This Saturday is perhaps the biggest of the racing calendar, as the Derby and Oaks are set to be run on the same day in a historic afternoon at Epsom Downs. The focus of the weekend is rightly going to be on the Surrey venue, but there is a track just 8.8 miles up the road that is playing host to an early race of the season contender the next day.
The Coral-Eclipse is set to be a barn-stormer on Sunday, with Sandown playing host to a card full of delights. In a calendar year where understandably, the flat has been a shade disappointing, the Eclipse is likely to have up for all of that and more.
The big talking point of the confirmed entries is the return of the Queen of Racing, Enable. Racing royalty, John Gosden’s star has been absent since going down narrowly in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp in October, her first defeat since April 2017.
Unsurprisingly, we’ve run out of superlatives to describe this wonder mare. She won this race twelve months ago when battling past Magical, but this year’s contest is far more competitive and there’s real potential that Enable is going to be made to really sweat for a second Eclipse.
The Boys In Blue’s Secret Weapon
A fourteen-length winner of the Grosser Preis von Baden back in September, few still weren’t taking Ghaiyyath seriously after a heavy defeat in the Arc. That defeat was excusable, given that ground was far too soft, and he’s more than made amends in a pair of 2020 runs. Slamming a useful field at the Meydan Carnival, he made his British return with a frightening performance in the Coronation Cup at Newmarket, making all impressively ahead of a field including Anthony Van Dyck and Stradivarius.
It’s a simple game plan for William Buick, as Ghaiyyath is a “point and shoot” rocketship. He’ll be sent to the front and will aim to hold off the challengers late on. Dropping back to ten furlongs, with the stiff finish up the Sandown hill, he really has the opportunity to get them on the stretch.
Arise, Lord North
It’s quite remarkable to think that three starts ago, Lord North was winning a small-field Listed race at Newmarket over a moderate field (in the context of the Eclipse). A smart handicapper for much of 2019, 2020 has shown a remarkable progression in Gosden’s son of Dubawi. Returning with a victory in the Brigadier Gerard at Haydock, he ran out a hugely impressive winner of the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot.
The turn of foot he’s produced in his races has only gotten more and more potent with further racing, which is a scary prospect for his rivals. Ghaiyyath will make this a proper test over the ten-furlong distance, which should set up the race perfectly for Lord North, who will aim to pick them up late. With the Sandown hill pushing stamina to the limit, will they be vulnerable to his terrifying turn of foot late on?
Six Eclipses For O’Brien?
A win in this year’s Eclipse would elevate Aidan O’Brien to a record-equalling sixth win as a trainer in the contest. He certainly has a strong hand too, with Japan being one of two chosen weapons from the Ballydoyle armory. Posting a career-best when landing the Juddemonte International last August over Crystal Ocean, a great fourth in the Arc capped off a memorable and progressive season.
Last year’s Derby third returned in 2020 when a shade disappointing in the Prince Of Wales’s, finishing behind Lord North. There were positives, however, and he’s a horse who has improved for his return efforts. He’s always shaped as though he’ll improve in his older years and he’s got a huge chance to prove that here.
Ballydoyle also fields 2018 Ribblesdale winner Magic Wand, a very classy mare who hasn’t quite won as many races as her talent would suggest she should have. She made the perfect return when decimating a field at the Curragh on return at Group 2 level and gets the weight allowance in this contest. That being said, she would need to put in a career-best by a wide margin to be winning this.
But wait, there’s more!
Winning last year’s Nassau at Glorious Goodwood, Deidre is back and ready for the fight. Very consistent in her British campaign last year, she was last sighted at Riyadh, where she was defeated disappointingly in a Conditions contest. Even her best leaves her short at this level, but she’s likely to be ridden for luck late on, which could reward connections with the potential of a place.
Bangkok hasn’t improved as expected for Andrew Balding since winning the course and distance Classic Trial last April, but wasn’t disgraced at Royal Ascot behind Lord North. Regal Reality finished third in this race twelve months ago but has failed to match those heights since, only third in a Listed race at Royal Ascot on her seasonal return.
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