truly in the Sea The Stars/Nijinsky bracket most certainly will.

  5. Craig
    Craig says:

    Listen….Liam, Chas, Lorenzo…listen…you all make valid points…Although ‘bad hair days’ are inexcusable more than once in races where the best horse should win because the cost of not doing so is IMMENSE. I’m not just talking backers’ who’ve done their dough, but stud fees, prestige, the re-writing of history in a manner which befits the sport. All manner of crucially important matters can’t just be waved away as if it’s no worse than JP’s horrendous side parting!

    I think Camelot was over-rated by the media, but, objectively, Camelot is the best of a relativelym mediocre bunch of 3 year olds this season. And on that basis, although Camelot would have been an also-ran in many previous years, this year he happened to be a cut above the rest. That’s all he can be. The best of his crop. It is irrelevant trying to say who is the best in history.

    The triple crown is a very tough ask and rarely even attempted, so fair play to connections for that, but they put themselves in that position because they knew everything about form, ratings and the lack of strength in depth, was evidence that it could and should have been achieved.

    Regardless of media hype, it was worth trying because he was plenty good enough. In the end Camelot did almost do it and was travelling twice as fast as Enke in the last 100 yards (to cofound the turn of foot theory); but the reason he didn’t do it was a jockey sat on his back who would struggle to get Frankel up in an 8f class 6 handicap at Folkestone!

  6. James
    James says:

    You’re all muppets.
    How many 19 year old jockeys can you name that have won 6 classics including the English, Irish and French Derby’s, the English & Irish 2000 Guineas (twice), the Breeders Cup Turf and another 6 Group 1’s including the Coronation Cup, the Racing Post Trophy, The Prince of Wales Stakes, the Moyglare Stud and the Tattersalls Gold Cup, not to mention he was champion apprentice in 2010 also. There is nothing wrong with Joseph O Brien’s riding skills. He is one of the coolest 19 year olds in the saddle you will ever see. Camelot wasn’t good enough on the day over the extra distance, simple as that.

  7. chas anderson
    chas anderson says:

    maybe he has won 6 classics but how many big races has he lost by bad riding ?

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