Eclipse no conduit to greatness for Sea The Stars
If our oddsmakers are right then Sea The Stars will stake his claim to be the greatest flat racehorse in 20 years on Saturday with a win in Sandown’s Coral-Eclipse Stakes. But anyone with doubts over whether the John Oxx colt demands such status, especially at the short odds-on being quoted, should look elsewhere to find the winner.
Not since the legendary Nashwan in 1989 has a Derby winner gone on to success in the Eclipse, but having (like Nashwan) already won the 2,000 Guineas, John Oxx’s colt looks to have every chance.
And with the triple crown of Guineas, Derby and St Leger looking beyond most modern horses – the St Leger now being the preserve of specialist stayers – it’s arguable that a Guineas-Derby-Eclipse treble should now be the criteria by which greatness should be judged (fans of the King George and the Arc probably doing the arguing).
But Sea The Stars backers should be wary of the mark that this race has left on other Derby winners since Nashwan’s victory. Benny the Dip, Motivator and Authorized have all tried and failed. The latter pair came into the race as two of the highest-rated Derby champions of recent times, but defeat in the Eclipse effectively ended any loftier ambitions they might have had.
With this in mind, it’s worthy of note that Sea The Stars is officially rated at 124, while Motivator and Authorized started off marks of 128 and 130, if memory serves.
Part of the problem here is that three-year-olds are still young horses, and the modern flat season is a tiring one. From July onwards they can struggle against older campaigners in races like the Eclipse and, correspondingly, four- and five-year-olds have had roughly a two-in-three strike rate in this Group 1 race over the last decade or so, despite the weight advantage given to the Classic generation.
Therefore, in looking to pick the Eclipse winner, it’s tempting to look at those toward the top of the racecard, and in particular at Sir Michael Stoute’s 2008 St Leger winner Conduit and the Luca Cumani-trained Cima De Triomphe.
The two were separated by a nose when the latter won the Brigadier Gerard Stakes over the Eclipse course and distance – and on the same kind of ground as is expected on Saturday – at the end of May. Cima De Triomphe had seven pounds on the Stoute horse on that day and you would expect that at level weights Conduit could reverse those placings.
My only concern about Conduit is that, as his St Leger win suggests, his best racing will be done at a longer distance than this 10 furlong outing. That said, I can’t see many in this race who will trouble him.
One strong threat comes from Rip Van Winkle, a half-brother to Cima De Triomphe (both are by Galileo and thereby share an Eclipse-winning grandsire in Sadler’s Wells) who ran on strongly to finish fourth in both the 2,000 Guineas and the Derby.
Jimmy Fortune gets the ride instead of his usual jockey, the banned Johnny Murtagh, and but for odds of 7/2 he’d probably get my money.
The 4/1 about Conduit looks more appealing, however, and so I’ll plump with experience over exuberance and go with the Stoute runner. Certainly, Sea The Stars is one to pass over for this race; for him, greatness may have to wait until another day.
Conduit - 4/1