For many Flat racing fans, the Classic generation taking on their elders is when the season truly begins.
Until now the youngsters have battled between themselves, but on Saturday the Coral-Eclipse run at one mile and two furlongs, will go some way towards telling us just how good these kids are. To add to the intrigue, we have Epsom Derby runner-up, Cliffs Of Moher, stepping back in trip, and 2000 Guineas runner-up Barney Roy, stepping up. The pair take on the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes runner-up Decorated Knight. Roger Charlton’s five-year-old looks something of a specialist at the trip, having won the Tattersalls Gold Cup back in May.
The Eclipse roll of honour paints a pretty even picture, with the regards to the age of winners. A third of the last dozen renewals has gone to three-year-olds, with the remainder shared between those aged four and five. Only one horse has won from outside this age-range, and that was in the first running back in 1886, when six-year-old Bendigo claimed victory in Britain’s richest ever race.
The Eclipse has always been a classy affair, regularly attracting the best middle-distance runners, and often proving the first mouth-watering clash of the ages. Last year’s renewal provided something of an upset, when French Guineas winner, The Gurkha, lost out to Hawkbill in a battle of the three-year-olds. Despite the Ballydoyle runner being a son of Galileo, he appeared to be outstayed by the Godolphin colt in a pulsating finish.
A year earlier, getting the trip was never going to be a problem for Epsom Derby hero Golden Horn. Ridden from the front by Frankie Dettori, he was pestered by the Grey Gatsby throughout, but finished the race powerfully to pull clear in the final furlong. His subsequent exploits marked him down as one of the modern greats, with a perfect blend of speed and stamina.
Sea The Stars took the Eclipse of 2009, during an unblemished three-year-old campaign. He opened the season with victory at Newmarket in the 2000 Guineas, and then proved his stamina by winning the Derby at Epsom, defeating Fame And Glory. Understandably sent off a short-priced favourite for the Eclipse, he was made to work hard for victory by another three-year-old, in Ballydoyle’s Rip Van Winkle. The Juddmonte International and the Irish Champion followed, before the perfect season was completed with success in the Arc. Six Group 1s in six months is testament to the extraordinary talent of Sea The Stars.
Aidan O’Brien has captured the race five times since the turn of the century, including a trio of three-year-old victories. Oratorio in 2005 and Hawk Wing in 2002 were both talented colts, but in 2000 it was the mighty Giant’s Causeway that captured Sandown’s showpiece.
Runner-up in both the English and Irish Guineas, he proved to be sensational at 10 furlongs. His victory over Kalanisi in the Eclipse was quite incredible, having looked beaten 100 yards from the post. The pair had battled head to head throughout the final furlong, in an absolute thriller. They then clashed in the Juddmonte at York, and once again fought tooth and nail to the line. In another dramatic finish, Giant’s Causeway got his nose in front when it mattered. His final run in the Breeders’ Cup Classic saw him come-off second best in just such a tussle, with American colt Tiznow winning by a neck in a thriller.
The Eclipse roll of honour is littered with the names of outstanding thoroughbreds. Daylami, Nashwan, Dancing Brave, Brigadier Gerard and Mill Reef, are just a handful that have captured this historic event in recent times. It’s hoped that Saturday’s renewal can provide a worthy winner to add to the list. Youngsters Cliffs Of Moher and Barney Roy certainly look to have the potential.