The Racing Paper - - Opinion -

Eclipse. The name res­onates down through the ages, and is for­ever as­so­ci­ated with a big chest­nut race­horse who de­fied logic, and much more, to ap­pear in the pedi­gree of over 80 per cent of thor­ough­breds rac­ing to­day.

As a young horse, foaled in 1764, Eclipse was moody, re­cal­ci­trant and, on oc­ca­sion, down­right bad. Sta­ble staff and rid­ers would give him and his sta­ble a wide berth. For those whose mind was mud­died and clouded by ale from the night be­fore, or who were just sim­ply not pay­ing enough at­ten­tion, a white socked hoof would bring them crash­ing back into the real world. Bet­ter than be­ing kicked into an­other world, a fate that some only nar­rowly avoided.

For the time, the 16 hand Eclipse was con­sid­ered some­thing of a gi­ant among race­horses. But he was an in­tractable old sod, and his bad man­ners and punchy ap­proach to life very nearly saw him suf­fer the in­dig­nity of the un­kind­est cut of all.

A stan­dard pro­ce­dure that would, un­wit­tingly, have changed the dy­namic of the thor­ough­bred race­horse that we love, adore and whose for­tunes we fol­low to­day and ev­ery day.

But rather than be­ing cut, the cheeky rogue was ‘hard rid­den’ by his de­voted and ded­i­cated groom John Oak­ley. Oak­ley rode his charge at dawn, through the day, and as dusk fell. ‘Hard rid­den’ in­deed, to put some man­ners on his mount. If folk­lore can be taken at face value, and why not be­cause it is more fun that way, Eclipse was also rid­den at dead of night on dar­ing poach­ing es­capades. I might try that some moon­lit night.

It worked. And it was not long be­fore this un­godly beast had been trans­formed into one of the great­est race­horses of all time, un­de­feated in 18 races. ‘Eclipse first, the rest nowhere.’ A cry that was ut­tered across this is­land as the big horse took on all-com­ers, and beat them by sev­eral coun­try miles.

Sandown this af­ter­noon. One of the finest nat­u­ral sport­ing am­phithe­atres will play host once more to the race that car­ries the great horse’s moniker. We love the di­ver­sity of race­course that our sport pro­vides, but some have view­ing fa­cil­i­ties that leave just a lit­tle to be de­sired. Not this place, which pro­vides unim­peded views of the ac­tion. The ser­ried ranks of Sur­rey sub­ur­ban homes stretch away over the rail­way line, and merge into the dis­tant fringes of cen­tral Lon­don. Race­go­ers will dis­em­bark from the sta­tion be­side the fa­mous steeple­chase fences that have al­tered the course of many a horser­ace, and will snake their way across the baked brown in­field. They will all have a view. An opin­ion. Form stud­ied, picks made, dream ac­cu­mu­la­tors placed. They will be here to wit­ness one of the sea­son’s great races, and one that has de­fined many a clas­sic gen­er­a­tion.

Mill Reef. Bri­gadier Ger­ard. Ela-Mana-Mou. Dancing Brave. Mtoto twice. Nash­wan. Giants Cause­way pulling it out of the fire un­der an in­spired G Duffield. Hawk Wing. Fal­brav. Sea The Stars. Nathaniel win­ning un­der Ryan, when for a mo­ment we thought he had lost his bear­ings and his mar­bles. Golden Horn.

Per­sonal favourites from the pan­theon of greats that won the Eclipse.

And so to to­day’s fas­ci­nat­ing re­newal. Not re­ally a clash of the gen­er­a­tions, with the fouryear-olds Cliffs of Mo­her and For­est Ranger look­ing un­likely win­ners. But still a com­pelling test of the Clas­sic gen­er­a­tion. The Derby holds us all in its thrall on the first Satur­day in June. But once the race is run the form of the race comes un­der in­stant scru­tiny. A ‘Good Derby’. Or just an or­di­nary gen­er­a­tion?

The Derby form is firmly in the spot­light to­day. Masar could be very spe­cial. What about the slightly quirky but po­ten­tially bril­liant Roar­ing Lion? Or Saxon War­rior whose star has waned since that Guineas de­mo­li­tion job? To­day a cun­ning plan for him, or des­per­ate af­ter­thought ?

A race to savour. Played out amid parched scenes not seen since Wol­low had his day back in the drought sum­mer of ‘76. And when the race is won, the small mat­ter of a foot­ball match to keep us on our toes!

“Eclipse was also rid­den at dead of night on poach­ing es­capades. I might try that some moon­lit night”

Great mem­ory: Golden Horn wins the 2015 Eclipse

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