(Published 19.40 – June 22) – One of the great races of the year, the mile-and-a-quarter Group 1 Coral Eclipse Stakes is the first major clash of the generations over a middle-distance and gives racing fans a line as to just how the top three-year-olds compare with the older horses over the intermediate distance between a mile and a mile-and-a-half.
Staged at Sandown Park and named in honour of one of the all-time legendary racehorses, Eclipse, who dominated his generation back in the late-18th century, the roll of honour for this tremendous contest reads like a ‘Who’s Who’ of European Flat racing. Glancing back at just the last 25 years we find great names such as dual winner Halling, Pilsudski, Daylami, Giant’s Causeway, Hawk Wing, Sea The Stars, So You Think, Nathaniel, Golden Horn, and twelve months ago, Sir Michael Stoute’s Ulysses.
Derby Winner Masar Drops Back In Trip
Twice in the last nine renewals of the Eclipse the Derby winner has come to Sandown Park and left with an enhanced reputation having landed the spoils. In 2009 it was the brilliant Sea The Stars who made it his third of six Group 1 success in a stellar season, while in 2015 John Gosden’s star Golden Horn took the race before, like Sea The Stars, he went on to land the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at the end of the campaign. Could Masar prove up to that standard?
The Charlie Appleby-trained colt was certainly very impressive when romping away with the Investec Derby earlier this month and there are no stamina issues to consider. He also showed a lot of pace when bolting in by nine lengths at Newmarket in April the Group 3 Craven Stakes, beating the subsequent Dante Stakes winner Roaring Lion by nine lengths, and in finishing a fine third behind Saxon Warrior in the Qipco 2000 Guineas.
It’s no surprise then to see the son of New Approach head the ante-post Eclipse market at 2/1 with bet365. He doesn’t hold an entry in the £750,000 contest, but connections have already stated they intend to supplement their star performer and let him take his chance. He’s a very good horse and will surely make his presence felt.
At a top priced 10/3 with Paddy Power, Roaring Lion is next in the betting. He failed only narrowly to beat Saxon Warrior in last season’s Group 1 Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster and followed his disappointing third behind Masar at Newmarket in April, by ruinning a solid fifth in the 2000 Guineas having raced apart from the main body of the field on the stands, side. Everything fell into place thuogh at York last month for the son of Kitten’s Joy who powered to an impressive four-and-a-half length success over Mildenberger in the Group 2 Betfred Dante Stakes.
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In the Derby, Roaring Lion’s supporters must have thought they had a big chance two out as he surged forward in pursuit of Masar, but he didn’t see the race out as well as the winner and eventually was just edged out of second spot by the gallant Dee Ex Bee. The Eclipse trip looks more suitable, but is there really a case to be argued for Gosden’s charge reversing the placings with Masar? I’m not sure there is.
Of the other leading three-year-olds, Saxon Warrior is a doubtful runner as he will almost certainly take his chance a week earlier in next Saturday’s Irish Derby, while Without Parole, who landed the one mile Group 1 St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot earlier this week, is likely to be prepared for the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood on August 1. It would not be a surprise though to see Aidan O’Brien’s Gustav Klimt, runner-up to Without Parole, step up and have a crack at the Eclipse as he stayed on very well inside the final furlong at Ascot. A place may again be the best he could hope for and he is a top priced 14/1 with BetVictor .
Poet’s Can Have The Last Word
On to the older horses, and the shortest in the market of those expected to take their chance is the Group 1 Prince of Wales’s Stakes hero POET’S WORD, who lowered the colours of the high-class Cracksman in recording something of a shock win on Wednesday under James Doyle. While Cracksman was clearly not at his best, I believe Sir Michael Stoute’s colt has not been given the credit he deserves for a great winning effort.
If you take Cracksman out of the equation, Poet’s Word beat the 122-rated Hawkbill (who finished third) by 10 lengths, and the 115-rated Cliffs of Moher, (who finished fourth) by 11 lengths, so by any measure the winner has put up a performance well in excess of his previous rating of 119. It would be great to see him bid for this race, although he does have a possible alternative in the King George & Queen Elizabeth Stakes back at Ascot three weeks later over an extra two furlongs.
With Masar rated 121 following his Derby success, Poet’s Word will surely receive a higher mark once the BHA handicapper has assessed his Ascot win so he really deserves to be favourite for the Eclipse. He is proven over the 10 furlong trip, is in the form of his life, goes on most underfoot conditions, and won at Sandown in May over course and distance when easily accounting for Laraaib in the Group 3 Brigadier Gerard Stakes. At 11/2 with 888Sport he looks a proper bet, and for those who like to wager in such a fashion looks a cracking each-way punt at those odds.
Crystal Ocean, a very talented horse, is stable companion of Poet’s Word but is probably better over a mile-and-a-half and may well head next to the ‘King George’ so is not expected to take his chance at Sandown. The win of Saeed bin Suroor’s Benbatl in the Group 1 Dubai Turf in March was overrated and he was well and truly put in his place over a mile in the Queen Anne Stakes. He is better than he showed there and the Eclipse journey is more his bag, but I’d be surprised is he’s good enough to shake up the selection, a comment that equally applies to the fellow Godolphin-owned Hawkbill, who won this race in 2016 but hasn’t really scaled those heights since, even allowing for his win in the Dubai Sheema Classic at Meydan earlier this year.
Aidan O’Brien has a host of talented three-year-old middle-distance fillies at his disposal, including this week’s Ribblesdale Stakes winner Magic Wand and, of course, Forever Together winner of the Investec Oaks earlier this month, but the latter is expected to head next to the Curragh for the Irish equivalent. Happily, third in both the English and Irish 1000 Guineas before failing by just half a length in a blanket finish for the French Oaks over 10 furlongs last week is another option. Anything the Ballydoyle maestro runs deserves plenty of respect.
On balance however, POET’S WORD is a confident choice and he can strike a blow for the older generation at the main expense of the Derby winner Masar.
UPDATED ADVICE: FOLLOWING THE FIVE DAY DECLARATIONS IN WHICH POET’S WORD WAS TAKEN OUT OF THE RACE, OUR REVISED SELECTION IS MASAR AT 11/8 WITH PADDY POWER
ORIGINAL ADVICE: POET’S WORD (11/2 with 888Sport)
Written by Paul Alster
Paul Alster has been part of the British and international racing media for more than three decades working as a race commentator, TV/radio presenter, journalist, betting correspondent, SP returner, and form analyst. He’s always sought out overpriced runners in handicap races, a quest that excites him as much now as it did at the start of his career.