Gary McKenzie looks back at past Eclipse Stakes
I was very fortunate in that, around the time I really started to take an interest in horseracing, there were some fantastic horses in their prime.
I was born a few years too late to see the likes of Mill Reef and Brigadier Gerard win the race now known as the Coral-Eclipse. It was just the Eclipse Stakes in those days but in 1976 the bookmaking firm took over the sponsorship of it.
I hit adulthood in 1984 and that year my love affair with this race really began. Irish Guineas winner, Sadlers Wells, won the race that year and he went on to become one of the most influential sires of the twentieth century.
Pebbles was a very good three year old filly but as a four year old she was brilliant. In 1985 she beat subsequent Arc winner Rainbow Quest in the Eclipse.
She went on to even greater success in the Breeders Cup.
Dancing Brave was a superstar. He won his Eclipse by four lengths beating that brilliant mare Triptych (a horse that would be third in the race for the next two seasons). The Brave was just too good that season.
In 1987 we had one of the best renewals in my view. Definitely one of the best finishes. If Dancing Brave had stayed in training he may well have been involved too.
Reference Point had won the Derby from the front and attempted the same here. Such was his early speed that Media Starguest, a pacemaker, couldn’t keep up. But Mtoto, benefitting from a very cool ride from Mouse Roberts, was always going well.
But he did have to battle to get past the younger horse. Both horses gave their all. Reference point went on to win the King George (Triptych again placed) and the St Leger. Mtoto retained his Eclipse crown the next year and also won the King George before finishing just a neck behind Tony Bin in the Arc.
Triptych won both the International at York and the Irish Champion while Milligram, who had finished fifth in that 1987 classic went on to win the QEII.
The form of the race stands the test of time.
Nashwan’s Eclipse win, in 1989, was his third of fourth Group 1 wins that season. He was five lengths too good for the likes of Indian Skimmer and Warning. He was a very good horse winning at the top level over various distances.
Now it’s time for my favourite Eclipses. And yes they were financially beneficial for me but they also gave me a smug feeling as I had them in mind well before the race.
After finishing third in the Derby of 1990 I thought Elmaamul possibly didn’t stay twelve furlongs. As he had previously been beaten in the Guineas I was hoping the intermediate distance would, like Goldilocks porridge, be just right. He duly came home in front.
Ten years later I watched a horse finish second in both the English and Irish 2000 Guineas and said to myself he could be even better stepped up in trip. That horse was Giants Causeway. He did win the St James’s Palace Stakes before being involved in a classic renewal of the race.
His rivals included Derby runner up Sakhee, Coronation Cup second Fantastic Light, and Shiva, who had been eased down when winning the Brigadier Gerard on the same course. Also in the field was Queen Anne Stakes winner Kalanisi who had needed every yard of the stiff Ascot mile.
The last furlong of the Coral Eclipse that year was unbelievable. Both horses and both jockeys giving everything with the “Iron Horse” prevailing by a head. After a stewards enquiry the result stood (thankfully).
George Duffield and Pat Eddery were both given ten days for excessive use of the whip which took a small bit of the shine off the race. The two horses met again in the Juddmonte International at York and once again there was a ridiculously close finish. And Eddery got another holiday for whip misuse.
Giants Causeway’s only defeat over a mile and a quarter was when beaten a neck in the Breeders Cup Classic on dirt. What a horse.
Finally we get to one of my favourite horses. In 2003 Falbrav ran ten times. All at Group 1 level. He came into the Eclipse on the back of what turned out to be his poorest performance of the season in the Prince Of Wales Stakes but I was still optimistic.
His Ascot conqueror, Nayef, was favourite and the likes of Islington, Grandera, and Norse Dancer were also lining up. Falbrav hit the front two out and was always in control despite Nayef coming back in the final furlong.
I continued to follow Falbrav for the rest of the season, with one exception. For some reason I deserted him in the QEII thinking that the 7lbs he had to give to Russian Rhythm would be too much. You fool McKenzie!
Falbrav also took part in two amazing finishes in the Irish Champion and the Breeders Cup Turf where he was beaten both times by High Chaparral. But what a horse he was.
Sea The Stars and Golden Horn are the last two Derby winners to follow up in the Eclipse and Ulysses and Barney Roy were separated by a nose in another thrilling finish in 2017.