Sandown test is a compelling clash of the giants across the generations
Answer three questions for the chance to win a fabulous day at Goodwood
When Sandown Park opened in 1875 as Britain’s first purpose-built racecourse with enclosures it was said by a diarist of the time to be “a place where a man could take his ladies without any fear of their hearing coarse language or witnessing uncouth behaviour”.
That might not always be the case, but one thing visitors to the Queen Mother’s favourite racecourse can be assured of is great sport, and no race in the track’s Flat racing programme has a more illustrious history than the Eclipse Stakes.
Named in honour of the undefeated 18th century champion whose overwhelming superiority gave rise to the frequently adapted cry of ‘Eclipse first, the rest nowhere’, it was the richest race ever when first run in 1886 for £10,000 and it remains firmly enshrined among the summer’s sporting highlights.
With prize-money on such a scale the Eclipse was never going to be long in establishing itself and ever since Derby winner Ayrshire took the third running, Classic winners have featured prominently in most of the renewals.
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a) Who was Sir Henry Cecil’s first Eclipse winner?
b) What traditional style does High Commissioner tend towards?
c) Who was the first filly to win the Eclipse?
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Indeed, in the celebrated running of 1903 the first three had between them won seven Classics, the 1902 Derby winner Ard Patrick scoring by a neck from the brilliant Sceptre, who the previous year had won the 1,000 and 2,000 Guineas, the Oaks and St Leger, with the year younger Guineas and Derby winner Rock Sand, who went on to complete the Triple Crown, in third.
Besides measuring class in a general sense, the Eclipse, sponsored by Coral since 1976, specifically tests ability over an intermediate trip. At a mile and a quarter it can attract a top miler out to stretch his stamina on the long climb to the winning post, or a Derby winner trying to demonstrate he is not short of speed.
It also offers the first significant opportunity for members of the Classic year to take on their elders, and it is that ‘clash of the generations’ which has been the essence of so many of the most memorable Eclipses.
The Eclipse – 1886-2018
1886 – Bendigo lands the first running and the richest prize ever offered in Britain of £10,000
1894 – Isinglass becomes the first Triple Crown winner to go on to Eclipse triumph
1900 – The Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII, wins the race for the second time with Diamond Jubilee
1903 – The 'Race of the Century' as the winners of seven Classics clash and Ard Patrick defeats Sceptre and Rock Sand
1925 – Harry Wragg, 'The Head Waiter', records the first of his five Eclipse victories on dual winner Polyphontes
1951 – The 15-year-old apprentice Lester Piggott lands his first success in a Group 1 race on Mystery IX, one of a record seven Eclipse wins
1969 – Sir Henry Cecil notches his first big-race success with Wolver Hollow, just two months after becoming a trainer
1984 – Supersire Sadler's Wells records his only victory in Britain under a powerful Pat Eddery drive
1985 – Pebbles becomes the first filly to win the Eclipse. Kooyonga, in 1992, is the only one since
2009 – Sea The Stars becomes the fastest recorded Eclipse winner in 2mins 03.40secs - one of six Group 1s he won that year
2017 – Trainer Sir Michael Stoute hits six as he equals the record for Eclipse wins with Ulysses
Take 1987, when Sir Henry Cecil’s Reference Point, all-the-way winner of that year’s Derby, led a five-strong three-year-old team against three older runners headed by the classy French mare Triptych and Prince of Wales’s winner Mtoto.
Steve Cauthen tried to repeat his Epsom tactics on the favourite, who gave his all, but the Alec Stewart-trained Mtoto, partnered by South African champion Michael Roberts, had a change of gear that even a great Derby winner such as Reference Point could not contain at the shorter distance, and he swept past for a three-quarter-length win.
With hindsight Reference Point lost nothing in defeat, for Mtoto went on to become one of just five dual winners of the Eclipse and to confirm himself one of the best middle-distance horses of the decade.
Surprisingly perhaps, Cecil won the Eclipse only four times, and his disappointments in the race included the infamous ‘Bosra Shambles’ of 1997, in which Keiren Fallon on the previous year’s 1,000 Guineas winner Bosra Sham – described by Cecil, pre-Frankel, as the best he had trained – found traffic problems in a field of five and managed only third behind the five-year-old Pilsudski and the Derby winner Benny The Dip. It was one of the rare occasions when Cecil publicly blamed his rider.
It had been in the Eclipse of 1969 that Cecil had enjoyed his first major success. Nobody could claim that was a vintage renewal, but the success of Wolver Hollow in the hands of Lester Piggott gave the 26-year-old Cecil, whose first winner had come less than two months earlier, the self-belief that led to ten trainers’ championships, 25 Classic wins, 75 winners at Royal Ascot, and ultimately to Frankel.
