Sandown’s Coral-Eclipse Day is held on the Saturday of the Surrey venue’s Summer Festival each July. This is Sandown’s most important fixture of the Summer flat season with the focus on the big race of the weekend, the Coral-Eclipse Stakes.
The Eclipse is Sandown’s most valuable race, and is run over a distance of one and a quarter miles. This is one of the most important middle distance races of the season and is part of the British Champions Middle Distance Series which culminates in the Champion Stakes at Ascot on British Champions Day. This race is notable for being the first Group 1 that allows the classic generation of three year olds to compete against older horses. Recent winners who have done exactly that include Sea The Stars and Golden Horn who both won the Epsom Derby before triumphing at Sandown.
Bookmakers Coral have become synonymous with this race, and indeed the two-day meeting having been sponsors of the Eclipse since 1976. Other important races on Coral-Eclipse day are the five furlong Coral Charge and the one mile Distaff for fillies.
A Complete History of Sandown’s Coral-Eclipse & Summer Festival
The highlight of summer racing at Sandown comes courtesy of none other than the Coral Summer Festival. Over two spectacular days, guests are treated to some high-quality racing and dazzling entertainment in what is often a gloriously sunny affair.
The two-day festival gets started with a fantastic day out for the ladies. Friday is Ladies’ Day so expect to see plenty of high-end fashion and an excellent variety of entertainment both on and off the track. From a racing perspective, it is Saturday that headlines the Summer Festival act as it features the star of the show, the Group 1 Coral Eclipse, plus three additional Class 1 events.
1886 – Eclipse Stakes founded
It is little wonder that the Eclipse Stakes is the headline act of Sandown’s Summer Festival. It is the sole Group 1 contest and the only race with a truly lengthy history. In fact, the Eclipse Stakes is a full century older than the next oldest major race that still forms part during the two-day meeting.
It enjoyed its first-ever appearance in 1886 and at the time it was the richest event in the whole of Britain. This is because Leopold de Rothschild kindly stumped up a £10k prize fund following a request from Sandown co-founder, General Owen Williams. This may not sound like much but in today’s money it converts to around £1.35m
With such a massive purse up for grabs, the Eclipse Stakes, named after the undefeated 18th-century horse, Eclipse, immediately attracted a high-quality field. The inaugural winner, Bendigo, had won the Hardwicke Stakes a year earlier while 1889 Eclipse Stakes champion, Ayrshire, was a Derby and 2,000 Guineas winner. It is also worth mentioning that not only is Bendigo the first-ever Eclipse winner but to this day he remains the oldest too. His victory came when he was six years old, something that has not been repeated since.
1893 – Orme strikes again in Eclipse
The Eclipse was only seven years old when it witnessed its first successful defending champion. This feat was pulled off by the hugely talented Orme, winner of many top-class events during his illustrious career. Initially winning as the 5/4 favourite, he secured another triumph in 1893 priced at odds of 2/1. Neither proved to be an easy victory though with the margin of victories being a neck and half a length respectively.
An Eclipse double would not be seen again until 1920 and only a further three times in the 20th century.
1910 – Dead heat in the Eclipse
Just a few years before Sandown had to close its doors to all racing due to World War I, it hosted a truly spectacular Eclipse Stakes renewal. It is the only example of a dead heat in the Eclipse’s long history and perhaps it was the fairest outcome given the outstanding quality of the horses involved. Lemberg was the reigning Derby champion while Neil Gow had recently won the 2,000 Guineas. With the title of ‘horse of the year’ effectively on the line, anticipation was extremely high heading into the contest.
Lemberg had the advantage down the home straight but the patient Neil Gow was able to pull level as the pair reached the line. Described by many as the race of the century, owners of both horses agreed to share the prize money rather than force a race-off. Sadly, this heroic battle was the last punters saw of Neil Gow who retired to stud soon after following a serious injury sustained to his forelegs.
1973 – Eclipse ran at Kempton
In 1973 the Eclipse did not appear at its usual home but instead was temporarily located just a few miles away at Kempton Park. Running at Kempton for the first time, the race attracted six entries and was won by Scottish Rifle.
1976 – Trepan stripped of title
First across the line in the 1976 running of the Eclipse Stakes was Trepan. His spot in Eclipse history would not last long though as he tested positive for a banned substance, theobromine. Subsequently disqualified and relegated to a mere footnote, the race was instead awarded to Henry Cecil’s Wollow. It was a much-needed consolation for connections of Wollow as he lost out as the 11/10 favourite in the Derby during the previous month. Reportedly, that defeat at Epsom had cost punters in the region of £7m.
1986 – Sprint Stakes founded
During the summer of ’86, spectators at Sandown got a glimpse of a brand new race, the Trafalgar House Sprint Stakes, or simply, the Sprint Stakes. It began as a listed contest, open to horses aged three and above. The first edition as won by a four year old horse named Polykratis trained by Merrick Francis, son of famed crime writing author and jockey, Dick Francis. It is notable given that Merrick enjoyed very little success as a racehorse trainer.
1992 – Dragon Stakes joins opening day
The Dragon Stakes made its inaugural appearance during the opening day of the Summer Festival in 1992. The then Class A contest, offering around £10k in prize money, attracted six runners with Mark Johnston’s Marina Park coming out on top. Since its inauguration, it has been a contest strictly for two year old horses of either sex.
1994 – Hoh Magic shows her class
The Dragon Stakes may be around three decades old but the classiest horse it has seen came very early on during its lifetime. On just the third edition of the race, Michael Bell sent Hoh Magic to Sandown following a strong display in Ascot’s Queen Mary Stakes. The 4/5 favourite duly delivered, clocking an impressive time in the process. As of 2021, she remains the only two year old to have won the Dragon Stakes in a sub-one-minute time.
