John Gosden has labelled this year’s Coral-Eclipse Stakes at Sandown a race the purists will enjoy as he prepares his globetrotting star Mishriff to face just three rivals.
Wins at the highest level in France and Dubai, plus a valuable race on dirt in Saudi Arabia, have propelled Mishriff from fairly modest beginnings into one of the highest-rated thoroughbreds on the planet.
His presence, along with that of William Haggas’ Addeybb, who is actually 3lb his superior on British figures, and Aidan O’Brien’s French Guineas and Derby winner St Mark’s Basilica means despite the small field, the 10-furlong contest will answer plenty of questions.
Gosden feels the size of the field is understandable, too, given the quality of the big three and the race’s proximity to Royal Ascot.
“He’s not the highest-rated horse, Addeybb is rated 3lb higher officially. I know it’s an elitist field but what people have to realise is that it’s a lot of money to enter these races, a lot of money to stay in at the forfeit stage and it’s a lot of money to confirm,” he said.
“When you have the likes of the front three here, they are not easy to take on so I think a lot of people take that viewpoint. Another thing for those criticising the small field to remember is the Prince of Wales’s was only 16 days ago and I know from experience that it’s very tough to come here after that.
“For the purists this is the type of race they enjoy – and you’ll probably find the outsider, El Drama, will come and do the lot of them!”
Since racing resumed in June last year, Mishriff has raced six times, winning all bar the Champion Stakes in October on ground Gosden described as “diabolical”.
“I don’t want to be critical, but the ground at Ascot on Champions Day was diabolical. I had a lot disappoint and so did Aidan (O’Brien),” said Gosden.
“It’s no one’s fault, but it was bottomless. We used the inner track there once very successfully and when it gets very soft it should be an option.”
It did not stop Addeybb, who relished the testing going, but conditions are set to be a fair bit quicker this weekend.
“I’ve got tons of respect for Addeybb, I think he’s a wonderful horse. He’s won a Champion Stakes, Grade Ones in Sydney and there is talk of some rain on Saturday afternoon. He would enjoy that, we’d be happier on anything from good to firm to good to soft,” said Gosden.
“Of course then you have the big question, in this race you have the best mile-and-a-quarter three-year-old colt in Europe running (St Mark’s Basilica). He’s won a Dewhurst, a French Guineas and he’s gone and won a Prix du Jockey Club the same as Mishriff, so it’s the ultimate test of the three-year-old against his elders.
“Interestingly I always remember Lester (Piggott) saying to me the three-year-olds always have the advantage in the Eclipse with the weight-for-age. I think it has changed 1lb since then. I’ve never been afraid to run three-year-olds in this, nor for the matter the King George.
“Roaring Lion and Golden Horn were three when they won it (the Eclipse) and took advantage of the weight, Enable was coming back off a long lay off when she beat her old friend Magical and last year ran against Ghaiyyath, so to that extent it is always demanding, but Mishriff is a lovely horse and fits in with that type.
“We’re very happy with him going in, but we’re perfectly aware of the task at hand.”
Former champion apprentice jockey David Egan rides in his role as retained jockey to owner Prince Faisal, although he missed the French victories through suspension and quarantine complications and was overlooked in favour of Frankie Dettori for the Champion Stakes. He was on board in Riyadh and Meydan, though.
“David has ridden him very well, he pops up on him not long before his races, he knows him well. He’s a classy guy, a good rider, a good horseman and he’s very intelligent with it,” said Gosden.”
While he has a win on dirt to his name, Gosden is not currently considering the Breeders’ Cup due to it being held at Del Mar this year.
“I think he needs to win a Group One here. He’s done it in France, he’s done it in the Middle East, it would be nice if he could do it in the UK,” said Gosden.
“I’m not thinking of the Breeders’ Cup for him, though, he’s more of a Belmont horse than Del Mar – the straight is very short at Del Mar, probably the shortest in the world for a Grade One track.
“He’s a horse who just puts his head down and gallops strongly, can handle any ground, he has a clawing action where he really reaches for the ground which helps (on dirt) to a degree. He seems to be comfortable on anything, it’s probably mental determination rather than anything else.
“I think his versatility is down to his action and his attitude.”