Encke ends Triple Crown hopes
Doncaster’s atmosphere switched from heightened to distinctly flat within the space of three minutes as Godolphin’s Encke extinguished hopes of Camelot achieving a rare English Triple Crown in the Ladbrokes St Leger.
It had felt almost as if Camelot was racing against the imponderables rather than the flesh and blood opposition and he was the 2-5 favourite to add the season’s final Classic to his 2000 Guineas and Derby successes.
Unfortunately for all his supporters and the expectant thousands on Town Moor in a sell-out crowd, Aidan O’Brien’s colt was caught out by an unsteady pace and the sublime riding of Mickael Barzalona on Encke, clawing back all but three-quarters of a length as he failed to replicate the feat last accomplished by Nijinsky in 1970.
There have been many epic head-to-heads between the ranks of Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin stables and the O’Brien-Coolmore axis, but this was a rather unexpected sixth Leger for the owner, and a first for both trainer Mahmood Al Zarooni and Barzalona on his debut in the event.
Although considered a Derby prospect at two, Encke had not reappeared until July and was beaten in two Leger trials, explaining his starting price of 25-1.
Sitting carefully in the middle of the pack as the field were taken along by Dartford, the sole pacemaker working for eventual third Michelangelo, Barzalona was far more quickly into the drive position than Joseph O’Brien on Camelot.
Even once the favourite was free from the rail, the handful of lengths the Frenchman had stolen with a couple of furlongs to run were insurmountable.
Godolphin racing manager Simon Crisford said: “This is a robust horse and we put a line through his run at York (in the Great Voltigeur). The pace was so slow that day and it was falsely-run race.
“Mickael rode a beautiful race and when he kicked at the two-pole he put the race to bed really.
“We came here thinking he was a really solid place chance but he has won fair and square.
“What we loved about that race was the turn of foot he showed, that stands very well for next season and he will stay in training. I would imagine it’s very unlikely he’ll run again this season but we will see what Sheikh Mohammed wants to do.”
Al Zarooni said: “We’ve been trying to win this Classic and we’ve run Blue Bunting two years ago and Rewilding last year, who were favourites, and today we have won with an outsider. Racing can be a funny game.
“To be honest it was His Highness’ decision to run. His Highness and I always disagree but His Highness is always right.”
Barzalona, signed up by Godolphin as the eventual successor to Frankie Dettori, has a similar aptitude for the major occasion and was adding to his maiden Derby victory on Pour Moi last year.
The 21-year-old said: “I knew Camelot was behind and on the inside and could see he had difficulty navigating. I asked my horse to go and he went very quickly.”
Doncaster is always bustling come Leger day, but there was a genuine air of expectation ahead of a potential piece of racing history.
No Guineas and Derby winner had even attempted the Triple Crown since former Ballydoyle inmate Nijinsky, and Camelot had to conquer the extra two furlongs which had even eluded the great Shergar.
Spoken of as some mystical beast, his name was apparently reserved by part-owner John Magnier’s wife for a decade until a worthy candidate had unmasked themselves.
The first horse to try and fail since World War II, such an opportunity lost caused Joseph O’Brien to return in tears.
His father said: “It wasn’t what we thought it was going to be.
“It was a steadily-run race and Joseph said he was a little bit fresh with him, but that was probably always going to happen in a slowly-run race.
“You have to take your time on him over a mile and six which he (Joseph) did and when he got out he just stayed on rather than quickened.
“In the Guineas he quickened and in the Derby he quickened, but he just stayed on here.
“He ran a great race but just got beat. It’s disappointing for everybody but that’s the way it is. That’s racing.
“We expected him to win and if I thought they were going to go that steady I would have had a pacemaker in or two pacemakers. But that’s my fault.
He went on: “The Camelot we would have known over a mile, mile and a quarter and a mile and half would have quickened up. Today he just kept going and going.
“I’m not sure if he’ll run again this year. If I thought there was a chance he was going to stay in training next season he might not run. But I don’t know. It will be the boys’ (Coolmore, owners) decision.”
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