The Eclipse ought to have suited Frankel ideally, but the timing was wrong and he never raced in it. Think of other truly great British and Irish racehorses of the last 50 or so years, however, and you will find many of their names on the race’s roll of honour. From all-time greats Mill Reef and Brigadier Gerard in the 1970s through to the present day, plenty of Eclipse winners are household names.
Mill Reef made short work of five older rivals in 1971, and Brigadier Gerard stretched his unbeaten run to 14 when overcoming unseasonably soft ground in 1972. Both are among the sport’s all-time greats in anybody’s book and, while it’s true that neither faced the most taxing of opposition in the Eclipse, their wins were big news in the racing pages of the day.
Ela-Mana-Mou, who did not join trainer Dick Hern until he was four, saw the 1980s off to a great start and went on to win the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot the same month. The decade ended with another success for Hern when the brilliant Nashwan, already the winner of the 2,000 Guineas and Derby and who followed up in the King George, showed guts and class in equal measure to beat Indian Skimmer’s pacemaker Opening Verse by five lengths after being set plenty to do.
In between, besides the dual success of Mtoto, there were wins for stallion sensation Sadler’s Wells in 1984 and for Clive Brittain’s 1,000 Guineas winner Pebbles in 1985. And there was victory also for the incomparable Dancing Brave, in 1986.
While the images that remain strongest when recalling the Guy Harwood great are inevitably his Derby defeat under Greville Starkey and that breathtaking last-to-first surge up the wide outside under Pat Eddery in one of the most competitive Prix de l’Arc de Triomphes ever run, it is worth remembering Dancing Brave was pretty damned good in the Eclipse.
Odds of 4-9 suggest victory was a formality, but Dancing Brave’s rivals included Triptych, the Kentucky Derby second Bold Arrangement and the previous year’s Arlington Million winner Teleprompter. He was entitled to win, but the electrifying change of gear he showed to sprint four lengths clear confirmed him as an exceptional talent, besides providing Starkey with a degree of redemption before Eddery took over.
A canter through the 1990s reveals wins in 1991 for Environment Friend, who beat Stagecraft in a thriller, and two years later for subsequent King George winner Opera House, who held the Italian outsider Misil by the skin of his teeth.
There were wins in successive years for Godolphin’s Halling and then, a year after the ‘Bosra Shambles’, a half-length success for their popular grey Daylami, who was Frankie Dettori’s first winner of the race when heading a one-two-three for Sheikh Mohammed’s team, then in its pomp.
A new millennium brought the first of five wins for Aidan O’Brien with Giant’s Causeway, whose success was followed two years later by the stable’s Hawk Wing, a non-staying favourite when second in the Derby.
Falbrav, who posted a commanding victory from Nayef in 2003, was a very good Eclipse winner by any standards, while 2007 was among the race’s most dramatic renewals, Ryan Moore electing to plough an audacious lone furrow up the stands’ rail on the five-year-old Notnowcato which left everyone guessing who was in front until he passed the post a length and a half clear of Derby winner Authorized. It remains the only win in the race for a jockey many regard as the world’s best.
Many will remember Sea The Stars following up his 2,000 Guineas and Derby wins by seeing off the challenge of Rip Van Winkle without doing more than necessary in 2009, his second-best performance in an extraordinary campaign which saw him capture a Group 1 every month for six months.
Fresher still in the memory is Dettori on Golden Horn in 2015, John Gosden’s Derby winner stretching right away from The Grey Gatsby for the second of four top-level wins that culminated at Longchamp in October.
Everyone will have their favourite memories, but if one was to look for an Eclipse that encapsulates all that makes it such a great race it would be hard to beat that epic battle between Giant’s Causeway and Kalanisi in 2000.
The St James’s Palace Stakes winner Giant’s Causeway, known as his career developed as ‘The Iron Horse’, and the Derby second Sakhee represented the Classic generation, while among the older brigade were recent Queen Anne winner Kalanisi, the Coronation Cup second Fantastic Light and Brigadier Gerard winner Shiva.
Giant’s Causeway, partnered by veteran George Duffield in place of Mick Kinane, was always handily placed and moved on the pacemaker with well over two to run, but he was immediately joined to his inside by Sakhee, who was in determined mood.
It took Giant’s Causeway a furlong to get the better of that battle and he was then joined by Kalanisi, on whom a patient Pat Eddery was delivering one of his strongest power-packed finishes.
A final furlong of see-sawing fortunes might not have been one for the squeamish, with both riders picking up ten-day whip bans, but neither horse flinched. And while Giant’s Causeway’s head was in front passing the post, Kalanisi had been in front two strides earlier and honours were even.
It was one of the most thrilling Sandown finishes in memory and it plainly did neither protagonist any harm, as they went on to add another six Group or Grade 1 wins, while those further back won another eight.
A vintage Eclipse to savour and it will not be the last.