After the feast of racing thrown up by June’s Derbies and Royal Ascot, July always arrives with keen anticipation for the racing aficionado.
That is because the first Saturday in July really represents the start of the second half of the season, where the Classic generation will regularly take on their older peers. With the conditions of Royal Ascot races having changed, that first clash of the generations typically takes place in the Coral Eclipse Stakes at Sandown Park where we get a first glimpse at how the leading three year olds match up to the top older ones.
The Eclipse Stakes takes place over a mile and a quarter and commemorates the much-celebrated racehorse of the same name, who was foaled during the solar eclipse of 1764 and won all 18 of his races, before embarking on a remarkable stud career and in 1970 the Royal Veterinary College determined that 80 per cent of all thoroughbreds can trace their ancestry back to Eclipse.
The race run in Eclipse’s memory first took place in 1886 and from the start was a race of great acclaim, with a first prize of £10,000 going to the connections of Bendigo.
Just three years later the race was won by Ayrshire, who had won the previous year’s Derby, while Orme became the first dual winner in 1892 and 1893. Persimmon was another outstanding early winner in 1897.
The 1903 renewal was arguably one of the greatest Flat races of all-time, featuring the previous year’s Derby winner Ard Patrick, the mighty Sceptre (who had won the other four Classics in 1902 but was beaten at Epsom by Ard Patrick) and Rock Sand, who had already won the 2,000 Guineas and Derby in 1903 and would later complete the Triple Crown. At the time of this races the trio had won 7 Classic races between them. At Sandown Park it was Ard Patrick who famously gained the day.
Bayardo was another top class winner in 1909 and was the first of a record six victories for trainer Alec Taylor Jr., who also won with Lemberg the following year in the race’s one and only dead-heat with Neil Gow.
War meant a cessation of the race between 1915 and 1918 and again between 1940 and 1945. In 1919 the race returned to Sandown Park and Buchan became the second horse to win back-to-back renewals. He too was trained by Taylor Jrs., as were Craig an Eran (1921) and Saltash (1923).
Polyphontes then became the latest horse to win the race twice in 1924 and 1925.
Two smart winners during the 1930s were Windsor Lad (1935) who had won the previous year’s Derby and St Leger and had won the 1935 Coronation Cup – and Blue Peter (1939), who won that year’s substitute 2,000 Guineas and Derby before the Second World War intervened and curtailed his chance of a Triple Crown as the St Leger was cancelled.
Petition won the 1948 renewal, while a very young Lester Piggott, rode the first of his record six winners in 1951 aboard Mystery IX. His other winners came with: Darius (1955), Arctic Explorer (1957), St Paddy (1961), Pieces of Eight (1966), Wolver Hollow (1969) and Artaius (1977).
There was a touch of class to the 1952 race as Derby winner Tulyar landed the Eclipse. In 1958 the race went to the previous year’s St Leger winner Ballymoss, who would later win the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes and Arc de Triomphe and the Eclipse Stakes roll of honour was becoming an increasingly illustrious list.
St Paddy was another dual Classic winner who stayed in training to win the 1961 Eclipse Stakes and the 1960s heralded a golden era for the race.
Among the winners were Busted (1967), Royal Palace (1968) and Wolver Hollow (1969), while Connaught won the race in 1970.
But the Eclipse Stakes of the 1970s also featured two of the all-time great racehorses on its roster as first Mill Reef in 1971; and a year later his rival Brigadier Gerard, became the latest winners of the contest. These two outstanding racehorses further enhanced the reputation of a race which was already steeped in history and quality.
The pair were a hard act to follow and Scottish Rifle’s 1973 victory actually took place at Kempton Park. Star Appeal served notice on his burgeoning potential in 1975 and at the end of that season provided an almighty shock when he won the Arc de Triomphe. The following year Trepan was first past the post but later failed a dope test and the race was awarded to Sir Henry Cecil’s 2,000 Guineas winner Wollow. Cecil won the race again with the popular Gunner B in 1978 and the decade ended with the Irish Guineas winner Dickens Hill gaining a much deserved victory after twice chasing Troy home in Derbies.
Another of Troy’s old rivals was Ela Mana Mou and he gave Dick Hern and Willie Carson success in 1980 winning at Royal Ascot before landing the Eclipse and King George. Master Willie struck a blow for the older horses in 1981, having finished second in the previous year’s Derby and winning the current year’s Coronation Cup en-route to Sandown Park.
In 1982 Kalaglow confirmed his progression with a top class performance in the Eclipse before winning the King George.
