When only four horses were declared to contest this year’s Coral Eclipse Stakes at Sandown Park, there were the usual mutters. Since owners and trainers are always complaining (with justice) about the low levels of prize money in British racing, why weren’t more of them sending their charges to compete for the £640,000 on offer? Brought up within walking distance of the Esher track (and yes, there were occasions when, having blown my stake money and then some, I did have to walk home), I have always been fascinated by the Eclipse, the year’s first contest between the three-year-olds and their elders.
I will never forget Triple Crown winner Nashwan’s electrifying burst which put him five lengths clear of the field in 1989, the furious ding-dong battle between the iron horse Giant’s Causeway (George Duffield) and Kalanisi (Pat Eddery) in 2000 or the manoeuvre by a young Ryan Moore in 2007 when he left the field to come over alone to the standside rails and win on Notnowcato. So why didn’t we see more participants seeking to add their names to that illustrious list last Saturday?
The answer is, I am afraid, a humdrum one. Paying up at the various Eclipse entry stages to have the chance of running on the day would cost connections £7,000. If you wanted to supplement a late developer having missed those stages, it would cost you a cool £37,000 to run. When they looked at the sheer class of the top three entrants, owners and trainers could be forgiven for finding other uses for their money. Four-year-old Mishriff, trained by John and Thady Gosden, won last year’s Prix du Jockey Club (the French Derby) and had picked up £9.5 million earlier this year winning the Saudi Cup and the Dubai Sheema Classic. The seven-year-old Addeybb, trained by William Haggas, had won three Group Ones in Australia over the past two years and the Champion Stakes while the three-year-old St Mark’s Basilica, trained by the Irish genius Aidan O’Brien, was the winner of two French Classics this year. All credit to Roger Varian, trainer of the Dee Stakes winner El Drama, and owner Sheikh Ahmed Al Maktoum, for being willing to take on the Big Three. They deserved the £32,160 prize money they collected for fourth place, but you can see why they didn’t have to fight anybody else for it.
The real question was: did the 4,000 of us at Sandown on Saturday get value for money? And the answer was a resounding Yes. Turning into the finishing straight as David Egan moved Mishriff up to the early leader Addeybb, with Tom Marquand aboard, Ryan Moore appeared to be working harder than either of them on St Mark’s Basilica. It looked as though the four-year-old and the seven-year-old were going to contest the finish. But then Ryan Moore switched on the after-burner aboard St Mark’s Basilica and the two seasoned world-class warriors, having to concede a 10lb weight-for-age allowance to the three-year-old, were left for dead as he swept past for a scintillating victory. St Mark’s Basilica has class and speed.
We are used to Aidan collecting Derbies and other Classics in the quantities others collect postage stamps, but he hadn’t won an Eclipse since 2011 and he hadn’t tried to do so with a three-year-old since 2005. There was a special tone in which he spoke about this winner afterwards, saying: ‘Of all the times we’ve trained horses through all the years, I can’t remember that we’ve had one like this. We’ve had horses get into fights, and brawl it out, but he’s very happy to follow horses and quicken. He puts races to bed very quickly.’ What was just as significant was co-owner Michael Tabor, one of the Coolmore team Aidan refers to as ‘the lads’, reflecting publicly that their mainstay stallion Galileo, now 21, cannot go on for ever and that St Mark’s Basilica’s sire Siyouni ‘could fill a big hole’. ‘Let’s face it, this is not a poor man’s business. To make things pay you need to create stallions. If you do, it can prove quite lucrative.’ Possibly the understatement of the year. I had a good day myself with Dance Fever, one of our Twelve to Follow, winning at Leicester at 100-30 and Ed Walker’s muscular grey Came From The Dark, whom I mentioned on my shortlist but did not include, winning the Coral Charge at 5-1, making a handy double .
Unfortunately, I seem to have produced a Twelve who are actually Thirteen, with some puzzled over which horses are included and which merely mentioned as possible inclusions from a shortlist. So as to clear up any doubt for regular readers like Judith from Stockwell, the six who have already won races are Aaddey, Asadjumeirah, Dance Fever, Derab, King’s Lynn and Thundering Nights. Yet to oblige (or, in some cases, run) are Albaflora, Lockerbie, Run To Freedom, Shelir, Tactical, Top Rank and Waldkonig. I won’t discard one now as he would then be sure to win.