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'To havea h orse who isb eing mentioned in the samec ontext asN ijinsky- it's unbelievable' In a rare interview, Derrick Smith tells Julian Muscat of the good fortune that has taken him from being a Ladbrokes employee to part-owner of a potential Triple Crown winner.

DERRICK SMITH can barely sit still. His phone resembles a set of comfort beads: he fingers it constantly. Then he remembers Camelot was due to work earlier that morning and checks his phone for missed calls. He has been engulfed by Triple Crown fever.

"I dread it when my phone rings and the caller's identity is withheld," Smith says. "That usually means it is Aidan [O'Brien], and he only tends to ring with bad news."

The silence is golden. It is four days before the Ladbrokes St Leger and Smith has just returned from a trip to see his grandchildren in Australia. He finds Camelot's bid for lasting recognition splashed all over the newspapers. He devours every word.

"Sometimes you have to pinch yourself," he says. "For someone who has come from where I have to be in this position; jeepers creepers."

It has been a road to riches for Smith - or "rags to riches", as he puts it after the eponymous Belmont Stakes winner he shared with Michael Tabor. Born in Manchester and raised in Streatham, south London, he attributes much of his remarkable life to luck.

After passing through his grammar school in 1964 he went to the annual gathering of school prefects in the local pub and met a friend who'd left the previous year.

"He had started working for Ladbrokes," Smith, 68, recalls. "They told him he would be guaranteed a salary of pounds 1,000 after three years, which is what a policeman earned in those days. But after his first year he was on pounds 1,500 and he had a Mini. I thought: 'I'll have a go at this'.

"I didn't even know what Ladbrokes was," he continues. "I didn't know about bookmakers or betting shops. My father was an office manager with JA Crabtree & Co and he wasn't very happy about it."

As it happened, the trainee settler entered the business just as Ladbrokes linchpin Cyril Stein belatedly realised the potential of high-street betting shops, which were legalised in 1961. "I was in the right place at the right time," Smith says.

On he progressed to the point when, come Nijinsky's Triple Crown bid in 1970, he was overseeing 15 betting shops in Southampton. "The St Leger was obviously a big deal," he relates.

"I must confess I can't remember whether I heard the race commentary because I was constantly moving between the shops. I was 26 then, and now I'm involved with a horse who is being mentioned in the same context as Nijinsky. It's unbelievable. It makes me proud to read about it."

Smith put himelf in that position when he left Ladbrokes, his sole employer, after 24 years in 1988. He punted for four years while acting as a property consultant, which gave him sufficient insight to propel him from well-off into the rich list's upper echelons when he moved to Barbados in 1992.

That, too, happened by chance. "We [he and his wife, Gay] wanted to move to the Bahamas, where we'd been for a holiday, but in the end we didn't really like it," Smith relates.

"We looked at some other places, like the Cayman Islands, and at that stage I would have been happy enough to return home to live in England. Then I said to Gay: 'The lads are out in Barbados for Christmas; let's go and see them'."

The lads, as it turned out, were John Magnier and Michael Tabor, who were resting up on an island they would subsequently call home for the winter. It was Gay who suggested they should follow suit.

"It was the right place to be," Smith says. "The property market had been in a slump and it suddenly took off. It became my main line of business."

Smith also turned to the currency markets, which he played successfully, although he says his business alliances with Joe Lewis, the Londonborn financier, are overplayed by the media. "I know Joe but I only went in with him a couple of times," he relates. "I always had my own thing going, sometimes with other people."

That Christmas in Barbados proved seminal. Smith entered into property ventures with Magnier, Tabor and JP McManus, among them buying the island's renowned Sandy Lane Hotel, but he also resurrected an arms-length friendship with Tabor. That was forged when the pair stalked Britain's betting rings throughout the 1980s, when Smith was Ladbrokes' racecourse representative.

"We didn't take Michael's bets," Smith recalls with a smile. "Everyone knew he was a hot cookie, wasn't he? He was extremely well informed and I kind of tried at times to tap into his knowledge. I got to know him better when he came down to the rails to stand bets himself as Arthur Prince."

Their Barbados reunion came when Tabor had just sold his Arthur Prince chain for pounds 27 million. He spent a small part of it on horses trained in the US and one of them, Thunder Gulch, won the following year's Kentucky Derby. It wasn't long before Smith joined Tabor in partnership to race Grade 1 winners Lion Heart, Pomeroy and Sense Of Style from Patrick Biancone's New York stable in the middle of the last decade.

Those successes coincided with Smith entering the annual Coolmore yearling equation, which until then was Magnier and Tabor's domain. But the seeds of that were sown in the 2002 Derby, which Smith watched from the Coolmore box. It was the year High Chaparral beat Hawk Wing, the pair of them 12 lengths clear. It was domination of a kind rarely seen at Epsom, and Smith was transfixed.

"The two [Aidan O'Brien] stablemates were fighting it out and everyone got very excited," Smith recalls. "I didn't think I had ego, and still don't, but I thought: 'This is unbelievable; I now know what it's all about with these guys.' That triggered it off. I said to myself: 'You're getting older; why not get involved'?" As he relives the moment, Smith's open features beam brightly. The memory sets him aglow as he relates the subsequent triumphs: partownership of 25 Classic wins and a Group 1 haul that reached a century when Camelot waltzed away with the Derby to set up his Triple Crown bid.

