The Coral-Eclipse has a rich history and glittering roll-call of winners. David Ord looks back on his seven favourite renewals.
The Coral-Eclipse is a wonderful race. It marks the first significant battle of the generations and has been won by some of the giants of the turf. Just look at the names I’ve omitted from my own list - Pebbles, Mtoto, Pilsudski, Daylami, Hawk Wing, Falbrav, So You Think, Nathaniel and Roaring Lion.
And that’s during my time following the sport of kings. In the 70s Connaught, Mill Reef and Brigadier Gerard won consecutive renewals. It’s a race that matters and the long Sandown straight and punishing climb to the line will expose any weakness in horse or jockey.
So, here – in chronological order – are my magnificent seven.
1984 Sadler’s Wells
Here’s a name enshrined in racing folklore as the most successful – and significant – stallion for several generations. His influence, through the sons and daughters of Galileo, will continue for many decades more.
But as a racehorse his finest hour came on the first Saturday of July 1984. He wasn’t even Vincent O’Brien’s best three-year-old colt that year, although if you’re going to play second fiddle to any horse El Gran Senor isn’t a bad horse to do so behind, but he was a teak-tough, top-class performer in his own right.
He arrived at Sandown having snared the Irish 2000 Guineas but this was a first Group One success at ten furlongs and done in typically brave style. Pat Eddery tracked the pace, went to the front approaching the furlong marker, and try as they might, the older brigade of Tolomeo and Morcon couldn’t reel him in.
He had a high head-carriage but the heart of a lion and while it’s in the covering sheds that his legacy lies, he showed in the 1984 Coral-Eclipse he could raise a gallop to match the best too.
1986 Dancing Brave
Pitched in against battle-hardened elders in Bedtime and Teleprompter plus rising French star Tryptich, Dancing Brave sat a stern Sandown test.
He passed it with flying colours, quickening clear under Greville Starkey to put the race to bed in a matter of strides in the way only the very best ones can.
It isn’t one of the performances for which he’s remembered – they are his agonising Derby defeat and glorious Arc success – but it was one that firmly laid down his marker as the best middle-distance horse of 1986.
Starkey was sidelined for his next start in the King George at Ascot and replaced by Eddery. The rest – as they say – is history.
As we all still try to digest Sovereign’s all-the-way win in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby, this is a timely opportunity to look back at another pacemaker who took centre stage.
Opening Verse, in there to guarantee a good gallop for Indian Skimmer, didn’t look for catching down the rain-softened Sandown straight until Willie Carson asked Nashwan the deepest of questions. It was one the jockey felt left a mark on the chestnut but time was to prove he wasn’t chasing a Group One impostor.
Switched to America, Opening Verse went on to win the Breeders’ Cup Mile in the silks of Allen Paulson but at Sandown it was 'Nash The Dash' who had his measure.
In behind was not only Indian Skimmer but Warning, the crack miler stepping up to ten furlongs for the Dancing Brave team.
Opening Verse took the race apart and only Nashwan had the reserves to get to him in a Coral-Eclipse billed as the 'Quest For The Best'. He was certainly one of them.
Back-to-back Coral-Eclipse winners are rare – Mtoto ended a 63-year wait for another one in 1988 - and in 1996 Halling added his name to the small-but-select roster.
His success came during a golden period for Godolphin and, typically of the time, he wasn't a horse who started out in their silks.
Halling had some back story. Unraced as a juvenile, he didn’t see the racecourse until the July of his three-year-old campaign when he finished seventh in a five furlong maiden at Yarmouth. Defeats at Thirsk and Windsor followed before he opened is account in a Ripon handicap in August from a mark of 75. Two months later he won the Cambridgeshire from 93 and we had lift-off.
His first Eclipse win was a game neck defeat of Singspiel – his second another neck triumph – this time over Bijou D'Inde. John Reid was in the saddle aboard Halling this time and his mount showed his customary toughness up the hill as the St James's Palace Stakes hero tried to wrest the crown for the Classic generation.
There have been better winners of the Coral-Eclipse in ratings terms – but few braver. And fewer still who were wining off 75 in North Yorkshire in the August of their three-year-old careers.
2000 Giant’s Causeway
He might have been braver than Halling, certainly it would have been a scrap worthy of Madison Square Garden had they been of the same generation.
The Iron Horse thrived on his racing and loved a battle. He got one at Sandown as Kalanisi loomed large to challenge and went past his rival inside the distance.
For all the world it looked as though Pat Eddery was booked for a fourth win in the race but George Duffield, an unlikely but inspired booking for the Ballydoyle-trained winner, knew all hope wasn't lost.
He galvanised Giant’s Causeway who set his head lower and snatched the prize back 50 yards from the post.
In the re-match in the Juddmonte International the Kalanisi team decided to challenge wide and late – you can't fight what you can’t see their understandable mantra.
But Giant's Causeway spotted him. It was at Sandown though, with the likes of Sakhee and Fantastic Light in behind, that the Iron Horse began to roll.
2009 Sea The Stars
The 2000 Guineas, Derby, Eclipse treble was completed again in 2009 – and by a wonderful colt. John Oxx’s son of Cape Cross.
Three pacemakers ensured there was no hiding place in this renewal but Mick Kinane was aware of the danger of traffic problems as that trio came back to the field and switched the favourite towards the centre of the track this ensuring clear blue water for the final two furlongs.
His every move was covered by Jimmy Fortune aboard market rival Rip Van Winkle and the beauty of this Eclipse was the simplicity of it. Would the stalker pounce on his prey?
Kinane had to commit early – two out – and for a stride or two it seemed as though he could be vulnerable to the run Rip Van Winkle was conjuring. But then the eventual runner-up cracked. He drifted marginally to his right as the strain told and, now against the far rail, Sea The Stars maintained his relentless gallop to the line.
This champion wasn’t for passing.
2015 Golden Horn
It’s only four years ago but you just wonder if he’s going to get the credit he deserves as he disappears into the annals of racing history.
Just look at his three-year-old CV. Wins in the Feilden Stakes, Dante, Investec Derby, Coral-Eclipse, Irish Champion and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
There were only two defeats – an unfathomable one to Arabian Queen in the Juddmonte International and a rather more understandable one in the Breeders’ Cup Turf during the Keeneland fall.
At Sandown we saw all that was good about another brilliant son of Cape Cross. This was a very different test to the one he faced in a truly-run Derby and Frankie Dettori opted to go to the front as the stalls opened.
What followed was gripping as The Grey Gatsby laid siege to his castle walls from early in the straight. Again there was a moment – two out – when he looked in danger but again, as always seems to be the case in this race, class and stamina came to the fore.
The runner-up was beaten off with a furlong to go and Golden Horn proceeded to put three-and-a-half lengths between them in the final climb to the line.
The Coral-Eclipse had again crowned a true champion.