The Group 1 Coral Eclipse Stakes brings the best middle distance horses to Sandown (3.50pm Saturday). There are reasons to oppose the favourite and we have found a better value prospect.
John Gosden’s yard is in great form and his five-year-old mare, The Fugue heads the market at 2/1. She proved at Royal Ascot how effective she can be over this distance (a mile and a quarter) when the ground is on the fast side and things go her way. In the Prince of Wales’s Stakes she impressively outclassed the eight-strong field to beat Aidan O’Brien’s Magician by nearly two lengths. The Arc heroine, Treve was a further length behind but she was subsequently found to be wrong.
The Fugue will be part of a larger field here and it is no coincidence that she has not succeeded in a line-up larger than eight since she won her maiden in 2011. She has to be held up and often manages to encounter traffic problems. Her regular jockey William Buick (pictured) has not done much wrong but she is a light-framed type who is never going to win a barging match.
Following her as favourite has been an expensive business. She has started favourite seven times in her 16 starts and only rewarded her supporters one time. The forecast rain will not aid her cause, she came last in this race last year and we have to look elsewhere.
The 7/2 second favourite, Night Of Thunder, has never been asked to go further than a mile but, as a son of Dubawi out of a Galileo mare, should theoretically not be troubled by the distance. This three-year-old colt trained by Richard Hannon was the runner-up in the Greenham but was the surprise winner of the 2,000 Guineas. He started as a 40/1 outsider partly because stable jockey Richard Hughes had chosen to partner the more fancied Toormore. It was under Kieren Fallon that he managed to beat Gosden’s 6/4 favourite Kingman by half a length, despite veering dramatically across the track in the closing stages. Aidan O’Brien’s Derby winner, Australia was just behind in third.
Night Of Thunder proved that win was no fluke when last seen finishing second, beaten two lengths, to Kingman in the St James’s Palace Stakes. Richard Hughes dictated the pace and got the fractions right but was beaten by a better horse on the day. Kingman started as the 8/11 favourite.
Three-year-olds have a decent record in this race, scoring four times since the turn of the century. Sea The Stars was the most recent winner of that age in 2009. Night Of Thunder has form on both fast and soft ground. If he stays the extra quarter of a mile he has strong claims.
Aidan O’Brien has an impressive strike rate in the Eclipse and has a good chance of achieving his sixth win here. The stunning four-year-old Verrazano (11/2) owned by ‘the lads’ scored six times in the USA last season, including two Group 1s, when he was trained by Todd Pletcher. It was a relentless campaign comprising ten starts.
He has successfully made the transition from dirt to turf and performed with credit in his two runs this season. He finished third in the Lockinge at Newbury in May, three lengths behind Hannon’s Olympic Glory. Most recently he was beaten by just under a length by Hannon’s Toronado in the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot. Ballydoyle had a difficult spring with health problems in the yard making those runs more impressive and suggesting that we can expect further improvement.
Verrazano has only been asked to run over this distance once, in the Kentucky Derby. His jockey, John Velazquez, made the fatal mistake of keeping up with the ludicrous pace set by Mike Smith on his stablemate, Palace Malice. Both horses predictably faded and finished well back in the field. In this race he will benefit from the more trustworthy Ryan Moore. At his current price he looks to be an interesting prospect.
Seamie Heffernan is riding the O’Brien second string, War Command (8/1). This Dewhurst winner has been slightly disappointing this season, acquiring cheekpieces after finishing over five lengths behind Night Of Thunder in the 2,000 Guineas. He was nearly four lengths behind Kingman in the St James’s Palace Stakes in fourth with his new headgear under Joseph O’Brien.
Considering the issues at the yard he is also open to improvement but, as a son of War Front, he is far from guaranteed to stay the extra two furlongs.
Headgear is being tried for the first time on Saeed bin Suroor’s True Story (14/1). He was a disappointing odds-on favourite in the Dante, finishing one and a half lengths behind Kevin Ryan’s The Grey Gatsby in third. The good to soft ground was blamed for his lacklustre performance by his jockey and biggest fan, Kieren Fallon. Most recently he finished midfield in the Derby, over 10 lengths behind Australia when the ground was described as good.
In both those races Fallon appeared to work much harder than his beloved horse. If the visor delivers the desired result he could run into a place but his trainer’s record with headgear does not inspire confidence.
An obvious potential contender is Roger Varian’s Derby runner-up, Kingston Hill (7/1). This son of emerging star sire Mastercraftsman shares a rating of 120 with Verrazano and Night Of Thunder but is at the mercy of the weather forecast, needing cut in the ground to show his best. The ground was soft at Doncaster when he romped home in the Racing Post Trophy in October.
Kingston Hill was a last minute absentee in the Irish Derby as the ground was unsuitably fast. If the scheduled rain delivers a significant change to the surface he is a real threat but we cannot be sure he will even line up and have to look elsewhere.
Eclipse Preview & Betting Tips Conclusion
The Fugue is the class act in this race but she cannot be trusted in a field of this size and Hannon’s Night Of Thunder, while respected, offers little value at 7/2. Our pick has to be O’Brien’s potentially progressive VERRAZANO who is worth following each-way, currently best priced at 11/2 with Skybet or the race sponsors Coral.