The build-up for Saturday’s Coral-Eclipse at Sandown continues, and once again the weather is expected to play a leading role.
Rain remains key to just who turns up for the Group 1, with the ground at present officially good to soft on the round course. Clerk of the course Andrew Cooper is hoping that local forecasts are accurate, and that by Saturday the ground will have dried further.
When interviewed yesterday Cooper said: “I think we continue to improve here. In terms of a going report, at the moment I've left the round course as good to soft as that is what it was when I walked it this morning. Since then we have had some patchy drizzle, but no more than that. It is a pretty overcast day and I am not anticipating us getting a great deal in terms of rain. It doesn't look like it is going to be as soft as we thought earlier in the week based on where we were and the forecast we have been given. I suspect it might be on the slow side of good. That is looking the likely outcome.”
Such talk gives hope that Time Test will take his place in the line-up, having missed previous engagements due to the ground. His trainer Roger Charlton was in no mood to speculate yesterday, when saying: “It's all been said before about why he hasn't run and people can read into what they like, but it is frustrating. Let's wait until Saturday to see what the ground is like as there is no point guessing. It could be an exciting clash with The Gurkha, but I am not going to make any bold statements about it.”
Many believe that softer ground would suit race favourite The Gurkha, though Aidan O’Brien appeared to dispel that myth when interviewed on Tuesday, saying: “The Gurkha worked this morning and went nicely. It's very possible that he will run and we'll probably make a decision tomorrow. Soft ground isn't ideal for him but he does have form on it.”
And yesterday O’Brien confirmed his French Guineas winner an intended runner on Saturday, saying: “The plan is to declare The Gurkha in the morning and to run him in the Eclipse as long as the ground continues to go the right way.”
The Gurkha did show at Royal Ascot that he copes well with more testing conditions when chasing home Galileo Gold in the St James’s Palace Stakes. He also impressed back in April, when scooting to victory in a heavy ground maiden at Navan. All evidence points to him being less inconvenienced than several other Coral-Eclipse contenders, should Sandown’s ground remain ‘tacky’ in 48 hours.
Clive Cox will be hoping that further showers hit the Esher track, providing his fast improving colt My Dream Boat, with his optimum conditions. He caused a huge upset in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at the royal meeting, when coping best of all with the testing ground. Cox spoke of his Group 1 hero on Tuesday, saying: “He's at home with ease in the ground, there's no doubt about it, but what he also has is an air of quality - he's confirmed that he can change gear on that ground. He's not just a mudlark but he's more effective with ease in the ground than on too firm a surface.”
With Godolphin flying at the moment it came as no surprise when they decided to supplement Hawkbill for the event, after his impressive win at Royal Ascot in the Tercentenary Stakes. Clearly this is a further step up the ladder as regards quality of race, but his trainer Charlie Appleby appears confident his horse is going the right way, saying: “We're very happy with the way he has come out of Royal Ascot and the more racing experience he gets the more he’s maturing. He'll like conditions as he's proven on soft ground and is a forward going horse so the track will suit as well. We're taking on the older horses and high-class three-year-olds, but Hawkbill won’t be out of place in the line-up.”
The three-year-olds taking on older horses is always an intriguing aspect of this prestigious race. Let’s hope that all the leading contenders arrive at the start, for what should be a rousing renewal.