ECLIPSE THE WONDER HORSE!
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