This weekend brings The Eclipse, which is generally the first opportunity we have to see the classic generation take on their elders in a group one and being over ten furlongs we often have the Guineas and Derby horses coming together over this middle ground distance.
It always seems a real turning part in the season as all of the (now relevant) classics are done and dusted, with attention looking towards the likes of York, Goodwood and the end of season highlights like the Arc or Breeders Cup. Before you know it the jumps will be back and we’ll be plotting for Cheltenham.
The Eclipse this year doesn’t seem to be the strongest, with no classic winners lining-up, however, there are a few figuring who do still have the potential to be top class.
Let’s take a look at the field for Sandown.
Cliffs of Moher: At a best priced 2/1 Cliffs Of Moher is a terrible price. He is still full of potential, his inexperience showed at Chester despite winning and he ran a big race at Epsom when second in the Derby, however, there is no way he should be such a short price based on what we’ve seen. The way he finished his race at Epsom suggested he might appreciate a slight drop in trip so he could improve for the trip and extra experience but he just isn’t backable at the current price. He is surely just favourite based on connections.
Barney Roy: Has the best form of the classic generation lining-up here, having been a good (and perhaps unlucky) second in the Guineas and following up to win at Royal Ascot. The form of that win in the St James’s Palace could be questioned by the proximity of Lancaster Bomber, but he won and has done little wrong so looks a better proposition than the favourite. I would, however, question the suitability of the new trip as I am not convinced he needed a step-up and think it is more to do with trying to find a route to avoid Ribchester later in the season. He will need to settle better in his races to see out the ten furlongs, but if he can he will have a big chance.
Eminent: Another three year old, who made a decent fist of it to finish fourth in The Derby. I think he could have finished closer had he have got a clearer run and the jockey made better use of him, but even with that he still wouldn’t have won. He has always looked the type to improve with racing and as he grows into himself, so we should see further improvement as the season goes on and with a change of jockey and tactics he could make great leaps. However, he would need to improve to have a chance here and I don’t think the step back in trip is what he needs, so I could see him doing his best work late on but just falling short. Having said that, I’m convinced he is a Group One winner in waiting.
Ulysses: Third in the Prince of Wales at Royal Ascot and a course and distance winner prior to that, Ulysses has been pinpointed all season as a typical improving Sir Michael Stoute older horse and what we’ve seen so far could support that theory. The way he won at Sandown was eye-catching and reeked of a potentially top class horse, while he lost little in defeat to the underrated but brilliant Highland Reel. The current 15/2 available is terrific value for one who already has pretty solid form and still has room for improvement.
Decorated Knight: Already a dual Group One winner this season Decorated Knight is a little underrated and is easily the type you could see causing a minor shock in winning this. It shouldn’t be a shock if he were to win but due to less fashionable connections and being a slightly late bloomer, he wouldn’t be top of most lists. His second at Royal Ascot, in front of Ulysses, is amongst the best form on offer and the current 9/1 on offer looks too big.
Lightning Spear: Has shown a consistent level of form but falls short of Group One class and that is unlikely to change here. All of his best form is over a mile and there has been little to suggest that he really needs an extra couple of furlongs. He’ll run well but won’t be good enough to hit the frame here.
Salouen: The Sylvester Kirk three year old has shown some decent form this year and has been a little unlucky not to finish closer in some big races, including in The Derby where he failed to get any kind of run. He wasn’t seen to his best at Royal Ascot and perhaps he just doesn’t get the mile and a half so he could easily improve for the drop back to ten furlongs. Although he will likely fall short of the required class here, the 66/1 available is probably a bit too big.
Desert Encounter: He has already had a busy season with seven runs so far and has done incredibly well for connections to pick up four wins and some good prize money along the way. However, there is nothing to suggest he is good enough to trouble the places here.
Taj Mahal: Aiden O’Brien has hit the frame and caused some shocks with pacemakers in big races in the past and Taj Mahal’s fourth in what looked a strong French Derby suggests he is capable on his day, but if he is acting as pacemaker for the favourite he would need a lot of things to fall right to capture another big Group One for his jockey Padraig Beggy.
VERDICT: Cliffs Of Moher could be much better than we have seen and go on to be top class but he is terrible value at the current prices and cannot be backed. If he were to lengthen you’d have to take that as a sign that connections aren’t confident and if ‘the lads’ do come in for him and the price shortens he is even less tempting as a betting proposition, so has to be left alone.
The best of the three year olds on show is Barney Roy, he has some solid form and should have further improvement in him, so compared to Cliffs of Moher looks a value bet, however, I’m not fully convinced he wants the step-up in trip especially at a track with a tough uphill finish.
The 3/1 for Barney Roy is very tempting, but there is potentially even better value in ULYSSES. The 15/2 on offer for an improving Sir Michael Stoute four year old, who has form which is arguably as good as anything the three year olds have shown, looks like great value and I’m taking Ulysess to capture a sixth Eclipse for his trainer.
Ulysses @ 15/2 (William Hill, Ladbrokes, Coral, Betfair)