2021 Coral-Eclipse: big-name trainers on their Group 1 contenders this Saturday
Coral-Eclipse (Group 1) | 1m2f | 3yo+ | ITV/RTV
On Coral-Eclipse day last year, Mishriff produced the first performance of his nascent career that led you to sit up and appreciate that he could be something out of the top drawer.
His victory in the Prix du Jockey Club came on the same day his illustrious stablemate Enable failed to reel in Ghaiyyath at Sandown, and 12 months on it is undoubtedly Mishriff who is the star turn.
His one blip since winning at Chantilly came on what co-trainer John Gosden labelled "diabolical" ground in the Champion Stakes with the four-year-old's two blockbusting victories this year coming in the Saudi Cup and Dubai Sheema Classic, yielding a mammoth £9 million in prize-money.
Despite those credentials, and the rather more meagre £600,000 on offer in the Eclipse, Gosden, who trains the Prince Faisal-owned Mishriff with his son Thady, is not taking his three opponents lightly.
"He's a lovely horse and he fits in with that type we have been fortunate to have [for this race previously]," he said. "We're happy with him going in but I'm perfectly aware of the task in hand."
Mishriff's most recent appearance came in Dubai in March, but despite the extended absence from the course his co-trainer is content with how preparations have gone for Saturday's Group 1.
"He's not a horse I've taken away for a racecourse gallop as he has had enough travelling this year already," Gosden said. "We are starting him off here in the Coral-Eclipse, which had been our plan for a long time. I've been very happy with his preparation."
The threat to Gosden winning a fifth Eclipse is made up of one older horse, the redoubtable Addeybb who came out on top when the pair clashed at Ascot last year, and the three-year-olds St Mark's Basilica and El Drama.
Gosden described Addeybb as "a wonderful horse" but believes the ground is more likely to be in the favour of his runner than when it was soft on Champions Day last year.
"I've got tonnes of respect for Addeybb – I think he is a wonderful horse," Gosden said. "I don't want to be critical but the ground was diabolical [at Ascot] and full marks to the winner as he handles it but our fellow couldn't go in at all.
"Interestingly enough I remember Lester [Piggott] saying to me that a three-year-old has the advantage in his opinion in the Eclipse with the weights. I know it has changed 1lb since those days and it is a 10lb difference now, but he always felt three-year-olds had the edge and I've never been frightened to run three-year-olds in this race and nor for that matter in the King George."
Haggas wary of Addeybb ring-rust
The early spring did not prove quite as profitable for William Haggas as it did for his fellow Newmarket trainers John and Thady Gosden, but Addeybb once again shone for the yard on the other side of the world.
Renewing hostilities with Verry Elleegant, whom he had beaten twice in Australia the previous year, Addeybb produced two classy and resolute performances in finishing second in the Ranvet Stakes before winning the Queen Elizabeth Stakes for the second year running.
That latter performance embodied many of the qualities that have taken Addeybb to the top table in a slow-burning career with the seven-year-old gamely repelling all rivals to win under jockey Tom Marquand.
"He's not getting any younger but he's been a fantastic talisman for us," Haggas said. "He's a brave, genuine horse who will give his all but he's not going to be going out there and finding much improvement at his age."
Addeybb's prospects of downing his younger rivals and becoming the oldest winner of the Eclipse in its 135-year history appear to rest on the one thing no-one can control – the weather.
His victory in the Champion Stakes at Ascot last year came on soft ground, while the majority of his best efforts – from winning the 2018 Lincoln from future Group 1 winner Lord Glitters to capturing the 2019 Wolferton at Royal Ascot and the Queen Elizabeth Stakes last year – have come when the going was on the easy side.
Haggas feels Addeybb, off since April, may lack some match sharpness and is hoping showers forecast for Sandown arrive.
"He's fine but he might be a little bit rusty, maybe," he said. "I've done as much with him as I want to for this race and the simple case is that his chances will increase if the rain comes.
"He's near enough certain to go out there and run a good race and if there is anything in the others to expose, any chinks in their armour, then he's going to find them and make the most of them."
St Mark's Basilica in good form – O'Brien
With the prospects of a small final field for the Eclipse emerging when seven horses were confirmed for the race on Monday, many had been keen to point out that big numbers were not needed to provide a top-quality spectacle.
The race often cited was the 2011 running, when So You Think overhauled the gallant Workforce to take victory with Snow Fairy among those beaten too.
As well as being a superb watch, it was the last time Aidan O'Brien landed the Group 1 albeit not for lack of trying, with some of his finest performers over the past decade contesting the race.
Between them, they have helped serve up some memorable contests, such as Saxon Warrior and Roaring Lion going toe-to-toe in 2018, The Gurkha's valiant attempt to hold off Hawkbill in 2016 and Magical's late but futile charge against Enable in 2019.
This year, St Mark's Basilica is the chosen one from Ballydoyle but not since Oratorio in 2005 has O'Brien been successful in the Eclipse with a three-year-old, something Hawk Wing and the brilliant Giant's Causeway also achieved.
Sandown will be the first time St Mark's Basilica has raced in Britain since last year when he landed the Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket, with connections instead launching two triumphant raids on France in the Poule d'Essai des Poulains and Prix du Jockey Club.
On both occasions, victory for St Mark's Basilica was marked by an impressive turn of foot under jockey Ioritz Mendizabal. This time, Ryan Moore, who has ridden St Mark's Basilica only once when a narrow third in the National Stakes at the Curragh, will be the rider tasked with best using that potent asset.
O'Brien said: "We've been delighted with him in his two runs so far this year and this race slotted in nicely for him. We're happy that he seems to be in good form.
"He looks a very straightforward and versatile horse. He's run on all types of ground and hopefully it'll be nice ground for him on Saturday."
Varian realistic but hopeful about El Drama
If the Prix du Jockey Club provided the perfect opportunity for Mishriff and St Mark's Basilica to showcase their talents, the same cannot be said for El Drama.
With hopes high following his classy victory in the Dee Stakes at Chester the time before, El Drama failed to pick up and weakened having been positioned prominently by jockey Mickael Barzalona.
That performance, alongside the fact he is the only runner not to have won a Group 1, puts El Drama up against it on paper.
However, Roger Varian, who trains the three-year-old for Sheikh Mohammed Obaid, is keen to point to the strength of the Dee Stakes, which contained Maximal and Fox Tales, who performed well at Royal Ascot, and Earlswood and Yibir, whose form ties in with the Irish Derby.
"You have to put a line through the run in the French Derby run as it just didn't go right for him," Varian said. "I am encouraged by the form of his Dee Stakes win and that puts him bang up there as being a very smart three-year-old colt."
Despite the positives from Chester, Varian admits El Drama has the most to prove of the runners and is hoping to be able to better gauge his runner after the contest.
"Look, he's got to take a big jump up on ratings to trouble the other three as they are already multiple Group 1 winners, but he's training sweetly and is an exciting horse," he said. "We'll learn more about where he stands and more about the trip as Sandown's mile and a quarter is stiffer than Chester. He's going there in really good form."
Saturday's big-race previews:
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