Coral-Eclipse – A Clash Of The Ages

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.

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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.

Pat Eddery

Eddery and Dancing Brave

Eddery and Dancing Brave

Yesterday brought the sad news of the death of Patrick James John Eddery at the age of 63.

Born in Newbridge, County Kildare, Ireland on 18 March 1952, Pat Eddery became one of the greatest flat racing jockeys of all time. In a riding career that spanned 36 years, he became champion jockey 11 times and won every ‘Classic’ in both England and Ireland.

Eddery also found success overseas with major victories in France, America, Italy and Japan. He rode some of the sport’s greatest racehorses, winning the Derby on Grundy and Golden Fleece, the 2,000 Guineas on El Gran Senor and Zafonic, and of course the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe on Dancing Brave.

Born to ride, his father Jimmy had won the Irish Derby in 1955, and Pat became an apprentice jockey to Seamus McGrath in Ireland back in 1966. His first competitive ride came in 1967, and the same year he was to move to England becoming apprentice to Frenchie Nicholson. In 1971 he won the title of Champion Apprentice Jockey.

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He won his first jockey’s title in 1974 and the following year won his first Epsom Derby on Grundy. He formed a stunning partnership with Peter Walwyn’s powerful colt, winning eight times in 11 career starts. As a two-year-old Eddery rode him to victories in the Champagne Stakes and the Dewhurst. He met with defeat in the 2,000 Guineas but made amends in the Irish 2,000 Guineas before attention turned to the Derby. At Epsom he stormed to the front over a furlong out under a stylish drive from Eddery. The result was never in doubt.

The King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes proved to be Grundy’s most memorable performance. In a race that for many is seen as one of the all-time greats, Eddery and his Derby winner met Bustino, the winner of the previous season’s St Leger. Joe Mercer rode an aggressive race, sending Bustino to the front before turning for home. Eddery was quick to react and a thrilling battle ensued.

Grundy got on top late on under a power-packed ride. The course record was shattered, as were the two protagonists. Walwyn’s charge ran just once more before being retired to stud. Bustino never raced again.

If his partnership with Grundy was special, many would view his rides on Dancing Brave to be his most thrilling. Ridden earlier in his career by Greville Starkey, the colt had missed out in the Derby by a whisker before a stunning victory in the Eclipse. When Starkey was unable to ride in the King George, Pat Eddery stepped in. He reversed the Derby form with Shahrastani in a thrilling finish and Eddery was retained for the remainder of the season.

It was the colt’s final European appearance that defined Pat Eddery’s career. In one of the strongest fields ever assembled the jockey swooped late and wide to win in thrilling style. Brough Scott writing in the Racing Post commented on Eddery’s memorable ride, saying: “He produced the finest high pressure waiting race ride I have ever seen when he actually put Dancing Brave back in behind the field before pulling out wide to mow down a string of Classic winners in the unforgettable Arc de Triomphe of 1986.”

Others, far better qualified than me, have paid tribute to the great jockey over the past 24 hours. Lester Piggott spoke of his old rival, saying: “Pat was as fierce an opponent on the racecourse as he was a loyal and dear friend off it. He was a natural horseman. He exuded class and always knew what to do in a race. He was a huge personality in the weighing room, and wasn't slow to keep us all grounded with his wit and sense of humour. He will be sorely missed.”

Another who fought many a battle with Eddery during his illustrious career was Willie Carson. He said: “It's a very sad loss. He was a huge part of my life because we were together and friends for a very long time. An absolute gentleman, one of the greatest jockeys ever to ride a horse and you could go on forever about all the great horses he rode.”

Trainer John Dunlop described Pat Eddery as a ‘delightful man’. He added: “Pat rode his first winner for me in 1973 at Bath and in all had nearly 400 winners for me. I was lucky to be training in a vintage era of jockeys and the fact Pat rode for me on and off for 30 years tells you everything. He was a delightful man to spend time with, he had huge success but was great company at the same time. Above all, he just worked harder than the others I think.”

