AIDAN O’BRIEN’S Camelot has scared away much of the potential opposition in Saturday’s Derby, with only eight rivals taking on the odds-on favourite — the smallest field in over a century.
In 1907, Orby prevailed in a field of nine to become the first Irish-trained winner of the blue riband event.
Among the crowd that day was King Edward VII and maintaining the Derby’s regal ties, Saturday’s running will be witnessed by his great grand-daughter, Queen Elizabeth II, on her Diamond Jubilee anniversary weekend.
The blue-blooded Camelot, by Montjeu out of a Kingmambo mare, laid down his claims for glory around Epsom’s demanding undulating contours when he pounced late to claim the English 2,000 Guineas.
That success at Newmarket at the beginning of May had ‘Derby’ written all over it, such was the way he stayed on at the death after making up acres of ground to scythe his way through the pack under O’Brien’s teenage son, Joseph.
O’Brien junior is once again entrusted with the ride here in a test that will define Camelot’s career, with success likely to earn his connections tens of millions when he eventually retires to stud.
He is joined in his bid to supply his trainer with a third Derby — after Galileo in 2001 and High Chaparral the following year — by stable-mate Astrology, with British jockey’s championship leader Ryan Moore in the saddle.
O’Brien turns up at Epsom this weekend with an enviably strong hand, for aside from the Derby, he is also responsible for Maybe in Friday’s Oaks, and Coronation Cup favourite St Nicholas Abbey 24 hours later.
One bookmaker is offering odds of only 4-1 on O’Brien cleaning up in the weekend’s big three races.
But as the master Irish handler is only too aware, having saddled 39 runners since High Chaparral without hitting the Derby bullseye, Epsom has a nasty habit of deflating even the loftiest reputations.
“We’re used to coming home very humbled,” O’Brien told The Daily Telegraph last month. “All I can do is my best and sometimes that’s not always enough.”
He described Camelot as “almost too good to be true”.
“His movement is perfection,” O’Brien explained.
He’s been a fairytale all along. We all want him to make it, it’s what we live every day for and when a horse like this comes along, it’s very easy for things to go wrong. When a horse like this comes along, you want him to take his exams and pass them.
The home defence attempting to deny O’Brien father and son is spearheaded by Bonfire, winner of the recognised Derby trial the Dante Stakes at York, and Main Sequence.
The last-named, trained by David Lanigan, secured his ticket for Epsom with victory in the Lingfield Trial.
He is owned by the Niarchos family, for whom this is a first Derby runner for over 20 years.
“Hector Protector in 1991, who was fourth to Generous, was the last time we had a runner and I think that probably shows how difficult it is to find a suitable horse for Epsom,” said the Niarchos family’s racing manager, Alan Cooper.
The 2012 Derby cast is completed by Chester Vase-winner Mickdaam, a first Derby runner for trainer Richard Fahey, Cavaleiro, ridden by Hayley Turner, only the second woman jockey to tackle the Derby, Minimise Risk, Rugged Cross and Thought Worthy.