The Gurkha was mooted as a possible Derby contender and after a reverse at Royal Ascot is looking to re-establish that level of reputation in the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown on Saturday. In a field that will have a maximum of seven runners there is no each-way value as only two places count but Time Test looks a worthy alternative to the favourite. The race could be the last Eclipse sponsored by Coral Bookmakers.
The race is formally known as the Eclipse Stakes. It is a Group 1 contest for three years olds and upwards and is open to colts and fillies. The race distance is one mile two furlongs which is the intermediary distance between the Derby and Oaks and major races for specialists over one mile. When the first Eclipse was run in 1886 it was the richest race in Britain. It has been sponsored by Coral since 1976 which is one of the longest existing sponsorship deals in British racing.
Coral are currently not an authorised betting partner with the British Horseracing Authority that governs and regulates the sport. The organisation is looking for a fair contribution from bets taken online by British based bookmakers. The companies that have signed up can sponsor races but money is not welcome from those who have not entered a partnership. Coral put forward a compromise which was rejected so in theory when the current deal expires they won’t be able to back the Eclipse.
The race is one of the major key Flat races that bring together the Classic generation and their elders. It comes four weeks after the Derby but the better horses from that race ran in the Irish equivalent or are being targeted at other races. The Gurkha won the French 2,000 Guineas impressively to enter the Derby picture but he wasn’t deemed suitable to Epsom and the race conditions. The horse came well off the pace at Royal Ascot but was beaten by Galileo Gold who also won the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket earlier this season.
Five horses have won two Eclipses including Mtoto in 1987 and 1988 and Halling in 1995 and 1996 but there have been no multiple winners since. Lester Piggott is the winning most jockey with seven wins while one trainer has won the race six times but his last success was in 1923. Three owners have won five Eclipses including Coolmore with wins between 2000 and 2011. Since 2000 five three-year-olds have obliged and 10 older horses but not older than five. John Gosden has won the race twice in the last four years, including with Golden Horn a year ago who had won the Derby four weeks earlier.
The Gurkha produced a ratings performance in the French Classic that equates to the level of form of recent Derby winners. The horse met the class criteria but Aidan O’Brien had horses more suited to the race in his yard but they were beaten by Hazaand who went onto win the Irish Derby in workmanlike rather than outstanding style. Idaho, trained by O’Brien, was beaten by half a length at the Curragh and the trainer probably knows how The Gurkha compares. That information would be valuable in deciding whether The Gurkha is a true even money chance for the Eclipse.
Time Test will have a pacemaker from his Roger Charlton stable. The horse prefers good going so rain earlier in the week in the Sandown area was not a welcome sign. More showers are forecast but unlikely to be enough to change the going description from good to soft. If it became just soft Time Test’s chances would be compromised but a dry spell this week means a downpour will be required to make the ground change.
On ratings Time Test is just one pound behind The Gurkha and that form can be reversed on a track where Time Test has won before. Any horse that wins the Eclipse well would enter the picture for the Arc or King George and at the relative odds Time Test is the horse to back in Saturday’s race at Sandown.