The lavish beauty of the Thoroughbred surrounded me at Keeneland Racecourse on a quiet Wednesday. The weekend warriors departed with Saturday’s final race, leaving the hard-core handicappers and fans to watch the racehorses and their connections in a more relaxed weekday atmosphere. It was another day at the office for those who tightened the girth on their entrant.
I stood in the paddock as each horse came in from the barn area to prepare for the fourth race. I eagerly anticipated this 1 ½ mile turf event not just because these marathon grass horses represented athleticism and the essence of the breed, but that a daughter of the recently deceased Montjeu was running.
The Brian Lynch-trained Montjeu daughter Turns My Head lived up to her name as she entered the paddock. She looked about the scene with a substantial, regal head atop her supple, elegant neck. Her shining, dappled coat showed her health while her muscularity proved her high fitness level. This mare was well-balanced and proportional to her suitable size. Turns My Head exemplified the agile, gamey look of the Thoroughbred turf horse.
I sensed an element of infatuation with this mare due to Montjeu’s all too early death from complications of septicaemia. Montjeu reached the zenith of his stallion career last year, his progeny reigning on a global stage. His three-year-old son Pour Moi won the Epsom Derby while Masked Marvel took the St. Leger. St. Nicholas Abbey triumphed stateside with a victory in the Breeders' Cup Turf. Montjeu’s legacy has another opportunity to live on in the form of the 2,000 Guineas favorite, the triumphant juvenile, Camelot.
Camelot won both of his two career starts, each of which came as a juvenile. He broke his maiden at first asking on July 14th at Leopardstown. Ridden by Joseph O’Brien, Camelot was one of the three Aidan O’Brien trainees in the five horse contest. Camelot won by two lengths over one mile on a track declared as “good”.
He took a massive step in class when he faced four others in the Group I Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster on October 22nd. Camelot received favoritism for the one mile event on a good course. After breaking cleanly, O’Brien confined Camelot to the tail of the field for the early portions of the race. It did not take long for Camelot to settle well behind horses as his stablemate, Learn, established an assertive lead. Camelot was bottled up behind a wall of horses as the race progressed, but angled to the inside for running room. Under slight hand-riding, Camelot bounded to the lead with striking ease and got up to win by 2 ¼ lengths inside the final furlong in convincing fashion.
Camelot looks to win the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket. The 2,000 Guineas is one of the most prestigious contests in racing, posing as first three-year-old classic of Europe’s flat racing season. In 1809, Wizard became the first winner of the 2,000 Guineas over Newmarket’s pristine Rowley Mile. Gallops of grass, sand, and peat-moss extend over twenty-eight miles of English turf. The glory that is Newmarket consumes a vast 2,000 acres of tremendous history reaching back to the beginnings of the sport. Though this marvelous racecourse’s story began in 1200, Newmarket held the first recorded race in all of England in 1622.
Camelot boasts potential for a dominant three-year-old season and could likely be the best horse entered in tomorrow’s 2,000 Guineas. However, his inexperience may be a concern in this large field and the soft course may not work in his favor. He has yet to compete on soft turf and will be making his first start as a three-year-old in the 2,000 Guineas. Camelot should be an influential horse in Europe’s three-year-old division, and I anticipate him to offer an all-around solid performance in his first outing this year.