As the first major intergenerational clash of the season, the Eclipse (G1) at Sandown provides a gauge of how the three-year-olds stack up against their elders. Saturday’s renewal became an instant classic of the genre, with four-year-old Ulysses barely edging sophomore Barney Roy in a thriller. In the process, the Niarchos Family homebred gave trainer Sir Michael Stoute a record-tying sixth win in the summer showpiece.
Ulysses has long fueled high hopes as a son of Galileo and 2007 Oaks (G1) heroine Light Shift. But his prior stakes victories had come at the Group 3 level, in last summer’s Gordon (G3) at Glorious Goodwood and the April 28 Gordon Richards (G3) at this track and trip. A Group 1 trophy was being elusive, although he was running creditably in that elite class. A hampered 12th in the Derby (G1) straight off his maiden win, and fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1), the chestnut was most recently third to Highland Reel in the Prince of Wales’s (G1) at Royal Ascot.
To earn an all-important Group 1 here, Ulysses had to deal with a few well-regarded three-year-olds. Aidan O’Brien’s Cliffs of Moher ranked as the 7-4 favorite after his near-miss at Epsom, and the cutback from 1 1/2 miles to the Eclipse’s 1 1/4 miles figured to serve him well. Also exiting a commendable defeat in the Derby was fourth-placer Eminent, likewise expected to enjoy reverting in trip at 4-1.
Godolphin’s Barney Roy, in contrast, was stretching out past a mile for the first time. The Richard Hannon pupil sought new worlds to conquer after his St James’s Palace (G1) at Royal Ascot, where he gained revenge for his badly troubled second to Churchill in the 2000 Guineas (G1). As Racing Post pointed out, the last horse to graduate from the St James’s Palace to take the Eclipse was the remarkable Giant’s Causeway in 2000, but that didn’t dissuade bettors who made Barney Roy the 9-4 second choice. He nearly pulled it off.
Cliffs of Moher wasn’t so fortunate, thanks to an incident that compromised his chances. Drawn on the rail, the favorite was in a close stalking position early. Pacemaking stablemate Taj Mahal went forward, but not fast enough to achieve separation, and then came in on Decorated Knight, who in turn came over on Cliffs of Moher. With nowhere to go, Cliffs of Moher bounced into the fence and stumbled, and jockey Ryan Moore had to snatch him up. After losing position, he recovered, but remained in a pocket much of the way.
Meanwhile, Eminent was pulling early for new rider Silvestre de Sousa. As fellow sophomore Salouen served it up to the laboring Taj Mahal in upper stretch, Eminent also launched his bid, and bumped Decorated Knight in the midst of his move. Barney Roy angled out menacingly as the contenders fanned across the course, and for an instant you might have thought the Eclipse was up for grabs.
But Ulysses was simply breezing. Jockey Jim Crowley, who’d lost the mount on Eminent, timed his move to perfection aboard Ulysses. Believing he’d learned something when first piloting him at Royal Ascot, Crowley was determined to hold onto him as long as possible.
When unleashed by Crowley widest of all, Ulysses surged to collar Barney Roy. To his great credit, Barney Roy found another gear to go on alongside Ulysses, and the pair pulled clear of the rest. The nearer the wire, the closer Barney Roy got, and it was too close to call as the flashed past in unison.
Ulysses, spotting the younger Barney Roy 10 pounds, had held on in a final time of 2:03.49 on the good-to-firm course.
A further 3 1/2 lengths back came 50-1 longshot Desert Encounter, who rallied from last. Cliffs of Moher finished with interest to grab fourth from the flattening-out Eminent. Decorated Knight also faded late in sixth, followed by the never-involved Lightning Spear, Salouen, and Taj Mahal.
What a finish! ULYSSES shows incredible bravery and wins the Group 1 Coral-Eclipse, narrowly beating the brave BARNEY ROY! pic.twitter.com/Fs5Uil7TVe
— Champions Series (@ChampionsSeries) July 8, 2017
The stewards were busy with post-race inquiries into the eventful running. Regarding Cliffs of Moher’s debacle, they ruled that Taj Mahal’s rider, Padraig Beggy, was at fault in causing the chain reaction. Beggy, in the news last month for spring the 40-1 Derby upset aboard Wings of Eagles, was handed an eight-day suspension for careless riding. Another inquiry involved Eminent’s contact with Decorated Knight in the stretch, where de Sousa was also cited for careless riding and suspended two days. Furthermore, Barney Roy’s rider, James Doyle, was found to have used his whip excessively. Rather than determining the number of days’ suspension, the stewards referred the case to the British Horseracing Authority’s Head Office because this was Doyle’s fifth such infraction in six months.
The messiness of the race doesn’t detract from the superlative efforts of Ulysses and Barney Roy, the former now fulfilling his promise, and the latter advancing rapidly on the learning curve. Options remain open, and both are entered in the August 23 Juddmonte International (G1) and September 9 Irish Champion (G1). Barney Roy’s next fancy entry is in the August 2 Sussex (G1) at Glorious Goodwood, if connections want to revert to a mile for a likely rubber match with Churchill.
Stoute suggested that a more relaxed Ulysses is worth trying at 1 1/2 miles again. The next logical opportunity comes in the July 29 King George VI & Queen Elizabeth (G1) at Ascot, and a rematch with his Breeders’ Cup Turf and Prince of Wales’s conqueror Highland Reel.
Considering that a still raw Ulysses took his chance at Santa Anita last November, we can hope that a return trip to the Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar is in the offing.