Charlie Appleby and Godolphin savoured Group One glory as Hawkbill ran out a courageous winner of the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown.
The much-improved colt, who had been supplemented for the QIPCO Champions Series contest for £30,000 on Monday, made it six wins on the spin by keeping on stoutly to get the better of The Gurkha, the 4-6 favourite, in a rousing finale to the £525,000 contest – the richest race ever staged at the Esher course.
Sandown’s uphill finish lends itself to great theatre and it did so once more, with the well-backed 6-1 winner stretching every sinew under William Buick to fend off the market leader, trained by Aidan O’Brien and ridden by Ryan Moore.
Many observers felt The Gurkha had been unfortunate not to win when runner-up in the St James’s Palace Stakes last month – another race in the QIPCO Champions Series – but there were no excuses this time as Hawkbill pulled half a length clear close home.
Sheikh Mohammed, the founder of Godolphin more than 20 years ago, was not present to see his team’s first Eclipse win since 2004, but was quick to relay his delight.
“He’s back in Dubai watching, we’ve already spoken to him and he’s thrilled,” said John Ferguson, Godolphin racing manager and chief executive. “It’s a big day and a great team effort. Sheikh Mohammed was very keen that we supplement this horse and I’m delighted for him.
“Everybody plays such a huge role in making these things happen, so when it does happen it’s really special.
“These are huge events to win, for Godolphin and any other owners. He’s a horse that has improved and improved and the sky is the limit for him.”
Bookmakers immediately offered 4-1 about Hawkbill winning next Juddmonte International at York but Appleby is convinced the American-bred colt will thrive over an extra quarter of a mile and so the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot on July 23 will also be considered.
Much will depend on how the three-year-old bounces back from his latest battle.
“I think it’s going to be a really enjoyable time now thinking where to go, hopefully his Highness will be back for the July Meeting (at Newmarket) and we can all sit down and have a think about where we go next,” Ferguson said. “There’s no hurry and the horse has a great future.”
Appleby added: “Full credit to the team and everyone who has been involved in this horse. His biggest challenge has been himself but he has gone from strength to strength.”
It was a timely success for Buick, who begins a 30-day ban tomorrow after being adjudged to have caused the fall of a rival in the French Oaks. His 15-day suspension for that was doubled when he was offensive to the Chantilly stewards.
“I needed it (the success), it’s probably the most timely winner I’ve ever had,” he said. “Ryan (Moore, on The Gurkha) seemed to get top me very easily but I always knew Hawkbill had a couple of gears left and he has a fighter’s spirit.”
Moore has enjoyed four wins in the QIPCO Champions Series this year but, from 14 rides in it, has also finished runner-up in another six.
“I’m not sure but maybe his stamina just ran out a little bit in the soft ground,” O’Brien said of the runner-up. “He handles the ground, but maybe when a horse is that pacey it can get them. It was a little bit messy off the bend, things didn’t go exactly as you would want but he ran very well.
The connections of Time Test, who finished third, were left lamenting the testing ground.
He will be aimed at the Juddmonte International at York next month, a race his owner, Prince Khalid Abdullah, sponsors. “The covers are already down,” Lord Grimthorpe, his racing manager, said.
Countermeasure, his pacemaker, stuck on to be fourth after setting an ordinary gallop, with My Dream Boat, the Prince of Wales’s Stakes winner, unable to pick up in fifth.