IT’S one of the world’s great Classic races, but it gets very little mention in our local press, being overshadowed by Africa’s greatest race, the Vodacom Durban July. The Coral Eclipse Stakes has produced some of this century’s greatest horses, and its influence on shaping the modern thoroughbred cannot be denied, writes LISA BARRETT.

The race was named in honour of the great Eclipse, an undefeated British racehorse of the 18th century who not only won multiple Group One races, but went onto become a highly successful sire, who features in the pedigrees of most modern thoroughbreds.

The inaugural running of this important classic was in 1886, and was won by Bendigo, who went onto become a highly successful classic winner. The race is a chance for 3 year olds to test their mettle against the older horses over 2 018 metres at Sandown Park.

Its testament to the toughness of the race and quality of the field that only five horses have ever won two runnings of the race: Orme, who was owned by the Duke Of Westminster won it in 1892 & 1893, later Orme went onto become a successful sire of a Derby and St James Palace Stakes winner, his line continues to this day through his great grandson Teddy, a highly successful racehorse and sire, Buchan in 1919 & 1920, Polyphontes in 1924 & 1925 and Mtoto in 1987 & 1988, who was ridden by our very own champion South African jockey Michael Roberts, and Halling who not only won the Eclipse in 1995 & 1996, but also managed the rare double of winning the International Stakes in the same consecutive years.

Over the decades, some of this century’s greatest horses have won the Eclipse, many of them later going onto become highly successful stallions at stud. The great Mill Reef who won the 1971 running went onto become highly stallion with winners of the 1978 Derby, Shirley Heights, himself a successful sire, and 1987 Derby winner, Reference Point. Other winners of the Eclipse who went onto become great sires include Sadler’s Wells (in 1984) who not only gave us Galileo, but who was champion sire of the British/Irish General Sires a record 14 times, the “iron horse” Giant’s Causeway in 2000, Medicean in 2001, Oratorio in 2005, and who is now based at Avontuur Farm in the Western Cape, Sea The Stars in 2009, who also became the colt since Nashwan in 1989 to win the Triple Crown of the 2000 Guineas, the Epsom Derby and the Eclipse Stakes, following that up with International Stakes, the Irish Derby and the Prix de la Arc de Triomphe, all in one year, and Golden Horn, the multiple Group One winning son of Desert Team who has recently gone to stud.

This year’s entrants are no less impressive, with several protagonists trying to carve their name into immortality with a win in this great classic race: Time Test by Dubawi, trying for his first major Group win after being pulled from the Tattersalls Gold Cup at The Curragh on account of the poor weather is one of the favourites, The Gurkha (by Galileo) an impressive winner of the French 2000 Guineas in May this year, had to settle for second place in the St. James Palace Stakes against a rampant Galileo Gold and is running over a mile and a quarter for the first time, and must be considered a serious threat as well. Then there is My Dream Boat, who caused something of an upset at Royal Ascot when he took down the top filly Found to win the Group One Prince Of Wales Stakes. Last of the likely entries with a realistic chance is Hawkbill, winner of the Group 3 Tercentenary Stakes at Royal Ascot and a five time winner of his last five starts is definitely in with a realistic chance, as he likes the softer ground forecasted for tomorrow.

With the Vodacom Durban July and Coral Eclipse to choose from, it’s going to be a feast of great classic racing this weekend.

Photo: Michael Roberts on Mtoto. (sportshorse-data.com)

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