I should have listened to George Duffield. Sandown Park’s Eclipse Stakes, the first time the Classic generation of three-year-olds take on their elders, is one of my favourite races and the then 53-year-old rider’s triumph on Giant’s Causeway in 2000, beating Kalanisi by a head after Pat Eddery had driven him into the lead 200 yards from the finish, was the duel I will never forget. Duffield was Sir Mark Prescott’s stable jockey and soon after that race the Newmarket maestro took a call from Aidan O’Brien, Giant’s Causeway’s trainer. ‘Whatever you do Sir Mark,’ said the quiet Irish voice, ‘make sure you breed from him before you let him go!’
This year’s Eclipse was a fascinating prospect. Vying for favourites were O’Brien’s three-year-old Paddington, winner of the Irish 2000 Guineas and victor at Royal Ascot in the St James’s Palace Stakes, and Emily Upjohn, the four-year-old filly who won the Fillies and Mares Champion Stakes last year and took this year’s Coronation Cup at Epsom.
William Haggas’s five-year-old Dubai Honour, twice a Group One winner in Australia, was no remote prospect and the Crisfords’ West Wind Blows, a Group race winner in France, completed the field. What made the contest especially intriguing was that Paddington’s Group 1 victories were over a mile, while Emily Upjohn’s were gained over a mile and a half. For the ten- furlong Eclipse, she was dropping down in trip, while Paddington was moving up.
From the start my heart was with Emily Upjohn, who last summer, at a time when she was one of this column’s Twelve to Follow, had been desperately unlucky to finish second in the Oaks after losing many lengths with a stumble at the start.
Statistics offered some cheer: horses like Paddington stepping up in trip for the race had only once succeeded, while horses dropping back in trip like Emily Upjohn had a strike rate of 19 per cent (seven winners from 36 qualifiers).