1996 – Halling enters Eclipse history
We mentioned before how Orme was the first horse to win the Eclipse on two occasions but Halling is our most recent example. It could well be only a matter of time before this changes but as we write, Halling is the fifth and last horse to win this prestigious event twice. Like all other examples, his pair of wins came in successive years, first in 1995 then in 1996.
Both were completely nail-biting affairs too with Halling only able to secure victory by a neck’s length each time. These fine margins go to show just how hard it is to defend one’s title in this contest. It’s also worth noting that Halling is just one of three horses to complete the double in York’s International Stakes. Clearly, he was one horse not willing to give up a title without a fight.
2002 – The Gala Stakes is born
The Summer Festival welcomed a new addition to its schedule in 2002, registered as the Gala Stakes. For its first running, however, the race ran under a sponsored title of the Pentax ‘Perfect Image’ Stakes. Izdiham, ridden by Richard Hills, won the first renewal of the contest. This proved to be the height of the then three year old’s career as he never won again, despite 22 further attempts, many of which came in the Middle East. The future proved much kinder to Hills though as he won the Gala Stakes again in 2003 and then 2005.
2003 – Summer Festival introduces two new contests
A change in the schedule at the Summer Festival saw the inaugural appearance of two new races. Rather than adding these contests onto the existing schedule, organisers removed two lower-quality affairs from the schedule to make room. The two new races to feature were the Esher Stakes (run as the Addleshaw Goddard Stakes and now the Coral Handicap) and the Distaff Stakes. To allow both Listed races to feature on the second day of the festival, the Dragon Stakes moved to the opening day.
The Esher Stakes welcomed quite the star guest for the opening renewal, Persian Punch. By this stage, the 10 year old had already been crowned Europe’s champion stayer and has won contests such as the Goodwood Cup and Doncaster Cup. Having lost little of his ability by this point, the veteran horse recorded a 17th career victory during a gruelling battle at Sandown.
As for the Distaff Stakes, there would be no high-profile inaugural winner but our opening champion, Favourable Terms, did go on to have a fine career. After his success at Sandown, the talented mare went on to win the Matron Stakes, Nassau Stakes and the Sceptre Stakes before retiring.
2004 – Sprint Stakes upgraded
After spending nearly two decades as a Listed level contest, the Sprint Stakes gained Group status for the very first time. In doing so, it joined the Eclipse Stakes as the only other Group quality contest of the entire Summer Festival. The six year old Orientor was the first horse to win the race at its upgraded classification. It seemed to come at a heavy price though as the desperately unlucky horse failed to win any of his 35 starts after this.
Before you think this race might be cursed though, bear in mind that The Tatling also won the Sprint Stakes as a six year old just one year prior. Milton Bradley’s horse kept on racing and racing after this, eventually amassing 176 efforts in total before retiring at the ripe old age of 14. During this time, he secured 18 victories with 12 of them coming after his Summer Festival triumph.
2010 – Surprise star denies Acrostic in Coral Challenge
Having won the Coral Challenge by a head’s length in 2009, Acrostic sought to defend his title the following year. Despite a seven-pound increase in the ratings, the Luca Camani-saddled horse attracted plenty of market appeal as highlighted by his 6/1 price tag. A second consecutive win would have been his too if not for a shock performance from 33/1 outsider Black Spirit who was joint bottom of the betting for the 17-horse contest.
2011 – Nahrain shows her class
Following back-to-back wins, most expected Nahrain to do the business in the 2011 Coral Distaff. This she did after Neil Callan gave her a little encouragement on the saddle following an awkward start. Having firmly put herself on many people’s radars with this win, the filly travelled to France for the Prix De L’Opera. Victorious once again in this prestigious contest, she is proof that the Coral Distaff can unearth some extremely talented fillies.
2018 – Nearly Caught secures Marathon double
In 2016, Nearly Caught made his first appearance in the Coral Marathon (Esher Stakes), registering a credible third-place finish. Obviously encouraged by this, Hughie Morrison gave his horse another crack the following year. Priced as the 6/4 favourite, there were to be no surprises during the festival’s penultimate race as Nearly Caught battled his way to victory.
Twelve months later, Nearly Caught was given the chance to complete the double, something never done in the Esher Stakes fairly short history. Despite losing his previous start by 35 lengths, a massive upturn in form saw the 9/4 favourite come out on top. Asked about the drastic turnaround in performances, separated by just two weeks, Morrison said his gelding simply appreciated the significantly shorter trip.
2020 – Reduced Festival held behind closed doors
Due to the global health crisis, no punters were allowed to visit Sandown for the 2020 Summer Festival. As a response to this, organisers at the racecourse opted to shuffle things around. Instead of two days of behind closed doors action, hosted on Friday and Saturday, Sandown instead combined the best events from both days for a special Sunday of racing.
As an additional extra, the eight-race Sunday card also welcomed the Henry II Stakes. Usually hosted in an evening meeting in late May, the massive disruption to sporting action across the globe prevented it from running its usual spot. Five horses showed up to compete for its later than usual appearance and from them, Dashing Willoughby clinched glory by just over a length.
It is also worth noting the change to the Eclipse Stakes this year. Normally open to all horses aged three years and older, the minimum age was raised to four due to race schedule alterations that season. Given there had been a trio of three year old champions in the previous five renewals, this represented a major modification. It was one that the five year old Ghaiyyath ended up taking full advantage of as he inflicted just a second British defeat upon Enable.