Sea The Stars (left) repels Rip Van Winkle in a thrilling edition of the Eclipse
2009 Derby winner Sea The Stars (left) follows up in the Eclipse

How have Derby winners fared in the Eclipse Stakes at Sandown?

With City of Troy being aimed at Sandown next month, John Ingles looks at the record of Derby winners in the Eclipse.

Immediately after City of Troy won at Epsom, belatedly delivering the sort of performance his two-year-old form had promised, his trainer Aidan O’Brien outlined an American dirt campaign for the son of US triple crown winner Justify. That would be an unorthodox route for a Derby winner to take, but the good news for those this side of the Atlantic is that City of Troy will have at least one more start on turf in Europe first, in the Eclipse Stakes at Sandown.

City of Troy was O’Brien’s tenth Derby winner, but none of his previous nine have dropped back in trip for their next start, either for the Eclipse or anywhere else. In fact, all bar Serpentine (who won the ‘July Derby’ in the covid-hit 2020 season) went on to the Irish Derby where most of them followed up their Epsom victories.

O’Brien has won the Eclipse a record seven times, with Paddington last year being his fifth three-year-old colt to win it. Two of the others were beaten in the Derby beforehand, with Hawk Wing finishing second to stablemate High Chaparral in 2002 and Oratorio finishing only tenth at Epsom in 2005. Neither of those colts ran over a mile and a half again after their Derby defeats.

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‘The lads’ no doubt feel Derby third Los Angeles, who’s more of a staying type than City of Troy, would have a good chance of going two places better at the Curragh. Similar to the situation the Coolmore partners had in 2002 with High Chaparral and Hawk Wing, that frees up City of Troy to go for the Eclipse where the two furlong shorter trip is most unlikely to inconvenience him given the strong hold he took at Epsom and the speed he showed to make an eye-catching move early in the straight.

The last Derby winner to contest the Eclipse was Golden Horn in 2015 who landed odds of 4/9 from the pick of his older rivals The Grey Gatsby. Golden Horn thereby joined a very select group of colts to have completed the double. Ten have done so all told, dating back to the triple crown winners Flying Fox and Diamond Jubilee early in the Eclipse’s history, but in the last 50 years or so, the only others to have won at Epsom and then Sandown have been Mill Reef (1971), Nashwan (1989) and Sea The Stars (2009). This trio, along with Golden Horn, were not only above-average Derby winners but enjoyed outstanding three-year-old campaigns which went beyond just completing the Derby-Eclipse double.

Mill Reef won the King George and Arc after the Eclipse; Nashwan, who’d also won the 2000 Guineas, also won the King George; Sea The Stars, another 2000 Guineas winner, won the Juddmonte International, Irish Champion Stakes and Arc, while Golden Horn won the latter two races.

Nowadays, three-year-old colts receive 10 lb from older male rivals in the Eclipse, which is less than in the past, and it’s no easy task for a Derby winner taking on his elders for the first time and dropping back in trip. The classic generation has been successful in the last three editions of the Eclipse but if City of Troy or one of his contemporaries wins this year, that would be an unprecedented run of success for three-year-olds in a race whose history dates back to 1896.

City of Troy is a dominant Derby winner
READ: Graeme North's analysis of City of Troy's Derby win

In the same period that the Eclipse has been won by four Derby winners, another five have been beaten at Sandown, four of those in the 20 years between Nashwan and Sea The Stars. In 1987, Derby winner Reference Point started at even-money for the Eclipse but unlike in the Derby he was unable to make all the running, succumbing at the end of a tremendous duel over the last couple of furlongs to top-class four-year-old Mtoto who would win the Eclipse again a year later. Reference Point, who went on to win the King George and St Leger, received 13 lb from the winner, incidentally.

Erhaab, along with a pacemaker, was supplemented for the 1994 Eclipse and sent off the 4/6 favourite but turned in a rather laboured effort, finishing only third behind the five-year-old Ezzoud in a less than vintage renewal.

The next Derby winner to try was Benny The Dip three years later when the only three-year-old in a field of five. At 6/1, he was only third choice in the betting, and while he got the better of odds-on favourite Bosra Sham, like Erhaab he found a Sir Michael Stoute-trained older horse too good, finishing second to the top-class Pilsudski.

According to the betting, Motivator had a much better chance of supplementing his five-length win at Epsom when sent off the 2/5 favourite at Sandown in 2005 but the winner that year has already been mentioned, with the O’Brien-trained Oratorio running on strongly to collar Motivator near the finish in a big reversal of the Derby form.

The most recent Derby winner to be beaten in the Eclipse was Authorized in 2007. He too started odds on and was another to be thwarted by an older rival trained by Sir Michael Stoute, although Aidan O’Brien appeared to field his main rival beforehand, George Washington. Instead it was Notnowcato who got the better of the favourite in a tactical race, striking for home first off the home turn before Ryan Moore brought him alone up the stand rail in the straight in search of better ground.

Like the Derby winners who have contested the Eclipse before him, City of Troy’s chances will ultimately depend to a large extent on the strength of the opposition he faces from older rivals. Second favourite in the ante-post lists is Sir Michael Stoute’s four-year-old Passenger whose sire Ulysses is among Stoute’s six Eclipse winners, all of them four- or five-year-olds. As we’ve seen, three of them have beaten Derby winners to be successful at Sandown.

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