Monday, June 4, 2012

Guest Post: My Day at the Derby

By Kelsey Riley

During the last two years on the Darley Flying Start program, I have been very fortunate to attend most of the world’s best races. I have seen the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes, the Melbourne Cup, the Hong Kong International race meeting, and the Dubai World Cup. But as I stood amongst a crowd of 130,000 at Epsom Downs on Saturday while Coolmore’s Camelot charged to victory in the Epsom Derby, I felt like I was witnessing something truly spectacular.

With his resounding victory Camelot became just the third horse in 23 years to take the English classic double of the 2000 Guineas and the Derby. His five-length winning margin erased any doubts of stamina or class dominance, and he is now poised, if his connections please, to pursue the rare distinction of England’s Triple Crown in the St. Leger Stakes on September 15.

Epsom Downs: Home of the Derby
The English Triple Crown has not been claimed since the great Nijinsky in 1970, and has largely gone out of fashion since, with few 2000 Guineas winners attempting the Derby or St. Leger. Only two horses since 1989 have completed the Guineas/Derby double, and most of the top three-year-olds these days bypass the St. Leger in favour of more glamorous contests like the Arc. If there is to be any horse to buck the trends and go for Triple Crown glory, you would think it would have to be Camelot. Having achieved nearly every major milestone in European racing, Coolmore have little to lose by trying.

Camelot's trainer Aidan O'Brien 
While world heavyweight Frankel remains the darling of European racing, I think Camelot would be in a position to nab that title should he win the St. Leger. Even by simply starting in the race, he would undoubtedly draw massive mainstream attention to racing, something we all want. As with all major stars of the turf, there is already big talk happening in the days following the Derby, and some are speculating a matchup with Frankel at the end of the year. Or, maybe he could come to America and hook up with I’ll Have Another in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Longshot, yes, but isn’t this a sport of dreams?  

Coolmore's Astrology being saddled
for the Derby. He finished third.
My day at the Derby ranked right up there with the best race meetings I have attended. The atmosphere was electric from start to finish, no doubt helped by The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, which kicked off at Epsom before the first race. With the monarch herself in attendance, a large crowd turned out for the festivities, which included an elaborate infield carnival. Before the main attraction, patrons were treated to a showing of last year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf winner St. Nicholas Abbey in the G1 Coronation Cup. The son of Montjeu (like Camelot) turned the race into a procession under Joseph O’Brien, providing a sneak preview of what was to come in the Derby. Speaking of young Joseph, I can’t express how much I admire the 19-year-old. He has shown to have a cool head and confident yet capable style in some of the most pressure packed situations in the sport. This was accentuated by his flawless ride on Camelot around what is regarded as one of the world’s most challenging racecourses. While he is no doubt helped by his family tree (father Aidan is Coolmore’s trainer), he would never have reached the level he has without loads of hard work and ability.
Camelot walking the parade ring
before the Derby

Credit must also be given to second and third-place finishers, Main Sequence and Astrology, who both ran huge races to hit the board. Astrology, another Coolmore charge, made all the running for his stablemate Camelot. For a few strides it looked as if the son of Galileo may have stolen the race from his stablemate, but in the end Camelot was too strong for him, and he was just nipped by Main Sequence, a son of American sprint champion Aldebaran, for second. Bonfire, the second choice, looked spectacular in the paddock but got worked up in the warm up and failed to factor. 

Needless to say, my day at the Derby was one to savour and remember. I hope these photos capture a bit of the excitement and atmosphere. I would certainly recommend any racing fan make the trip to England for the Epsom Derby.

Aidan O'Brien brushes Camelot before he heads to the track
Derby second place finisher Main Sequence
Derby second choice Bonfire
A packed Epsom Downs grandstand
Camelot and Joseph O'Brien return victorious
-- Kelsey Riley is a second year trainee on the Darley Flying Start program. She will join the TDN staff in July.

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