Since then the tally has reached 106, and if, by some seismic upset, Camelot fails to advance it tomorrow, there is Cristoforo Colombo to follow in the Vincent O'Brien Stakes at the Curragh a few hours later.

Smith's hand as an equal partner is that strong, although defeat for Camelot is something he contemplates with a grimace. "Everyone says the St Leger is a foregone conclusion but I don't think it is," he says. "Remember, Camelot had the speed to win a Guineas."

That Camelot is in this exalted position is down to Magnier. "John first brought up the Triple Crown soon after Christmas in Barbados," Smith recalls. "I must admit if it was down to me I'd probably have chosen the Derrinstown Derby Trial and on to Epsom, but John pushed for it.

"He is the commercial man of the operation, and after what happened to St Nicholas Abbey in the Guineas two years ago I thought we must have a special horse, because John wanted him to do a special thing."

VICTORY for Camelot would elevate Smith into unique territory as the part-owner of all five British Classic winners in 2012. He is also tickled pink that Camelot runs in his purple and white silks. "I'd had four runners-up in the Derby," he relates. "We won the race with Pour Moi last year, and while we are all for one and one for all, there is something extra when it happens in your own colours."

It's a far cry from his original racing ambition to win the Triumph Hurdle, which he achieved with Spectroscope in 2003. Yet there is nothing magic about the carpet he rides. "John [Magnier] has fantastic people around him and he never stops asking them questions," Smith says. "But at the end of the day, if you had to pick one man, he is probably the best judge.

"All of us benefit from the time John spent with Vincent O'Brien [who trained Nijinsky at Ballydoyle]. Sometimes Sue [Magnier's wife] will say something about her father and John will pick it up and tell us about the way Vincent did things. There's plenty of pedigree there."

Whether Camelot follows Nijinsky's hoofprints to Paris after Doncaster remains to be seen. "Since Epsom it has all been about this one race, but I'm also wondering what will happen afterwards," he says.

"Personally I would like him to stay in training because I like to see the horses run. Michael is the same, and I think John is more like that now too. It will be John's call, but he did say after the Derby that Camelot wouldn't have gone for the Leger years ago. His approach to racing has changed a bit."

It's a nice dilemma to have. Either way, it matters to Smith that he stands at the gates of racing folklore. Or to be more accurate, it matters because one day his grandchildren will read of Camelot's deeds. He remains at heart an old-fashioned family man who has not forgotten his roots.

After the Derby he was chuffed to receive a hand-written letter from Toby Balding, who trained Stubbington Green, the first horse Smith had in training in the late 1960s. And his accrued wealth seems not to have coloured his take on life.

"Sometimes my grandchildren tell me what they want to do when they grow up and I say: 'Look, being successful is not about how much money you accumulate.' People might think that, but what matters is the type of person you are. I try to drum that into them: do things for people when you can, help when you can."

The odds are they will be reminded of Camelot's Triple Crown long after Smith has gone. From his perspective, he would love to collect the trophy from Mike Dillon, his long-time friend at Ladbrokes, the race sponsors. Most of all, however, he has been gripped by the build-up in a way he did not quite foresee at the start of the season.

"Reading all about it this week has really brought it home to me," he says. "I'm involved with a horse who could still be talked about in 50 years' time, as they talk about Njinisky today. I can't believe how lucky I am."

And with that, he glances down at his silent telephone amd smiles the contented smile of the cat with the cream.

BEFOREC AMELOT DerrickSmith 'sf ivebestm omentsinr acing RAGST O RICHES, Belmont Stakes, 2007 It was the first time my oldest grandchildren, who live in America, had been racing. Life is about sharing things with family and friends, so I was delighted they were there to see it. It was also a fantastic finish, with our filly just beating Curlin in a photo after a huge fight.

HURRICANER UN, Prixd e l'Arc deT riomphe,2 005 He'd won the Irish Derby, but before that I was in hospital in America when John Magnier called to tell me we'd done the deal to buy the horse. It was a very expensive deal for me and I remember swallowing and thinking: "Well, why not? There's more to life." It made winning that Arc special.

GEORGE WASHINGTON, 2,000G uineas,2 006 George was one of those rare and exciting horses to watch, with his unbelievable acceleration. He was such a character. We always felt he was top class and his name reflected that. We felt sure George would run well at Newmarket but I wasn't as confident as I was before Camelot won the Derby. His work before Epsom was out of this world.

FAMEA NDG LORY, Ascot GoldC up, 2011 He fulfilled the first of my two With the Queen and co-owner Fitri Hay after Fame And Glory's Ascot Gold Cup success ambitions in racing by winning this race, because as a part-owner, my name went up on the wooden boards of Gold Cup winners that hang on the walls either side of the entrance to the paddock [from the pre-parade ring]. It's something for my grandchilden to see in the years ahead.

MEETING THE QUEEN To be presented to her in the royal box for two years running after winning the Derby [with Pour Moi and Camelot] is surreal for someone like me, and where I came from. It's not just a handshake, there's a conversation about winning the race and I will always treasure that. What a lady she is.


(Top) Derrick Smith with "the lads" John Magnier (left) and Michael Tabor; deep in thought with his son Paul (left) and Aidan O'Brien
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Sep 14, 2012
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