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Coral-Eclipse report

History tells us that only exceptional Derby winners win the Coral-Eclipse.  When Golden Horn won the Epsom Derby on the first Saturday in June, the suspicion was that Anthony Oppenheimer’s horse might fit into that category.  Yesterday at Sandown, that suspicion was confirmed.

The road from Epsom on the first Saturday in June to Sandown on the first Saturday in July is strewn with Derby winners who have come up short.  Between 1989, when Nashwan completed the Derby-Eclipse double, and yesterday, five Derby winners had gone on to Sandown to contest the Eclipse, four of them had been sent off at odds-on, but only one of them had prevailed.

Erhaab was beaten, Benny The Dip was beaten, Motivator was beaten, Authorized was beaten.  The only Derby winner since Nashwan who had followed up in the Eclipse was Sea The Stars, and John Oxx’s horse remains one of the best racehorses of the modern era.  Indeed, only three horses – Sea The Stars, Nashwan and Mill Reef – had completed the Derby-Eclipse double since Tulyar did so in 1952.  Now, history and modern-day collide: add Golden Horn’s name to that illustrious triumvirate.

The John Gosden-trained colt was sent off the long odds-on favourite for yesterday’s race, but the figures did not do justice to the task that he faced.  He was taking on older horses for the first time, and he was dropping back down in trip from a mile and a half to 10 furlongs, just four weeks after he had run his heart out to win the Derby.

And this renewal may have been weak on numbers, but it was strong on talent.  The Grey Gatsby is a top class older horse, a multiple Group 1 winner who was competing over his optimum trip.  Cougar Mountain is a high-class Aidan O’Brien-trained colt who was stepping up in trip after a career-best running-on third in the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot.  Even the other John Gosden representative Western Hymn is a highly talented performer, and he had never been beaten before at Sandown.

“I never had a moment’s doubt,” said rider Frankie Dettori afterwards.  “I was always very confident.”

Dettori had told us beforehand that he might have to make the running on Golden Horn.  Just five runners, no obvious pace-setter, and he was drawn against the inside rail in stall one.  It was set up for him to go forward from early.

And he did.  The favourite stood a little starey-eyed when the stalls opened, allowed his rivals a half a length on him, but the gap remained on the rail as the other four horses hesitated, waited for a leader.  Dettori squeezed his horse through and settled into a nice even rhythm in front.

This was new.  Golden Horn had never led before.  He was wondering where the other horses were, Dettori told us afterwards.  He was looking around him, looking at the fences on the back straight of the jumps track at Sandown.

When they turned into the straight, he knew where The Grey Gatsby was, that’s for sure.  Kevin Ryan’s horse and Jamie Spencer were right upsides him as they began to quicken, possibly a nose in front as the two-furlong pole flashed past.  It was at that point that you thought, right, we’ll know now what the younger horse is made of, we’ll know now how good this Derby winner is.

And the answer came in a stretching neck and a lengthening stride.  One crack of the whip from his rider, and Golden Horn found a length on The Grey Gatsby.  Another and he found another.  By the time he got to the winning line, he had put three and a half lengths between himself and his main rival, with another four and a half lengths back to Western Hymn and Cougar Mountain back in third and fourth.

“The moment the draw came out we knew we had to go forward,” said Gosden, who was landing his second Eclipse after Nathaniel provided him with his first in 2012.  “It was a great performance.  I have enormous respect for The Grey Gatsby.  It was a great race, a top class three-year-old against a top class older horse.  But our horse has found three lengths, in the last furlong he has asserted properly and strongly.”

For Dettori, it was a third Eclipse but, more than that, it was the continuation of his renewed association with Gosden this year that has seen him thrust centre stage again.  At Epsom and at Royal Ascot, he was afforded the opportunity to remind us that he is still riding as well as ever.  Centre stage is where Dettori excels.

“I wanted to lead,” said the rider.  “We knew he was the best horse.  The Grey Gatsby eye-balled me, my horse had every chance to curl up, but he showed what a champion he is.  He loves a scrap, he hits a flat spot, but for a smack he gives you a length. The Grey Gatsby is a top class horse and Jamie (Spencer) gave him a great ride.  But this horse is probably one of the best I’ve ridden, I still haven’t got to the bottom of him.”

Yesterday’s renewal was the 40th renewal of the Eclipse under the Coral sponsorship.  The first, the 1976 renewal, went to the Henry Cecil-trained Wollow after the disqualification of Trepan.  Wollow was ridden by Dettori’s dad Gianfranco.

History and modern-day collide again.

© The Sunday Times, 5th July 2015