Things We Learned » Eclipse time

Eclipse time

Saturday’s Coral-Eclipse was an unusually-run race, in that the three horses who dominated the early pace also dominated the finish. Mukhadram, Trading Leather and Somewhat – three of the four highest-priced horses in the nine-horse race – occupied the first three places from flagfall and, while they did change positions within the top three, none of them ever fell out of the podium positions.

The obvious conclusion is that the early pace from the outset was slow for the class of the race, that it wasn’t fast enough to allow the hold-up horses get into the race. On watching the race live, it initially appeared as though the early pace was fast. Franny Norton rode Somewhat’s ears off through the first furlong of the race in order that he would bag the yellow jersey, and the nine runners were well stretched out from early. However, the result tells a different story, and that story is backed up by the figures.

They went only marginally faster through the opening couple of furlongs – from the stalls to the water jump on the chase track – in the Eclipse than they did in the Class 4 handicap run over the Eclipse course and distance that ended the card. Then they slowed it down, and went more than a second slower from there to the end of the back straight, the point at which the rail begins to turn.

Overall, it actually took the leader in the Eclipse longer to get from the stalls to the end of the back straight than it took the leader in the Class 4 handicap. There was no going back from there. The scene was set. You have run almost half your race when you get to the end of the back straight in the Eclipse, and it was always going to be difficult for the hold-up horses to get into the race from that position into a continually quickening pace.

Mukhadram deserved his Group 1 win, and both Trading Leather and Somewhat deserve commendation – there was a point about two furlongs out at which it looked as if the Jim Bolger-trained Trading Leather was going to get there – but the horse to take out of the race as a potential betting angle for the future, given how the race was run, is Kingston Hill.

Roger Varian’s horse was probably competing over a distance that was far too sharp and on ground that was too fast, and he was one of the horses who would have been most inconvenienced by the sedate early pace. He was the first horse in the race to come off the bridle, and he was no better than third last and under pressure at the top of the home straight, so there was a lot to like about the manner in which he kept finding for pressure. He closed on the leaders all the way to the line, ultimately getting up for fourth place, just four lengths behind the winner.

The Mastercraftsman colt will be of interest wherever he goes next when there is an emphasis on stamina. It is a pity that he is not in the King George, he would have been interesting in an easy-ground King George, but he could be a St Leger horse now, if connections choose to go down that route. Best odds of 10/1 about him for the Leger would be big if you knew that that was where he was going.

Ground variance

Speaking of Kingston Hill, it is interesting that he ran in the Eclipse at all on the ground, given that he was a late scratching from the Irish Derby a week earlier, because the ground was deemed to be too fast.

The ground at Sandown on Saturday was officially good to firm, firm in places on the round course, and the Racing Post estimated that it was riding 0.11secs/furlong faster than standard.

The ground at The Curragh on Irish Derby day was officially described as good to firm, with the Racing Post estimating that it was riding 0.08secs/furlong faster than standard. So, according to both the official description and the information that the times on the day provided, the ground was faster at Sandown on Eclipse day than it was at The Curragh on Irish Derby day, yet Kingston Hill, who probably really wants easy ground, ran in the Eclipse and not the Irish Derby.

It is still a pity that he did not run in the Irish Derby, especially given that he was in situ and ready to run. You have to think that the Curragh Classic needed him more than the Eclipse did.

Mukhadram magic

Mukhadram’s Eclipse win was just the latest in a sunny season that is being enjoyed by owner Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum.

It is remarkable to think that, when Taghrooda won the Investec Oaks at Epsom last month, she was providing her owner with his first Group 1 winner in Europe since the Dermot Weld-trained Bethrah won the Irish Oaks in 2010. That is almost four years ago.

Of course, Sheikh Hamdan has had other top class horses since Bethrah. Soft Falling Rain won a Grade 1 juveniles’ race in South Africa and Group 2 races at Meydan and Newmarket. Akmal won the Group 2 Henry II Stakes four days after Bethrah’s Guineas, Watar won the Group 2 Prix Maurice de Nieuil, Alhebayeb won the Group 2 July Stakes, Aljamaaheer won the Group 2 Summer Mile and finished second in a Queen Anne Stakes, Mukhadram himself won the Group 2 York Stakes and finished second in a Prince of Wales’s Stakes and a Dubai World Cup. Actually, the owner’s horses had won 14 Group 2 races since Bethrah. But no Group 1s.

Through Taghrooda and Mukhadram, Hamdan Al Maktoum has now bagged two Group 1 races in the space of just over a month, and this season could get even better now for the owner. Taghrooda will surely be a warm favourite for next Saturday’s Darley Irish Oaks, while Mukhadram is now 5/1 third favourite for the King George.

And as well as Taghrooda, the owner has a really exciting bunch of three-year-olds this year, headed by Jersey Stakes 1-2 Mustajeeb and Muwaary, and Sandringham winner Muteela. This could be a landmark season, a deserved return for an owner who invests so significantly in the industry.

Race names

One more note on the race-names thing since the debate moved on a little this week. Firstly, of course there are bigger issues in racing than the changing of a race name, but this is not an either/or situation. It is not a choice between tackling the drugs issue or the attendances issue or the turnover-in-the-ring issue or the going-reports issue, and protecting the traditional race names. It is possible to protect race names while also tackling the other issues.

Also, of course things change. Lansdowne Road becomes the Aviva Stadium, we have live pictures in our sitting rooms, we have betting exchanges. We also have the Racing Post Trophy instead of the Observer Gold Cup, and we have the Juddmonte International instead of the Benson and Hedges Gold Cup.

Name changes are not confined these days to races that were originally named after the sponsors either. Yesterday we had the Duchess of Cambridge Stakes instead of the Cherry Hinton, re-named just last year. That is not ideal either, and hopefully the BHA’s initiative to protect race names will protect them from all changes, not just from sponsors’ changes, but at least you hope that there is longevity in the new title.

The trouble arises when the change is fleeting. A sponsor signs a short-term deal and changes the name. If you sign a short-term lease on a premises, you don’t go about knocking the building down and building a new one. When a race-name changes often, the reference point is gone.

That said, as Leo Powell wrote in his editorial last week, this is a two-way street. If we are to hold onto race names, the racing media need to make an effort to reference the sponsor when they can, like today’s Darley July Cup, not just today’s July Cup. It doesn’t always add to the flow of a piece of writing, but the effort should be made. Mental note: make more of an effort.

Thought for the week

You have to hope that the Princess of Wales paid more than five grand to add her name to Thursday’s Stakes.

© The Irish Field, 12th July 2014