A year later the legendary Dr Vincent O’Brien sent his unbeaten colt Solford, owned by Robert Sangster, to Sandown Park and he got first run in a muddling race to beat a smart field including Time Charter, Muscatite and Tolomeo. A year later O’Brien and Sangster were back again as their outstanding horse Sadlers Wells beat another vintage field including Time Charter, Wassl and Morcon. The colt would go on to become one of the greatest stallions of all time.
In 1985 the Eclipse Stakes turned into a battle of older horses. Sadly St Leger winner Commanche Run was a late withdrawal and in the race itself the superstar filly Pebbles became the first female winner in the long history of the Eclipse Stakes, quickening away from the smart Rainbow Quest (who would later win the Arc de Triomphe) and Bob Back, who would become another top stallion along with Rainbow Quest. Pebbles herself would later brilliantly win the Champion Stakes, beating Derby winner Slip Anchor and Commanche Run, before winning the Breeders’ Cup Turf.
A year later saw another iconic racing name as Dancing Brave imperiously cut down Triptych and Bedtime with a withering run to gain some compensation for his unlucky Epsom Derby defeat. By season’s end this great horse had added a King George and Arc de Triomphe, having already pulverised his rivals in the 2,000 Guineas.
There was another vintage clash of generations in 1987 as the Derby winner Reference Point and the smart Bellotto and Milligram took on Triptych and the fast-improving 4 year old Mtoto. In an enthralling finish the front-running Reference Point and the late-finishing Mtoto fought their way through the final quarter of a mile locked in battle but the older horse had enough kick to gain the verdict.
A year later Mtoto, having won his second Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot, was back to defend his Eclipse crown and did so in fantastic style from a field containing Shady Heights and those majestic race mares Indian Skimmer and Triptych.
If that was a great clash, the 1989 renewal was truly one to savour. Billed “The Quest For The Best” the 1989 Coral Eclipse was a deep field indeed, containing the hugely impressive Guineas and Derby hero Nashwan, the superstar miler Warning and the outstanding Indian Skimmer. But there was another significant runner, who in time would make a significant mark and hinted at his latent talent in this Eclipse. Indian Skimmer’s pacemaker was a colt called Opening Verse who set off a long way clear of the field and remained at the head of affairs with a big lead well inside the home straight. Suddenly the other riders realised they had given Opening Verse too much rope but only Willie Carson, hard at work on Nashwan, was able to cut down the leader. Indian Skimmer finished a most disappointing third and Warning ran dismally. Nashwan scraped home in the King George next time out but the feeling was that the Eclipse Stakes had taken a lot out of him. And no wonder. Opening Verse won the Breeders’ Cup Mile in time, meaning that the Eclipse Stakes had even more depth than at first glance!
In 1990 Elmaamul emulated his sire Ela Mana Mou by winning the race and in 1991 it was that popular grey Environment Friend, who had earlier won the Dante Stakes, who got the better of Stagecraft in a another fabulous line-up.
The following year Kooyonga became the second female winner of the race as she gained compensation for being disqualified at Royal Ascot.
Opera House and Ezzoud struck a blow for the older horses the next two years, with the latter beating the injured Derby winner Erhaab in the process.
Then in 1995 the racing scene witnessed the arrival in the big time of a former handicapper who would become a superstar. Halling had won the previous year’s Cambridgeshire handicapper but stepped up significantly to beat a super field including Singspiel and former winner the ever-green Environment Friend. Halling duly followed-up in 1996 too, in a race which saw the field unusually race down the stands rail in the home straight. This time his victims included the smart 3 year old Bijou D’Inde and Pentire.
There was controversy the following year as the superstar filly Bosra Sham found herself boxed in on the rails in a small field and with jockey Kieren Fallon unable to extract her in time, the race went to superstar Pilsudski, who beat the Derby winner Benny The Dip.
In 1998 the Godolphin team recorded an exceptional one-two-three in the race as the outstanding grey Daylami gained revenge on Faithful Son for a Royal Ascot defeat, with Central Park in third place.
Compton Admiral won the 1999 race but in 2000 there was another vintage renewal as Aidan O’Brien’s brilliantly tough colt Giant’s Causeway edged out Kalanisi in a titanic struggle, with future Arc de Triomphe winner Sakhee further back.
Medicean won the 2001 race and a year later O’Brien was back in the Winners’ Enclosure as Hawk Wing, runner-up in two Classics, finally won a big prize. In 2003 Falbrav got the better of Nayef in an exciting race which saw an unusually large field of 15 runners.
