Jockey Damien Oliver was able to look over his shoulder twice as Russian Camelot sped away from the chasing field in a 1400m race at Pakenham in April, winning by an eye-catching seven-lengths.
It was a performance which thrust the three-year-old to the top of betting for the Group 1 SA Derby, a 2500m race Russian Camelot will tackle at Morphettville having not run since that barnstorming win.
But talk of “setbacks” doesn’t wash with trainer Danny O’Brien, despite having been forced to scratch the youngster from a race at Flemington with a minor throat infection and adverse blood count at the start of May.
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Rival trainer Leon Macdonald, who has the now $2.90 TAB race favourite Dalasan, said Russian Camelot would “have to be very good to win” given the interrupted path to Morphettville, the European-born colt’s first start beyond 1800m, and only his fifth career race.
O’Brien chuckled at that idea and instead said Russian Camelot, who arrived in Adelaide on Friday morning, couldn’t be fitter, happier or more ready to go for a race he was bred to win.
“We scratched him from a race a couple of weeks ago with a little bit of a red throat, I wouldn’t call that a setback,” O’Brien told the Herald Sun.
“We couldn’t be happier with how the horse is.
“The way we train the horses, it’s the 12 months before that gets them over the 2500m, not the week or two before the race.
“We’re never really concerned about what happens in the last couple of weeks.
“He had a great trial last Friday on a beautiful surface on the course-proper at Flemington (with Oliver on board).
“He’s bred to run 2500m and we can’t have the horse any fitter. I don’t see any problems with him running the trip.”
O’Brien conceded it was a “strong” edition of the SA Derby, with Victorian Derby winner Warning ($4) and Dalasan looming as the horses Russian Camelot will have to beat.
As a European three-year-old, Russian Camelot is younger than the rest of the field and has just four race starts, compared to Dalasan’s 14 and Warning’s 12.
That’s not lost on O’Brien, but hasn’t dented his confidence either.
“We understand it’s a big task. There are two things for me, the age gap and the fact he has only raced four times. They are the things he is going to have to overcome,” O’Brien said.
“But we’re very pleased with him. He travelled well, arrived fresh and happy and ready to go to the races.”
O’Brien has spoken to jockey John Allen a number of times about the horse since he relocated to Adelaide three weeks ago to satisfy self-isolation requirements.
Oliver, who has ridden Russian Camelot to his two wins but decided against going to Adelaide because of the COVID-19 restrictions, has also been in contact with his fellow hoop to ensure every planning box was ticked.
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COULD YOUNG CRUSADER BECOME THE NEXT GREY FLASH?
Good horses have been plentiful for leading owner Rupert Legh over the years.
But it’s the special ones like Chautauqua who really stand out and Legh believes young sprinter Masked Crusader could be another special horse.
Masked Crusader is a short-priced $1.80 TAB favourite in a Benchmark 78 (1200m) at Randwick on Saturday, having travelled north on the back of a first-up victory at Bendigo last month.
It was a second victory from three career starts for the three-year-old son of Toronado, who “trotted in” for a four-length win at Caulfield last December, then negotiated trouble before easily gobbling up his opposition in the closing stages last time out.
Legh, who has been caught up in the grey flash’s new career as a showhorse, didn’t want to label Masked Crusader the next Chautauqua, but said he certainly could be special.
“He’s a really exciting young horse — I think he’s the next up-and-coming sprint star,” he said.
“We’ve got a serious opinion of him.
“It’s really early at this stage, he’s only had three starts, but all we know is he’s got a lot of ability.
“Will we find another Chautauqua? You never say never, but Masked Crusader is a really serious racehorse.”
Chautauqua’s career, which included six Group 1 wins and more than $5 million in prizemoney, ended when he continually refused to jump from the barriers in trials.
He was retired by Legh and his owners and is now primed to be a star showhorse and feature in equestrian competitions, a career he has taken to.
“I’ve been out to see him and he is the most loved horse I have ever seen,” Legh said.
“He’s happy, healthy and just loving the new environment.”
“It’s another great chapter in his extraordinary life so far.”