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Thursday, 24 January, 2019

A piece of racing history – but not for the fainthearted

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What goes under the hammer at auction can vary from the rare, the ordinary or in some cases, the downright bizarre.

One of the lots due to be offered to the public at Graham Budd's annual horseracing auction at Sotheby’s New Bond Street saleroom on November 13 can certainly be filed in the bizarre category.

Eclipse left an indelible mark on the racing landscape, and later this year there will be a chance to buy a preserved piece of the horse's skin.

Eclipse, as portrayed on canvas by the great equine artist George Stubbs

Unbeaten in 18 starts when racing in the 18th century, Eclipse's prowess on track was matched as a stallion, and such is his significance that the bloodlines of around 95 per cent of thoroughbreds – including all the runners declared for Saturday's Group 1 at Sandown that bears his name – can be traced back to him.

The portion of chestnut hide is inscribed in ink 'Skin of Eclipse' and has been presented in a frame, together with an original manuscript letter of authenticity.

It is one of two such pieces known to exist. The other is on show at the National Horseracing Museum in Newmarket, having been presented to the Jockey Club by the 6th Earl of Rosebery.

A sizeable estimate has been attached to this unusual piece of racing memorabilia and, with worldwide interest forecast, it is expected to fetch between £15-20,000 at auction. The current owner inherited the piece of skin from his grandfather, an avid racegoer.

A legend who was all heart

Such was Eclipse's dominance and the fascination with his ability that following his death, aged 24 in 1789, the racing community set about finding out what set him apart from his contemporaries.

Turning to science, the veterinary surgeon Vial de Saint Bel carried out what is thought to be the first formally documented autopsy of an animal in Britain.

The most notable finding from Saint Bel was that Eclipse had a massive heart, at least 25 per cent larger than the average thoroughbred. A large heart has been a trend in top-class horses, with Secretariat another famous example.

Eclipse's skeleton, which resides in the Royal Veterinary College

Saint Bel's work led directly to the foundation of what is now the Royal Veterinary College, owners of Eclipse's skeleton, and pieces of the legendary horse's skin are not the only relics to have survived. 

One of his hooves was turned into a racing trophy, along with the Newmarket Challenge whip, which has hairs from the horse's tail and mane woven into it. Both pieces are owned by the Jockey Club. 

The most notable finding from Saint Bel was Eclipse had a massive heart, at least 25 per cent larger than the average thoroughbred
E.W. Terms
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