The Eclipse And The (Coral) Eclipse

At around 9:40 this morning, residents of northern Europe were able to bear witness to a solar eclipse, that being the act of the moon moving between the Earth and sun. As people were fooled into thinking that this was a once in a lifetime experience, large swathes of the usually non-scientifically-minded took to their gardens with their telescopes, special glasses or colanders in hand to witness the ‘awe-inspiring’ sight.

Not me. Rather, I thanked the occurrence for giving me ample enough excuse for thinking about Sandown’s Coral-Eclipse – the 1m,2f Group One flat race – and, consequentially, my most favourite winner, Sea The Stars. In my defence even the name of John Oxx’s stable star has something of a lunar/ astronomical bent.

Oxx’s charge was going into the Sandown feature race looking to become the first horse since Nashwan back in 1989 to do the treble, that is win the 2,000 Guineas in the May of the season, the Epsom Derby in the June and the Eclipse that takes place in the July. The 3-year-old would also be the first winner in the race for Oxx and owner Christopher Tsui and the first horse of his age to rule supreme in four years.

Sea The Stars completed this treble in 2009, though things didn’t get off to the greatest start. After having already pulled out of the Irish Derby a week or so before due to an unexpected bout of rain, Oxx was somewhat unnerved by the falling off 15mm of rain over Surrey. Assured that the ground would still be fast enough for the two length Derby winner, Oxx gave the go ahead for Sea The Stars to run.

The horse was also looking to silence those doubters who had questioned the strength of his previous victories, these suspicions seemingly revolving around the tactics other trainers (namely Aiden O’Brien) had employed to try to defeat him. Layers also quibbled over the horse’s ability to polish off three Group One races in the space of three months.

Regardless of these opponents, the long time accomplice of Mick Kinane was backed into 4/7 favouritism. His nearest market rivals in the 10 strong field were Sir Michael Stoute’s 2008 St Leger winner Conduit (9/2) and O’Brien’s Derby and 2,000 Guineas fourth, Rip Van Winkle (11/2).

Sea The Stars, who broke from stall five, settled down in fifth in the early exchanges, the early pace being carved out by Stoute’s Lang Shining and O’Brien’s Set Sail who blazed a trail, the pacemakers for their trainers’ primary runners. Both Conduit and Rip Van Winkle were looking to make late runs from right out the back.

These pacemakers came back to the rest of the pack at three-out with Sea The Stars moving from the rail to pounce, in the lead with two to run. Kinane reached for his whip in the final furlong with Rip Van Winkle breathing down his neck and the favourite managed to extend again to see of his long time rival. Conduit would take third.

‘He can only get better,’ Oxx told reporters after the race, his mount going on to win three more Group Ones in that season; the Juddmonte International, the Irish Champion Stakes and the Prix De L’Arc De Triomphe. He would be retired in the October of that year.

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