Magazine article The Spectator

The Turf: Robin Oakley

Magazine article The Spectator

The Turf: Robin Oakley

Article excerpt

Eclipse was one of the most remarkable racehorses ever. Sired by the then undistinguished Marske, whom mares could visit for a mere half-guinea,and born in Windsor Great Park on the day of the annular eclipse of the sun in 1774, the chestnut with one white stocking retired unbeaten after 18 victories in the days when races were run in heats over two or four miles.

Famously, Dennis O'Kelly, who became his part-owner, placed a bet on his second contest that the result would be 'Eclipse first, the rest nowhere', which technically meant that he had to finish a 'distance' (that is, 240 yards) clear of the rest. He did, and no more appropriate name than the Eclipse Stakes could have been given to the exciting race that Sandown Park created in 1875, the first each year in which the Classic generation three-year-olds take on their elders with a weight for age allowance.

Year after year, the Sandown contest, sponsored since 1976 by the bookmakers Coral, produces a thriller even though it is often reduced to only a handful of runners. I have witnessed no better racecourse duel than that fought in 2000 between George Duffield on the lion-hearted Giant's Causeway and Pat Eddery on Kalanisi. There have been few better assertions of true class than the five-length victory in 1989 by Nashwan, already the winner of the 2000 Guineas and Derby.

That Derby/Eclipse double is a rarity. Since 1952 only Tulyar, Mill Reef and Sea the Stars have equalled Nashwan's feat, and what excited all about this year's race was whether Golden Horn, such an impressive winner at Epsom, could join those superstars. Lined up against the multiple Group One winner The Grey Gatsby, Aidan O'Brien's Cougar Mountain, his stablemate in John Gosden's star-studded yard Western Hymn and Andrew Balding's Tullius, Frankie Dettori took his mount straight into the lead over the two-furlongs-shorter trip. It was bold: Golden Horn had never led in his previous races. But Dettori is a master at judging pace and settling a horse into a rhythm. On The Grey Gatsby, Jamie Spencer, a specialist at swooping from the clouds in the last 50 yards, was equally bold. He moved right up to the leader to eyeball him two furlongs from the finish. It was the mano-a-mano moment of truth: would the younger horse falter, did the Derby winner have resolution as well as class? We soon knew. Golden Horn accepted the challenge and stretched his neck. …

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