A thrilling clash of the ages adds spice to one of the most prestigious events of the Flat racing season.
The Group 1 Coral-Eclipse at Sandown sees the three-year-olds take on their elders, and it’s Aidan O’Brien’s French Guineas winner The Gurkha that heads the market.
The race was established in 1886, and at the time became Britain’s richest, with prize money of £10,000. The event has slipped down the ‘rich-list’ over the years, but is no less significant, renowned for attracting outstanding racehorses, with a roll of honour to match the very best.
Busted, Mill Reef and Brigadier Gerard took the race in the late 60’s and early 70’s. Sadler’s Wells, Dancing Brave and Nashwan were successful in the 80’s, along with Pilsudski and Daylami in the 1990’s.
Since the year 2000, the list of winners is truly dazzling. Giant’s Causeway, Refuse to Bend, Sea The Stars, So You Think, and Golden Horn are some of the giants of Flat racing that have been successful. Sea The Stars and Golden Horn in particular, were Classic winning three-year-olds that took this race during stunning campaigns, as their paths led inexorably toward thrilling victories in Europe’s most prestigious race, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp.
Over the past dozen years, the age of ‘Eclipse’ winners have been pretty evenly split between three, four and five-year-olds. The profile of a winner has been that of a top-class youngster, or a highly progressive older horse, usually just bubbling below top-class in their youth.
At a mile and a quarter, the trip demands a suitable blend of speed and stamina, with many three-year-olds arriving here over the years needing to prove their ability to stay the trip. In 2014, the Newmarket guineas winner Night Of Thunder failed miserably to get home, despite Galileo appearing on the dam’s side of his pedigree. Stamina is always a doubt until proven.
The Gurkha is expected by many to appreciate the step up in trip. The French Guineas winner, was outstanding at Deauville, and stayed on well behind Galileo Gold at Royal Ascot, after finding trouble in running. Visually, it appears likely that he will find the trip ideal, and his pedigree gives hope. The one slight doubt, is that O’Brien has always said how quick the colt is, and that certainly appeared the case in France.
Another positive for Ballydoyle’s colt is the markets. Fancied runners tend to go well in the Coral-Eclipse, with five favourites having won the last seven renewals. Only two of the last dozen winners had started at odds greater than 10/1.
Aidan O’Brien has a strong record in the race, with five victories since the turn of the century. So You Think was the yard’s last winner in 2011, though he came close in 2013 when Declaration Of War finished runner-up to Roger Charlton’s Al Kazeem.
Charlton will be hopeful that the ground does not scupper plans for Time Test. The colt is undoubtedly a classy sort, but is known to prefer fast ground. The four-year-old won his seasonal return at Sandown, when edging out Western Hymn in the Group 3 Brigadier Gerard Stakes. His fourth place finish in last year’s Juddmonte International suggests he has to improve a fair bit if he is to win this, though he is likely to have strengthened from three to four. On fast ground he’d have to have a great chance. Unfortunately for Charlton, there’s no chance he’ll get it.
The aforementioned Western Hymn is ultra-consistent, though is another that would appreciate quicker conditions. He was third in this race 12 months ago, and finished in the same position behind My Dream Boat in the Prince Of Wales’s last time. His Group 1 record suggests a place finish is the best he can expect on Saturday.
The Clive Cox trained My Dream Boat has to have a chance, especially if the ground remains on the soft side. He’s twice beaten Western Hymn this season, and sees out the 10 furlong trip well. He looks something of a grinder to me, and I fancy he’ll be caught short of toe at the crucial part of the race. More rain would certainly improve his chances.
Another that should cope well with conditions is the Charlie Appleby trained Hawkbill. He’s a fast improving three-year-old, who was last seen winning the Group 3 Tercentenary Stakes. He travelled all over the opposition on that occasion, and still looked like a horse with plenty to learn. He’s by the top American Stallion Kitten’s Joy, out of a Giant’s Causeway mare. This is a huge step up in class, but he’s an intriguing contender.
I fancy that the three-year-olds will take all the beating in Saturday’s showpiece. The Gurkha isn’t much of a price, but I think he’ll win. He has the strongest form, and was doing his best work late on at Ascot. Hawkbill looks the danger. Godolphin can do no wrong, but this week I’ll be taking them on.