Race not won yet for Golden Horn
The defection of Prix du Jockey Club winner New Bay from this weekend’s Coral Eclipse Stakes has robbed the race of its biggest selling point, that being the early opportunity for Derby winners either side of the English Channel to clash in open company, and the market now suggests the race will be something of a lap of honour for impressive Epsom winner Golden Horn.
That may be so, and any measure of the merit of the contenders suggests that John Gosden’s star will be hard to topple, but it’s not always been a cakewalk for Derby heroes who have gone on to Sandown.
In the last thirty years, it’s not proved easy for Derby winners to defeat their elders in the Eclipse, and the only pair to have followed up have been genuinely exceptional racehorses in the shape of Nashwan and Sea the Stars, both also winners of the 2000 Guineas.
Those who have been humbled here include 3-y-o’s of the calibre of Reference Point, with Erhaab, Benny the Dip and Motivator all seeing their reputations tarnished on Esher’s slopes.
Of those, the best parallel probably lies with Motivator, who was widely expected to win this contest ten years ago, especially after the winner of the French Derby, Shamardal, had to be scratched due to injury.
The feeling was that Motivator would score a bloodless win, but like many before him, he found the drop in trip against him, and was unable to cope with Oratorio, who scored a surprise win for the Aidan O’Brien stable having been well held by the favourite at Epsom, and had also been beaten by Shamardal in the St James’ Palace at Royal Ascot (or rather Royal York, as the Berkshire venue was getting a lick of paint at the time) prior to the Eclipse.
The script in 2015 looks decidedly similar to that in 2005; once again the non-appearance of the Prix du Jockey Club winner appears to have presented the prize to an impressive and wide-margin Epsom winner, while again Aidan O’Brien saddles a runner with something to prove.
Just as a decade ago Oratorio had been beaten at the Royal Meeting, so Cougar Mountain arrives having finished a creditable third to Solow in the Queen Anne.
In 2005 Diamond Green was representing the previous year’s French Classic form, as The Grey Gatsby is this time around, but while he had been beaten in the Poule d’Essai des Poulains and remained without a win since his juvenile days, Kevin Ryan’s charge won the more prestigious Prix du Jockey Club over the Eclipse trip, and arrives on the back of a very unlucky run in the Prince of Wales’ Stakes at Ascot.
That effort marks him down as must the most obvious threat to Golden Horn, and it should be remembered that he has a reputation of the nemesis of unbeaten Derby winners, having also taken the scalp of Australia at Leopardstown last September.
All things considered, John Gosden ought to collect his second Eclipse, but history shows that such things should not be taken for granted, and any dip in form from the son of Cape Cross will leave the door open to The Grey Gatsby, who makes more appeal at the prices.
Selection: The Grey Gatsby
Alternative: Golden Horn