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Camelot eyes horse racing immortality

By Alysen Miller, CNN
June 29, 2012 -- Updated 1620 GMT (0020 HKT)
Aiden O'Brien's Camelot could become only the 16th horse to win the Epsom Derby and Irish Derby.
Aiden O'Brien's Camelot could become only the 16th horse to win the Epsom Derby and Irish Derby.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Camelot is aiming to become only the 16th horse to win Irish and Epsom Derbies
  • The colt won the English 2,000 Guineas at Epsom earlier this month
  • If Camelot wins on Saturday, the next target will be September's St. Ledger Stakes
  • No horse has won the "Triple Crown" since Nijinsky in 1970

(CNN) -- This Saturday, Aiden O'Brien's unbeaten colt Camelot will be aiming to add the Irish Derby to his Epsom Derby victory from earlier this month. It's a neat double, achieved by only 15 horses before him. But his trainer has his eye on another prize.

Camelot has already captured the English 2,000 Guineas and the Epsom Derby. Assuming everything goes to plan this weekend, his next target will be the St. Ledger Stakes at Doncaster in September -- and racing immortality.

For Camelot stands on the brink of that rarest of achievements, the English "Triple Crown" of thoroughbred racing.

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Only 15 horses have ever done the treble in the century and a half in which the 2,000 Guineas, Epsom Derby and St. Ledger Stakes have been run.

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Three of those, wartime winners Pommern, Gay Crusader and Gainsborough will forever have an asterisk next to their names as racing was considered too disrupted in that period for their achievements to stand, making the "official" figure as low as 12.

The last Triple Crown winner was the great Nijinsky, way back in 1970 (although the brilliant filly Oh So Sharp did win the "Fillies' Triple Crown" -- the 1,000 Guineas, the Epsom Oaks and the St. Ledger -- in 1985).

Few horses these days even attempt the full set. Since Nijinsky (who, incidentally, also won the Irish Derby en route to his treble), only two other horses have won both the 2,000 Guineas and the Derby, and both of those -- Nashwan (1989) and Sea The Stars (2009) -- opted for a tilt at the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe instead of the St. Ledger.

For many years it was considered so unlikely that a horse would ever win the Triple Crown again that the soubriquet itself fell into disuse.

It is now more commonly associated with American racing, so it is perhaps fitting that -- in the year that the U.S. came so close to ending its 34-year Triple Crown drought with I'll Have Another only for the colt to be scratched before the starter's bell had even sounded for the Belmont Stakes -- England could yet be celebrating a Triple Crown of its own.

First, of course, Camelot must get through the Irish Derby unscathed. He spearheads a three-strong O'Brien challenge that also includes Astrology and Imperial Monarch.

He will be ridden, as in all his starts to date, by his trainer's son Joseph O'Brien. At six foot, Joseph cuts a distinctive figure in the paddock. Just 19 years old, the precociously talented rider has already won more Classic races than most jockeys will in their entire careers.

He rode his first winner for his father at 16 and bagged his first Classic a year later on Roderic O'Connor in the Irish 2,000 Guineas. Last year he became the youngest jockey to ride a winner in the Breeders' Cup on St. Nicholas Abbey.

For Royal Ascot 2012, organizers have issued a style guide to advise race goers on how to dress for the annual meeting. Gentlemen in the Royal Enclosure must wear black or grey morning dress.
For Royal Ascot 2012, organizers have issued a style guide to advise race goers on how to dress for the annual meeting. Gentlemen in the Royal Enclosure must wear black or grey morning dress.
A royal rulebook
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Close call
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A race-goer attends day five of the Royal Ascot races in Ascot, England, on Saturday, June 23. A race-goer attends day five of the Royal Ascot races in Ascot, England, on Saturday, June 23.
Royal Ascot 2012
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Photos: Royal Ascot 2012 Photos: Royal Ascot 2012

But the lanky teenager is surely riding on borrowed time as far as his flat racing career is concerned, lending Camelot's tilt at the treble even greater poignancy.

The O'Briens' Ballydoyle operation has already won this year's 2,000 Guineas, 1,000 Guineas, Epsom Derby and Oaks, making their domination of the English Classics complete. Last week they notched up another important win at Royal Ascot when New Zealand-bred So You Think -- the horse with arguably the biggest carbon footprint in racing due to his worldwide travels -- captured the Prince of Wales Stakes.

But even in such distinguished company, the bay with the irregular white blaze stands out. Reared in the same Highclere paddock as his vanquished Epsom Derby rival Bonfire, Camelot was sent to the sales as a yearling, where he was snapped up for 525,000 guineas ($875,000). His earnings from his four races to date now exceed $1.5 million.

Camelot's impressive performances in the 2,000 Guineas and Epsom Derby this season have raised hopes that the son of Montjeu will have sufficient staying power to land the St. Ledger Stakes, run over the longer distance of one mile and six furlongs.

If successful, there will be more than a hint of a sense of destiny being fulfilled: the last horse to win the Triple Crown, the legendary Nijinsky, was trained by the great Vincent O'Brien.

Although not related, Aiden O'Brien now trains out of the same Ballydoyle stables where Vincent O'Brien trained Nijinsky. The great colt's life-sized statue now watches over the gallops where Camelot does his daily workouts.

The stage seems to be set for a fairytale ending. In Camelot, English racing may have found its own Arthurian legend.

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