Clive Brittain trained Pebbles and used Eddery when he was an up-and-coming apprentice. “It's a sorry day. He was a great friend and an integral part of my success at Carlburg. He was at the top of the tree for so long, but he was a green kid when I first started using him. You always got 100 per cent from Pat, be it in a Classic or a Brighton seller. I never used to discuss tactics with him really and I certainly didn't with Pebbles. She was drawn 14 at the Breeders' Cup and it was all people were talking about. Pat just said 'it's a race, the best horse will win' and she did. He never panicked and gave her a brilliant ride. He was just so confident in everything he did."

Guy Harwood trained Dancing Brave, and believes Eddery was at the peak of his powers when he won the Arc. “Clearly that was a very exciting day when he won the Arc de Triomphe. It was a fantastic ride. It was Pat at his very best and probably one of his great rides, amongst many. Pat knew how to use the speed Dancing Brave had and the best way in the Arc was to come from behind. He had tremendous natural talent.”

Handicapper’s Decision Sparks Rating’s Debate


The Stunning Dancing Brave

The Stunning Dancing Brave

The Saturday ‘big handicap’ is always one of the great puzzles for race fans. Many hate the prospect of trawling through the field in an attempt to find the well handicapped good thing. For others the task is one that they thrive on, and for the likes of Tom Segal of the Racing Post, it’s a challenge that has brought a fair degree of success and notoriety.

The handicapping system is designed to give each horse an even chance. The highest rated (or best) horse in the race is given the largest weight to carry; and the inferior horses will carry lower weights. For many owners and trainers the handicaps offer their best chance of success on a race day.

The BHA has a team of eleven Handicappers whose job it is to study the form and allocate the appropriate rating to the horse. They publish a list every week based on performances on the racecourse. Should a horse be rated 120 and another 110, then it is deemed that a difference of 10 pounds in the weights that they carry would see them hit the line virtually side by side.

Most handicaps are restricted to horses with similar ratings in a particular range, 0-60 for example. The rating of the horse determines the weight he or she will carry along with the race it can enter. A victory for the horse is likely to see a rise in the rating. A series of poor performances will result in a lowering of the handicap mark, hopefully giving the horse a chance of attaining that elusive success.

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The very best horses rarely run in handicaps on the Flat but they often take their chance in competitive handicaps over the Jumps.

The BHA handicappers work with international colleagues in selecting entrants for top races worldwide. Back in February Louis Romanet, the Chairman of the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA) announced the appointment of Phil Smith, Head of Handicapping for the BHA, as co-chairman of the Longines World’s Best Racehorse Rankings Committee. Smith said at the time: “I am honoured to be appointed Co-Chairman and am looking forward to working closely with Nigel Gray who was my manager at BHA and its predecessor BHB for more than ten years. I have been helped hugely by my team of Handicappers at BHA as between us we now assess every Pattern Race run in the world every week. I hope to be able to help to develop further the service that the Longines World’s Best Racehorse Rankings provide to the racing industry worldwide.”

At the end of every season the International Flat Handicappers produce a rating for the top horses in the world rated at 115+ based on the season’s performances. Over the years these ratings have been the cause of great debate, as fans compare racing heroes from different eras. The great Australian sprinter Black Caviar was rated 132 in 2011 and then 130 for both 2012 and 2013. Sea The Stars was awarded a lofty rating after his stunning 2009 campaign. A mark of 136 was surely warranted after his series of Group 1 victories.

The wonderful French filly Treve was given a rating of 130 after her second Arc success in October. It will be interesting to see if she can improve on that as she looks for the historic treble.

A blog on the BHA website gives a terrific insight into the thoughts behind the handicaps awarded to horses. During Glorious Goodwood Dominic Gardiner-Hill wrote that whilst it was disappointing that the best three-year-old miler in Europe, Gleneagles, couldn’t take his place in the Qatar Sussex Stakes, the best older miler, Solow, continued his impressive winning streak with his eighth straight success and his 11th in his last 12 starts.

He added that Solow appears to be a horse that does no more than necessary and, as in the Queen Anne at Royal Ascot, he was more workmanlike than spectacular in the way he triumphed. With a pre-race rating of 124, based on his success in the Dubai Duty Free at Meydan, he went in to the Goodwood race with 3lb and more in hand of his rivals but probably only needed to run to 119+ to win.

