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The Coral Eclipse

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History

The Coral Eclipse Stakes, at one time Britain’s richest race, is a rarity – it’s named after a horse. Eclipse was a phenomenal 18th-century stallion, unbeaten in 18 starts. His excellence inspired the phrase “Eclipse first and the rest nowhere”, still used today to describe a dominating performance.

Fittingly, the Coral-Eclipse Stakes, run at Sandown Park over 1 mile 2 furlongs (2,000 metres) for three-year-olds and older horses, has always attracted high-quality fields. Take the first three finishers in 1903 – they shared seven Classic victories between them. That tradition has continued, with the 2009 race won by Sea The Stars, the 2000 Guineas and Derby winner (and, later in the same year, victor in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in Paris).

The Coral-Eclipse provides the first major opportunity for three-year-olds, who have previously only raced at the top level against their own generation in races like the QIPCO 2000 and QIPCO 1000 Guineas, the Investec Derby and Investec Oaks and the St James’s Palace Stakes and Coronation Stakes, to meet their older rivals. The bookmaker Coral has sponsored the race since 1976, making it one of the longest-running sports sponsorships.

Current leading jockeys: Frankie Dettori, 3 wins (1998, 2004, 2015)
Current leading trainers: Sir Michael Stoute, 5 wins (1993, 1994, 1997, 2001, 2007); Aidan O’Brien, 5 wins (2000, 2002, 2005, 2008, 2011)

Previous winners

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Hawkbill digs deep to fend off The Gurkha

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.

Results

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The Course

Compared to many of Britain’s leading horseracing venues, Sandown Park is ultra-modern. It’s only been in existence since 1875.

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Where many courses developed gradually and informally, Sandown Park was purpose-built on the edge of London. The town planners considered an alternative use for the site – as a lunatic asylum – but thankfully opted for the horses instead.

You can see such landmarks as the London Eye, Wembley Stadium and the Gherkin from the racecourse but most fans keep their eyes firmly fixed on Sandown’s famous hill finish, the stage of many thrilling finales. Legendary jockey Fred Archer rode a winner at the inaugural meeting, while Arkle, Mill Reef and Desert Orchid – over the fences, of course – all triumphed here. Sandown was the Queen Mother’s favourite course.

Its biggest flat race, the Coral-Eclipse Stakes in early July, is part of the QIPCO British Champions Series.  It’s named after the undefeated 18th century racehorse, Eclipse, who became a hugely influential stallion with 95% of modern-day thoroughbred racehorses tracing back to him through their male bloodlines.

Getting there

Portsmouth Rd,
Esher
KT10 9AJ

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