An elite racehorse usually takes your attention by what you see, but for former superstar rider Brent Thomson, his interest in Russian Camelot was pricked by a comment made some time ago by his trainer Danny O’Brien.
He could barely believe O’Brien was considering taking the UK-born youngster back to England to contest the Epsom Derby. “That stopped me in my tracks a bit,” the four-time Cox Plate winner said on Monday.
“I thought, ‘gee, he must have some opinion of this horse’ as who’d want to go back there and take on the likes of Coolmore in those distance classics on their home turf?
“Now, I understand exactly why he made that comment. Russian Camelot is the real deal.”
Russian Camelot was booked to fly back to England in May for July’s Epsom Derby and he may well have made the epic journey if it wasn’t for the COVID-19 pandemic.
But once that dream was extinguished, another was formed and this spring’s Cox Plate and the Melbourne Cup became the new targets.
The Kiwi-born Thomson won four Cox Plates in five years in the 1970s, including that most famous one in 1979 aboard the ill-fated Dulcify, before he went to ride in Europe as a 24-year-old.
He didn’t just ride for anyone either. He was contracted to ride for the late high-profile owner Robert Sangster and during the stay, also rode horses for Queen Elizabeth 11 as he won group 1 races around the bulk of the 24 countries he would eventually ride in.
A staunch supporter of Australasian racing, he soon learned that Europe was the true home of staying thoroughbreds. So the idea that a trainer would buy a UK-bred galloper, race him in Australia and then send him back for the Epsom Derby – one of the world’s greatest races – seemed to defy logic.
But it all makes sense now after last Saturday at Flemington where Russian Camelot opened his spring campaign with an extraordinary performance to finish second after a wide run in a group 1 weight-for-age race at 1600 metres,
“Any horse that can go four starts and then win a group 1 race and then come back in the spring and at his sixth start run second at group 1 weight-for-age at a mile is something very special,” Thomson said.
“He’s a serious horse and with untapped ability and that just increases the excitement that follows him around.”
Like so many of his fans, Thomson is yet to lay eyes on Russian Camelot, but he said he still sensed something special as he watched him perform on Racing.com.
“He’s certainly got an aura about him,” he said. “I find it difficult to put something in front of him at this stage of the spring. It looks to be his for the taking in many respects.”
Russian Camelot is far removed from the Kiwi-bred Dulcify, who registered a fourth Cox Plate win for Thomson in 1979 to follow wins on Fury’s Order (1975), Family Of Man (1977) and So Called (1978). But Thomson can see some similarities.
“You get those horses that can be just too good for them and that might be the case again here,” he said.
“It doesn’t necessarily mean they stay 3200 metres but they win the races because they are just too good. It’s a pity we never saw what Dulcify could do at that trip but I wouldn’t be concerned at all about that (a Melbourne Cup shot).”
But can he win a Cox Plate?
“On his pedigree, he’s really got some great 2000 metre performances right through his family,” he said.
“It’s a fantastic pedigree and you’ve got to consider he’ll be the same age as was Adelaide when he won the Cox Plate for Coolmore so that’s (age) is not really a concern.”
Things can change quickly, especially during the intense heat of a spring carnival, but if Thomson could choose a Cox Plate mount today, what would it be?
“I’d like to be going around on his back. Yep, no doubt.”