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O'Brien finds Holy Grail

Camelot was the mythical home to the Knights of the Round Table.

Joseph O'Brien and Camelot (second left) destroy their rivals at Epsom        Photograph: Reuters
Joseph O'Brien and Camelot (second left) destroy their rivals at Epsom Photograph: Reuters

Ballydoyle had been the home to eight Derby winners.

But since High Chaparral had won in 2002, Aidan O'Brien had sent out 39 runners in pursuit of racing's Holy Grail. This time he felt confident enough to run just two, but he need not have bothered with Astrology because it was Camelot who was reaching for the stars.

Camelot would be the shortest-priced winner of the Investec Derby since Gainsborough in 1918. But being the punters' choice has not always been an automatic admission ticket to the most hallowed winner's enclosure in Flat racing.

Tudor Minstrel was the 1947 4-7 favourite. He, like Camelot, was a 2000 Guineas winner but that was where the similarity ended because, while Tudor Minstrel led and failed to stay, Camelot pulled clear of his field to win by five lengths. Next stop is likely to be Doncaster for the St Leger and the chance to become the first Triple Crown-winning colt since Nijinsky in 1970.

Beware the enemy within is the old adage and there were plenty – not least the trainer – who believed that Astrology posed a significant threat to Camelot. He had already proved adept at handling a tight track when he won the Dee Stakes at Chester last month and, unlike Camelot, there appeared to be no significant chinks in his armour in terms of his stamina for one-and-a-half miles.

The booking of Ryan Moore, a former champion jockey, was a firm indication that Astrology was not there simply to set the pace for Camelot. Equally, it did not take second sight to know that Moore was not simply going to sit and wait for Joseph O'Brien to unleash a withering burst of speed from Camelot.

Moore was not about to die wondering and he kicked Astrology out of the stalls to take the lead on the run up to Tattenham Hill, the highest part of the course. The presence of Camelot may have frightened much of the mediocre opposition but the presence of only nine runners, the smallest field since Orby won in 1907, also meant there was less of the scrimmaging, barging and outright fighting that often goes on in the contest that wins the jockeys' vote for the roughest race of the year.

As the field sorted themselves out for the most important two-and-a-half minutes of the year, Thought Worthy and Rugged Cross were chasing the leader, followed by Mickdaam and Cavaleiro who was ridden by Hayley Turner. The most prominent woman jockey in Britain was only the second of her gender to ride in the Classic in its 233-year history.

Bonfire, the winner of the Dante Stakes at York last month, had been the one who was thought to be the biggest danger to Camelot. Fears that his temperament might explode in the hubbub of the parade came to nothing and now Jimmy Fortune was quietly stoking the flame in the hope that he could turn up the heat full blast coming off Tattenham Corner.

Camelot, who was running for only the fourth time in his life, was a little cautious coming down the ski-slope descent in the home straight. His innate intelligence told him to tread carefully and O'Brien's almost in-bred riding skills – honed from his teenaged years on the Balydoyle gallops – told him not to rush the colt who could be the most important of his 19-year-old life.

Once back on an even keel, O'Brien assessed the situation. Camelot was maybe eight lengths off the lead and Astrology was not stopping yet. In between, William Buick still probably still harboured the notion of Thought Worthy winning but Fortune already knew his fate as Bonfire began to blow out, with Main Sequence trying to catch his coat-tails.

But it was Astrology whom Camelot was trying to catch. The leader was still three lengths in front but it did not take a crystal ball or even an Astrologer to read the runes from here. He is an admirable colt but Camelot was galloping on like the type that comes along only rarely.

From parity half a furlong out Camelot showed the disparity between himself and the rest as he pulled five lengths clear under little more than a hand drive, with Main Sequence taking second from Astrology by a short-head.

The sequence for winners of over the past 25 years, in fact since Reference Point in 1987, has been to miss the St Leger to protect stallion value. Sentimentality is not top of Coolmore's list of priorities, but this is the first time that the biggest powerhouse in Flat racing has had even the chance to emulate Nijinsky, who was trained at Ballydoyle by Vincent O'Brien.

Someone once said of John Magnier, the man behind Coolmore, that the softest part of him was his teeth. But he warmed to the idea and said: "These things get to mean more as you get older, if you had asked me 30 years ago I might have looked the other way, but we will have to see."

A Triple Crown winner would be something worth seeing and turn Camelot into a legend.

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