It’s happened only once in the history of Thoroughbred racing, and that was 83 years ago, but much of the post-race reaction in the past few days clearly lays before us a mouthwatering prospect for this season: the colts’ Triple Crown could be won - on BOTH sides of the Atlantic.
Who is there to stop Justify adding the Preakness and Belmont Stakes to his magnificent Kentucky Derby score at Churchill Downs last Saturday? If he wins at Pimlico a week on Saturday, as he surely must, and he stays sound, how can he be denied at Belmont Park on June 9?
A week before that, meanwhile, the Epsom Derby is surely Saxon Warrior’s for the taking after his dominant display in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket last Saturday (see video below). The big question after that would be, how badly do Coolmore want to win the British Triple Crown? All the indications after Newmarket were that they could be pretty keen to send the son of Deep Impact for the third and final leg, the St Leger, over a mile and threequarters at Doncaster in September, and he would be long odds-on to oblige.
“The Triple Crown has to be on our minds,” trainer Aidan O’Brien said the day after the race. “If he wins the Derby, that would be the obvious thing to do, but I haven’t been told yet.”
It was back in 1935 that Belair Stud’s Omaha became only the third horse to win what was by then firmly established as the U.S. Triple Crown. He was the first of six horses to take the ultimate honour in the next 13 seasons, but then it became obvious it was not quite as easy as it had appeared, and it was another quarter of a century before Secretariat was to win all three American classics. Seattle Slew and Affirmed followed quickly (1977 and 78) but then it was 37 years before American Pharoah gave the public what they so craved.
Maybe it’s because the races are packed into a frenetic five-week period played out under such scrutiny, but the U.S. Triple Crown has remained the holy grail of American racing for 100 years (it was first won in 1919, by Sir Barton). The British version, on the other hand, is a barely remembered myth, almost lost in the mists of time, and it no longer pricks the consciousness of the non-racing public.
Omaha’s success in 1935 was followed three months later when the then Aga Khan’s Bahram took the St Leger to win the Triple Crown in Britain. He was the 14th British Triple Crown winner in 82 years, and his victory ended what probably seemed something of a drought at the time but was in fact just 17 years.
Winning the British Triple Crown was still a big deal back then. It was achievable, a dream for connections. But the country had to wait 35 years until the next one came around. Nijinsky’s 1970 success revived the concept for a while, but fashions in breeding made seeing a Triple Crown winner more and more unlikely as the years rolled by.
Nobody, it seemed, was even bothered about going for it anymore. And then came Camelot!
Six years ago, Coolmore’s son of Montjeu won the first two legs and went to Doncaster a 2/5 favourite to become the first horse since Nijinsky to land the Triple Crown. After a troubled run, he failed to haul back Godolphin’s 25/1 outsider Encke.
The Camelot experience may be a cloud hanging over Coolmore’s thinking now.
The colt had followed up his Epsom success by winning the Irish Derby after an unexpectedly sapping duel in the mud with Born To Sea, a half-brother to both Galileo and Sea The Stars. Thereafter he was trained exclusively for the St Leger rather than the big glamour targets of the second half of the European season, like the King George, the Juddmonte International, the Irish Champion Stakes and the Arc. After his Leger defeat, he did run in the Arc - he started favourite - but it was something of an afterthought, the ground was very heavy, and Camelot could do no better than seventh.
Did Camelot miss the boat?
The horse was kept in training at four in a bid to show the world that he really was the star everyone had assumed he was before Doncaster, but the expected zip was missing. He was packed off to stud after three runs.
Now, of course, Camelot is one of the most promising second-season stallions around - he is #279 in the TRC Global Sires’ Rankings - and he may turn out to be outstanding in that sphere, but the question will always remain: did he miss the boat, and did his reputation as a racehorse suffer consequently, by going for the Leger?
He was only the third runner since Nijinsky to even have the opportunity of winning the Triple Crown. Nashwan (1989) and Sea The Stars (2009) were the only horses in the meantime to win both the Guineas and the Derby, but other (shorter) big races later in the season were more of a lure for both sets of connections than the possibility of winning the Triple Crown, and the Leger was duly by-passed.
After Camelot’s defeat, many observers lamented that it may never again be attempted. Would a Triple Crown actually increase a young stallion’s appeal - many breeders regard victory over 14 furlongs as something of a negative as it is, whereas a Juddmonte International or an Irish or British Champion (all over around a mile and a quarter) may be of more help, even if the colt has already proved himself top class at a mile.
But history and tradition are important to Coolmore boss John Magnier, and Saxon Warrior is already sure to be valuable as a sire - no matter what happens now - because of who his father is. Deep Impact has been Japan’s dominant stallion for years, and the son of the breed-shaping Sunday Silence represents probably the most important Northern Dancer-free turf bloodline on the planet.
Galileo, of course, himself a grandson of Northern Dancer, has been Coolmore’s mightiest asset for a long time, but perhaps now that title could have passed to his daughters. The operation’s band of broodmares, very many of them Galileos (including Maybe, dam of Saxon Warrior), is a treasure chest of barely imaginable riches, but Coolmore can unlock that wealth only if they can hook them up with suitable mates. War Front and the late Scat Daddy are among those tried with some success, but Deep Impact may have been the best answer all along.
You can be sure after Saturday that the number of Coolmore mares heading to Japan for breeding will not diminish anytime soon. And, with this kind of supply line, you can be just as sure that Coolmore will take some shifting from their position on top of the racing world.
Incidentally, should Saxon Warrior go to Doncaster in September with the Triple Crown on the line, he will be out to follow in his father’s footsteps - Deep Impact won the Japanese Triple Crown in 2005.
Of course, neither the 2000 Guineas nor the Kentucky Derby did anything to disrupt the world order in the TRC Global Rankings.
Justify and Saxon Warrior were assessed by Racing Post Ratings as both having run to a mark of 123 - well clear as the best performances of the week but probably failing to do justice to the levels both of them are likely to show on the racetrack in due course.
Indeed, both have superhorse profiles, particularly Justify, who ran the fastest first split by any winner in the history of the Kentucky Derby (see video above).
Saxon Warrior, meanwhile, showed a degree of pace at Newmarket some may have doubted existed after his sturdy Group-race wins at two. The reason is obvious: as a son of Deep Impact, he was always likely to be seen to best effect on fast ground, and Saturday was the first time since his maiden victory that he’d raced on anything better than soft.
There is no change at the top of the TRC trainers’ standings - Aidan O’Brien stays firmly #1, and Bob Baffert consolidates his place at #2. Justify’s rider, Mike Smith, strengthens is position as world #4 jockey, while Saxon’s partner, Donnacha O’Brien, the youngest rider in the TRC top 500, climbs five places to #66 following a five-point gain week on week.
Justify’s sire, Scat Daddy, becomes a new world #5, gaining six points and one place into a tie with Frankel.
Deep Impact, who gained five points, is world #3, behind just Galileo and Dubawi (just three points separate those two at the top). Saxon Warrior, however, wasn’t even the Japanese stallion’s biggest earner last week. That honour went to his other G1 scorer of the period, Keiai Nautique (a 3-year-old colt out of a Smarty Jones mare), whose win in the NHK Mile Cup was worth nearly three times the £283,550 Saxon Warrior earned for winning the 2000 Guineas.
Deep Impact was, of course, world #1 for 50 weeks in total, spread over 2014-2017. Maybe he is destined to return there with the growing support of Coolmore’s Galileo mares over the next few years.