It’s interesting to read how a handicapper assesses a race before giving a verdict on the handicap mark the winner has achieved.

Two mighty horses, Dancing Brave and Frankel, were rated within a pound of each other after their stunning careers. The former reached a mark of 141 after his sensational win in the Arc of 1986. The field he defeated at Longchamp that day was one of the contributory factors for the exceptional rating.

Of course it’s tough to compare generations when reaching a handicap mark, but the people entrusted with the role have to remain objective. Frankel may not have defeated horses of the calibre of those beaten by Dancing Brave, but the style of his victories, and the consistently high standard he achieved resulted in a rating of 140. Interestingly, the handicappers then decided to adjust Dancing Brave’s mark to 138.

The British Horseracing Authority's head of handicapping Phil Smith caused a stir recently when awarding Golden Horn a mark of 130. John Gosden's charge became the first horse to achieve the Dante, Derby and Eclipse treble. For many race fans the rating appeared generous based on the horses he has defeated. Many will look to his performances over the latter part of the season to see if such a mark is justified.

And so the debates rage on, as they always will. It’s a tough gig for the handicapper, but a crucial one. Their decisions will continue to ignite discussions and hours of deliberation.

Golden Horn set for King George Glory

The Mighty Golden Horn

The Mighty Golden Horn

Taghrooda stormed to victory last year and Novellist won in similarly stunning fashion a year earlier.

The King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes was first run in 1951 and has gone to some of the greats of the sport. In a magical period during the 1970’s the illustrious roll of honour included Nijinsky, Mill Reef, Brigadier Gerard, Grundy, The Minstrel and Troy.

Shergar, Dancing Brave and Nashwan took the race in the 80’s. In the 1990’s Lammtarra, Swain and Daylami played starring roles, and in more recent times Montjeu, Galileo, Hurricane Run, Dylan Thomas and Danedream added their names to the dazzling winners list.

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For many, the King George and the Arc remain the most prestigious middle-distance events of the Flat racing calendar. Winners from France, Germany, Ireland and the UK give the event an international feel which only adds to its lofty reputation.

Spice is further added to the mix with the opportunity of seeing the season’s top three-year-olds again taking on their elders. Four-year-olds have the upper hand in recent years though two of the last four renewals have gone to the youngsters.

This Saturday’s running is set to be as thrilling as ever, with the Derby winner Golden Horn again stepping into the arena. His stunning victory in last month’s Coral-Eclipse sent his BHA rating into the stratosphere. He remains undefeated, and the style of those victories has been truly eye-catching. He had to battle hard to win the Eclipse, but showed he possesses the resilience to go with his undoubted class.

At the weekend he will face challengers from Italy, France and the UK. Stefano Botti is set to send Dylan Mouth over from Italy. Ribot became the only Italian winner of the race when thrashing the opposition in 1956. Twice a winner of the Arc, he remained undefeated in 16 career starts and is rated by many as one of the all-time greats.

Andre Fabre runs the classy and ultra-consistent Flintshire. Second to Treve last time in France he is sure to run a huge race. Teddy Grimthorpe, Prince Khalid Abdullah’s racing manager, said on Monday: “We were a bit disappointed to say the least with Flintshire in the Coronation Cup. He didn’t really seem to spark at all, but he came back and ran a really good race in the Grand Prix de St Cloud and gave Treve a little bit of a fright. His form with Treve is probably superior to anything in Europe of the older horse brigade and now we’ll see the mettle of a very, very good Derby winner.”

Sir Michael Stoute’s Snow Sky has been supplemented for the race and also runs in the famous silks of Prince Khalid Abdullah. Grimthorpe appeared optimistic when saying: “He is slightly different. He ran a super race in the St Leger last year and he’s progressed through this year nicely.” Of his win in the Hardwicke at Royal Ascot he added: “You can make the odd excuse but for me, he had them fairly stone cold on the turn coming into the straight. He certainly deserves a crack at a Group One and this fits perfectly into his schedule.”

It’s set to be another glorious renewal of one of the sport’s greatest races. History tells us that class usually shines through in this Ascot showpiece. It would come as a major surprise if Saturday’s race proved an exception to this ‘Golden’ rule.

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