The following year Refuse To Bend, the winner of the Guineas the previous year, just edged out the globe-trotting Warrsan by a head.
There was a surprise outcome in 2005 as the majestic Derby winner Motivator was turned over by Oratorio with Australian superstar Starcraft well in arrears. That year’s Champion Stakes went to David Junior and Brian Meehan’s colt stayed in training, winning the 2006 Eclipse Stakes from Notnowcato, with super mare Ouija Board well beaten.
Notnowcato returned in 2007 but faced the daunting prospect of Derby winner Authorized and superstar miler George Washington, back on the racetrack after failing to succeed at stud. Tactics won the day in dramatic fashion in the Eclipse Stakes as Ryan Moore rode his first ever Group 1 winner. Turning into the home straight, the field clung to the far rail, with George Washington and Authorized tucked in behind the leaders. Meanwhile Moore brought Notnowcato across to the stands rail and better ground, racing all alone. It proved a stroke of genius as the chestnut colt got up by a length and a half from the Derby winner.
Mount Nelson landed the 2008 Eclipse before retiring to stud but in 2009 the crowds flocked to Sandown Park for what proved perhaps the strongest race of the entire season. With soft ground due for the Irish Derby, trainer John Oxx re-routed his superstar colt Sea The Stars to the Coral Eclipse Stakes, having already landed the 2,000 Guineas and Derby, the first horse in 20 years to accomplish that feat. At Sandown Park he faced no easy task however, as his opposition included Rip Van Winkle, St Leger winner Conduit and Twice Over. However as the pacemakers came back to the field in the home straight, Michael Kinane had Sea The Stars ideally placed to go on and whilst Rip Van Winkle closed, the brightest star of all had plenty in hand and eased to victory. Later on he would add the Juddmonte International, Irish Champion Stakes and Arc de Triomphe in a staggering career. Rip Van Winkle would win the Sussex Stakes and Queen Elizabeth IInd Stakes, Conduit would win the King George and Twice Over would win the Champion Stakes. Some form!
Whilst the line-up for the 2010 renewal was always going to struggle to match that of the previous year, the race had a popular winner as Twice Over continued the renaissance of the ever-popular Sir Henry Cecil. Twice Over raced for several seasons and became a real crowd favourite as well as a favourite of the trainer himself. He would win a second Champion Stakes and also landed a Juddmonte International Stakes as a 6 year old.
The globalisation of racing had become a reality over several years and was brought home to race goers in 2011 as the ex-Australian giant So You Think got the better of the previous year’s Derby and Arc de Triomphe winner Workforce in a brilliant battle.
With older horses dominating recent Eclipse Stakes (with the exception of Sea The Stars in 2009), the trend continued in 2012 when the smart colt Nathaniel won the race on his seasonal debut, beating Farhh and the ever-green Twice Over.
Another older horse captured the 2013 Coral Eclipse Stakes when the fast-improving Al Kazeem, rose to the top echelon of racing with a decisive victory over Mukhadram and Declaration Of War.
In 2014 it was the turn of Mukhadram to gallantly add his name to a sparkling roll of honour, beating the Irish Derby winner Trading Leather.
A year later, Golden Horn, still unbeaten, defied the mixed recent record of Derby winners with a glorious performance to defeat The Grey Gatsby. He would go on to add the Irish Champion Stakes and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe during a glorious campaign.
2016 saw Godolphin’s improving Hawkbill get the better of The Gurkha in an enthralling battle.
A year later, Sir Michael Stoute’s improving four year old Ulysses, landed his first Group One, beating the likes of Barney Roy and Cliffs Of Moher. He later won the Juddmonte International Stakes, before finishing third to Enable in the Arc.
In 2018, the focus was on the three year-olds, as old rivals Roaring Lion and Saxon Warrior locked horns for the fourth time. Roaring Lion made it two wins apiece as he got the better of the 2,000 Guineas winner by a neck, with former winner Hawkbill, further back. Roaring Lion went on to land the Juddmonte International Stakes, Irish Champion Stakes and the QEII in a stellar second half to the season.
Whilst older horses have very much had the edge in recent years, the Coral Eclipse Stakes still delivers quality winners year after year.
Eclipse Stakes winners:
|1921||Craig an Eran||3|
|1954||King of the Tudors||4|
|1962||Henry the Seventh||4|
|1966||Pieces of Eight||3|
|1974||Coup de Feu||5|
|2004||Refuse to Bend||4|
|2009||Sea the Stars||3|
|2011||So You Think||5|