With the final declarations in since Thursday, the 2016 running of the Coral-Eclipse Stakes at Sandown is shaping up to be one of the most intriguing for many years. Richard has the verdict on the Group One highlight.
15.45 Sandown - THE GURKHA
The market is headed by The Gurkha at a best price of even money. Trained by Aidan O’ Brien, many were questioning whether Ryan Moore gave the horse too much to do last time when he was beaten at Ascot, but connections’ decision to step the horse up from a mile to a mile and two furlongs would indicate that they felt it was the trip that beat him that day. By going down this route, The Gurkha will avoid a potential rematch with his Ascot conqueror Galileo Gold in the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood, and there is no doubt that the horse is bred to appreciate this new distance.
The late developing son of Galileo has raced exclusively at one mile during his four race career to date, and with every start has given the impression that this new distance would be no problem. At Ascot he was held up towards the rear with a moderate early gallop, and as Galileo Gold quickened in the straight, The Gurkha was temporarily caught flat-footed. He stayed on well in the closing stages, and was gaining on the winner at the finish, despite having to switch around Awtaad inside the final furlong. He looks potentially top class, and will take a whole lot of beating here.
My Dream Boat, trained by Clive Cox, was victorious at the Royal Meeting, winning the Prince of Wales’ Stakes from the Aidan O’ Brien runner Found. That win was in spite of the horse hanging quite badly left in the closing stages, and he ended up nailing Found on the line, with three lengths back to Western Hymn. The bare form of that Group One doesn’t look as strong as The Gurkha’s race, with the highly touted Japanese raider A Shin Hikari failing to run to expectations. For all that My Dream Boat is tough, he may just lack the class of one or two of these.
My Dream Boat.
Roger Charlton’s runner Time Test is a horse that has been highly regarded for a couple of seasons now, but it is fair to say that to date, his reputation has outshone his evidence on the racecourse. He may change all that tomorrow, but I fancy that his day in the sun may well come later in the season, as he has a definite preference for faster going conditions. Good to soft ground was thought to have flummoxed him in last year’s Juddmonte International Stakes at York, and there is every likelihood that Saturday’s ground will be even worse.
Hawkbill could be a bigger danger, as his impressive win in the Tercentenary Stakes in Royal Ascot proved his liking for trip and ground. He did get a fantastic tactical ride to win that day from William Buick, and Saturday’s race will be the most competitive field he has ever faced. That said, he is on an upward curve, and has done nothing this season to suggest that this level is beyond him.
All things considered, I will be disappointed if The Gurkha is beaten here. He looked absolutely top class when demolishing the field in the Poule D’Essai Des Poulains at Deauville in May on just his third start, and I think a combination of tactics, inexperience and trip got him beaten (albeit by a top class horse) at Royal Ascot. I fully expect him to make amends here, and anything bigger than evens should be snapped up.
15.45 Sandown - THE GURKHA