Handicapping Insights

HANDICAPPING INSIGHTS

SEPTEMBER 14, 2012

by Dick Powell

Susan Magnier waited 10 years to finally name one of her co-owned horses "Camelot." The opportunity finally came two years ago after purchasing a colt for $876K at the Tattersalls Yearling Sale. By Montjeu, Camelot is out of a Kingmambo mare who won the Group 3 Dahlia Stakes in Great Britain. That is the only black type in Camelot's first two dams so for a son of Montjeu to sell for that kind of money, he must have been quite a good-looking horse.

Magnier, her husband John, Derrick Smith and Michael Tabor have owned other well-bred, good-looking colts, but this one was special right from the start and was bestowed the name of the mythic capital of the legendary King Arthur. A lot to live up to but Camelot was quickly up to the task.

Aidan O'Brien unveiled him at Leopardstown on July 14 last year and he promptly got his maiden win out of the way with an easy victory going a mile. Knowing what he had, O'Brien then waited three months for the Group 1 Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster (don't think O'Brien didn't plan this out with the St. Leger in mind) where he won easily again and stamped himself as 2012's horse to beat in the classics.

Having already won his first two races going a mile, the Group 1 Two Thousand Guineas at Newmarket should have been a mortal lock but with bigger fish to fry down the road, being ready to go a straight mile while being trained to go much longer is no easy task. Camelot showed a champion's grit and determination when he struggled to a neck victory in the 18-horse field where he never had a moment's rest. If he was ever going to be beat by his generation, they missed their chance that day.

Now, on to the Group 1 Derby at Epsom, which he is impeccably bred for, which he turned that into a coronation when rallying from off the pace to win by three lengths in fast time on firm ground. He handled the elevation changes with aplomb in only his fourth career start and showed that it wasn't hype that was coming out of Ballydoyle but reality. The colt named Camelot was that good.

The Group 1 Irish Derby at The Curragh was an afterthought with most of his competition in hiding but he had to overcome extremely heavy ground to win by two easy lengths.

At this point, O'Brien had some major decisions to make. He could take the standard route and point for the Group 1 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe on the first Sunday in October. Or, he could do what is the unthinkable these days, and go for the Triple Crown in the Group 1 St. Leger Stakes going 1 3/4 miles at Doncaster.

In 1935, Omaha won the American Triple Crown. The same year, Bahram won the historic British Triple Crown. Since then, there have been eight winners of the American Triple Crown but only one in Great Britain, Nijinsky II in 1970.

We've been wringing our hands trying to figure out a way to inject some energy into our Triple Crown because it hasn't been won since Affirmed in 1978. But in Great Britain, you have to go back to 1970 for their last Triple Crown winner.

True to tradition, the British Triple Crown has not been changed. What has changed is the view that winning the St. Leger does nothing to help a colt's future stallion worth and might even hurt. Horses that can get both the one-mile Guineas and 1 1/2-mile Derby hardly ever go on to the St. Leger. It's a remarkable achievement to win all three considering the differences in the races, but it's not one that is rewarded in the commercial breeding market. A failure in the St. Leger takes away from the successes in the first two legs and the timing of the race makes it hard to come back and redeem oneself in the Arc three weeks later.

But, here comes Camelot, destined for greatness and with the opportunity to make history on Saturday at Doncaster. It will be a tough race for him as it is expected to be run at a strong gallop and the outrageously long homestretch will be a test of young Joseph O'Brien's patience since he will be far behind and can't move too soon.

The luxury that the Coolmore group has with their decision to take on the St. Leger is even with the downside of winning at 1 3/4 miles, Camelot's success as a stallion will be determined by them and the greatest stallion operation in racing today. Whatever negative there might be in winning at the marathon distance will be more than made up by the commercial breeding market knowing that Camelot will have a successful stud career at Coolmore.

Each Saturday and Sunday of the Saratoga race meet, I was on Capital OTB-TV in the upstate New York area broadcasting from the backstretch of Saratoga racecourse. I came on about 10 minutes before each race's post time and went over the race and offered betting advice.

While doing this, I got to listen to the NYRA paddock report before each race. Andy Serling and Jason Blewitt did their pre-race analysis and did it from a bettor's perspective. Pari-mutuel value is discussed in depth within the context of mostly trip handicapping. What makes it a compelling listen is that it is helpful no matter how you have handicapped the race yourself.

Novice or regular bettors can benefit from their analysis and they do not pull any punches when it comes to the public over-betting a favorite. Listening to anyone on TV requires a filter on your part to get what you want out of it without be swayed too much. If you ignore them, you miss out on the information and analysis they are providing. Believe me, when I finished up on Labor Day, champagne corks were popping up here by viewers tired of hearing "so and so is a half-sister to her third cousin."

Going on TV means immediately that some viewers will like you and some will not. Andy Serling can be a polarizing subject of discussion among racing fans but here's my question to them: who does it better? When someone comes along in a similar role that watches as many replays and analyzes races with the depth that he provides, then we can discuss it. Until then, Andy is the best there is at what he does.

Which brings us to Maggie Wolfendale, who follows Andy and Jason with her paddock report. And Maggie delivered big time at Saratoga. She had a fantastic meet with her impressions of the horses behavior and conditioning.

And, it makes sense with more than 25 percent of the races at Saratoga for maidens, her subjective impressions of young horses would have great value. When Al Stall's Sign walked into the paddock for the maiden special weight race on August 26, Maggie gushed about how fit and ready she looked even though she was in one of the tougher maiden races of the meet for juvenile fillies.

When Sign romped by 11 3/4 lengths in fast time at generous odds, it was vintage Maggie as everything she said about the filly's appearance turned out to be more than accurate. She's not always right and I filter out some her impressions regarding size being important going long (see Stay Thirsty and Alpha, the last two winners of the Grade 1 Travers Stakes going ten furlongs) but the more you listen to her, the better able you are benefit from what Maggie is saying. Like Andy and Jason, you know the effort is there.