It’s the prestigious Coral-Eclipse at Sandown on Saturday, with the eagerly anticipated clash of the generations.
One of the truly great Flat races, the Eclipse roll of honour bears the names of some of the sports heroes. In recent times, three-year-olds Golden Horn and Sea The Stars captured the Sandown feature. The sensational Dancing Brave took this en-route to his Arc success in 1986. And in the early 1970s, racing legends Mill Reef and Brigadier Gerard also captured this celebrated event.
Not only does the Eclipse pitch three-year-olds against their elders, but we have the added intrigue of Guineas and Derby runners clashing at an intermediate trip. The question of whether a classy miler can see-out those extra two furlongs, against high-class thoroughbreds proven over the Derby trip, is a thrilling conundrum. Many have failed, despite a pedigree that suggested otherwise. Saturday’s renewal poses just such questions from a field of nine.
Barney Roy is potentially the star of the show. Runner-up in the Guineas at Newmarket, when struggling to cope with the dip, he made amends when finishing powerfully to land the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot. He’s a son of Excelebration, out of a Galileo mare, giving hope that a step-up in trip will not unduly inconvenience him. It was noticeable at just how strongly he finished off the race last time, and that performance would have influenced the decision in heading here.
He had finished several places ahead of Eminent in the Newmarket Classic, with that rival going on to finish a close fourth in the Derby at Epsom. Though Hannon’s colt does remain very inexperienced, with just four runs to his name, this does leave him open to plenty of improvement, and he looks to be the class act in the race.
Eminent is clearly a talented colt, and was a little unlucky in the Derby, when finding himself short of room on a couple of occasions. Like Barney, he also has just the four career starts, and may well ‘come-on’ again from his Epsom effort. A powerful looking son of Frankel, he has no stamina doubts following that Epsom run, and indeed this mid-trip may prove his optimum. His trainer Martyn Meade believes that he has ‘strengthened up’ since the Derby, and he looks a leading contender.
Aidan O’Brien came close with The Gurkha 12 months ago, and last took the event in 2011 with So You Think. Cliffs Of Moher arrives having been mugged late-on in the Derby by stable companion Wings Of Eagles. The Epsom form has been knocked by many, yet horses coming out of the race have kept winning. This fella is another lightly raced three-year-old, and looks closely matched with Eminent. The pair made a similar run at Epsom, and had Meade’s colt not been squeezed up just inside the two-furlong mark, they may well have been head to head at the line. I doubt Cliffs Of Moher has the gears of Barney Roy, but he’ll certainly see-out the trip strongly.
With the trio of three-year-olds at the head of the market, the older brigade is led by the Royal Ascot Prince Of Wales’s second and third place pair. Roger Charlton took the Eclipse in 2013 with five-year-old Al Kazeem, and has one with a very similar profile in Decorated Knight. Both won the Tattersalls Gold Cup in Ireland, though AK followed up with victory at Royal Ascot, whilst Decorated Knight was unable to overhaul Highland Reel in this year’s race. This is undoubtedly his trip, and though he may lack the ‘wow’ factor, he’s a fast improving sort with a huge chance.
If we give Charlton’s charge a chance, then we must consider Ulysses. The pair crossed the line in unison at Ascot, and Sir Michael Stoute’s contender had previously won the Gordon Richards Stakes at Sandown, a race won by Al Kazeem in 2013. Stoute has won this race five times, and this improving sort by Galileo looks to be another leading contender. Should the youngsters fail to impress, both he and Decorated Knight look best placed to take advantage.
This is rarely a race for an upset, with only Mukhadram winning at double-figure odds in the past 10 years. Seven of those wins have gone to those at 4s and under, with favourites accounting for five victories.
The leading five appear to have it between them, it’s merely a question of whether the Classic generation are up to scratch. I’d be surprised if one of them isn’t too good for the ‘old boys’, and it’s Barney Roy that I’ll be siding with. Cliffs Of Moher looks the main danger, with Ulysses capable of further improvement to prove best of the oldies. Should Barney win well, Godolphin would suddenly find themselves in a dominant position, having high-class Ribchester at a mile and BR at 10 furlongs. This could prove a huge day for the ‘boys in blue’.
Best of luck to all those having a punt.