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Coral-Eclipse report

They bill the Coral-Eclipse as the perennial clash of the generations, the first point in the Flat racing season at which the top middle-distance three-year-olds get the chance to take on the top older horses.  And the race lived up to its billing at Sandown Park yesterday, as the four-year-old Ulysses nosed out the three-year-old Barney Roy in a duel that will reverberate around the entire season.

It was the youngsters who dominated the preamble and the market.  Derby runner-up Cliffs Of Moher, Derby fourth Eminent, Guineas runner-up and St James’s Palace Stakes winner Barney Roy, the first two dropping down in trip from a mile and a half, the last-named stepping up in trip from a mile.  The theory was that the intermediate distance of 10 furlongs would suit all three.

But 10 furlongs is also probably Ulysses’ optimum trip, and yesterday’s race had been his target, quietly quietly, since he had finished a close-up third behind Highland Reel in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot.  He had travelled well into the Ascot race, the first occasion on which champion jockey Jim Crowley had ridden him in a race, but he hit the front a fair way out, and that gave the teak-tough Highland Reel the catalyst that he needed to wrestle his way back and deny Sir Michael Stoute’s colt.

Ulysses travelled well through yesterday’s race too.  There was an incident on the inside, after they had gone about two furlongs, when Decorated Knight dropped back into Cliffs Of Moher’s lap and that horse’s rider Ryan Moore had to snatch up.  Decorated Knight’s chance was not helped by the episode, but Cliffs Of Moher’s was decidedly hindered, and Aidan O’Brien’s colt did well in the circumstances to ultimately finish fourth.

All the while Jim Crowley was sitting stone cold on Ulysses, towards the rear, towards the outside, clear of trouble.  Into the home straight, and still Crowley remained motionless.  It wasn’t until the two-furlong pole had flashed past that, with every other rider in the race hard at work, Crowley angled the Flaxman Stables’ horse towards the outside and gave him a squeeze.  When he did, Ulysses moved up effortlessly on the outside of Barney Roy, and together the pair of them moved through to the front rank.

It was at the furlong marker that Crowley asked his horse for maximum effort and, when he did, the Galileo colt’s nosebanded head hit the front, he went about a neck up on Barney Roy.  Richard Hannon’s horse had never been beyond a mile before in his life, but saw out this 10-furlong trip all right, he battled back tenaciously so that we were treated to an enthralling final-furlong toe-to-toe, with the evidence of the camera required to show that Ulysses got home by a pixel.

“He gave me a great feel,” said Crowley.  “It was a real plus riding him last time at Ascot, I knew him a little bit better today.  He settled better today.  He was a little bit fresh with me the last day.  He cruised into the race.  My only concern was not to get there too soon.  The other horse fought back, but luckily we had our head down at the right time.  He didn’t surprise me, how well he travelled, I got a fantastic feeling from him last time.  I might have got there a fraction too soon the last day, that was on my mind today, not to hit the front too soon.  Luckily it’s come my way today.”

Strange the way the world turns sometimes.  Crowley had ridden Eminent in all four of his races before yesterday, including in the 2000 Guineas and in the Derby, but it was announced early in the week that Silvestre de Sousa would ride Martyn Meade’s horse in yesterday’s race.  That meant that Crowley was free to ride Ulysses again. 

It was a sixth Eclipse for Sir Michael Stoute, 24 years after he had landed his first with Opera House.

“I’d say that was even closer than Opera House’s win,” said the trainer.  “Jim gave him a peach of a ride.  A lot of people were congratulating me, saying it was a wonderful horse race.  This horse has been to Santa Anita, he has been to Goodwood, he has only ever run one bad race, in the Derby last year, when he got knocked over twice.  And don’t rule out going back up in trip, he has won the Gordon Stakes, and he is settling better this year.  He’ll get a mile and a half all right.”


© The Sunday Times, 9th July 2017