Great Britain & Ireland Preview: Alenquer one to watch
Dating back to 1886, the Eclipse Stakes, run at 1 1/4 miles at Sandown Park, near London, began its life as Britain’s richest horse race — a title that has long since been eclipsed.
However, it remains one of the most important races in the world — in the past four years, it has been no lower than 12th in the Longines Rankings of the top 100 Group/Grade 1 races for three-year-olds and up, and was as high as fourth in 2019, when it was won by champion mare Enable from another very good mare, Magical.
The Eclipse Stakes is frequently the first major middle distance race of the year in Britain, where the best three-year-olds take on older horses, and this year is no exception.
The Sandown card also features a Group 3 contest, a Listed race, and a rich handicap. All Sandown races feature a Rest of the World Bet Back offer at TwinSpires, where those who opt in can get up to $10 of a win bet returned if their horse runs second, provided there are at least six runners. So let’s have a look at some spot plays.
Race 1, 8:50 a.m. ET: Coral Charge (G3), 5 furlongs, 3-year-olds and up
Just eight horses contest this sprint, but it contains some useful horses. Two horses on the up, #5 Raasel and #6 Mitbaahy, contest early favoritism, but I’m going to pass them up in favor of one of the older brigade.
#2 Equilateral is now a seven-year-old but the Equiano gelding looks as good as ever. He won a handicap and the Meydan Sprint (G2) in Dubai, then finished fourth in the Al Quoz Sprint in 2021, before being off the scene for more than a year.
Few expected him to run well in his return, the King’s Stand (G1) at Royal Ascot June 14, but he put up a great effort at 66-1. Though a 5 1/2-length fifth may not seem outstanding, the entire field was at long way behind Australian star Nature Strip, and he was just a length behind the runner-up Twilight Calls. He won’t have to improve much to win this.
Mitbaahy has the advantage of winning form at Sandown, taking out the Coral Scurry (Listed) at his most recent outing with a last-to-first effort, and he looks a horse on the improve. Raasel produced a similar effort to win the Achilles Stakes (Listed) at Haydock May 28.
Of the others, #1 Arecibo may be worth forgiving after finishing three lengths behind Equilateral at Royal Ascot and is worth including in exotics.
Race 2, 9:25 a.m. ET: Coral Challenge (Handicap), one mile, 3-year-olds and up
A surprisingly small field of 11 face the starter in this, but there’s still plenty of opportunity. However, the race looks well set up for #2 Sinjaari. He has been as good as ever this year, running a nice third to Muraad at Newbury while conceding five pounds before a very nice fifth in the rich Royal Hunt Cup at Royal Ascot. This is much easier.
Perhaps the most interesting horse is #3 Checkandchallenge. The Fast Company 3-year-old won his first two starts, both on synthetic tracks, before being asked to tackle the best of his age in the 2000 Guineas (G1). He was down the track in 14th place, but his victory the start beforehand in the Coral Burradon Stakes at Newcastle was good enough to suggest he wouldn’t be out of place here.
- $10 win/$20 show: #2 Sinjaari
- $5 exacta: box 2, 3
Race 3, 10 a.m. ET: Coral Distaff (Listed), one mile, 3-year-old fillies
The big question here: how good is #5 Heredia? She’s unbeaten in four starts and produced a very good effort at Royal Ascot to win the Sandringham Handicap for fillies. That form looks superior to everything else in this field, and she should be good enough to win.
An interesting runner is #1 Oscula, who has been given an interesting campaign. She was tested against some of the best fillies last year, winning the Prix Six Perfections (G3) at Deauville and finishing third in the Prix Marcel Boussac (G1) at Longchamp. But after failing badly on dirt in the Saudi Derby (G3), trainer George Boughey took her back to lower classes, where she finished second in the Surrey Stakes (Listed) at Epsom before winning the Eternal Stakes (Listed) at Carlisle. She stays a mile and can get some of the money.
Of the others, #4 Grande Dame will find this easier than the Coronation Stakes (G1), while #3 Fast Attack was a Group 3 winner at two who returns to home soil after finishing fifth on her seasonal debut in the German 1,000 Guineas (G2) June 12.
- $20 win: #5 Heredia
- $2 trifecta: 5 with 1, 3, 4 with all
Race 4, 10:35 a.m. ET: Coral Eclipse Stakes (G1), 1 1/4 miles, 3-year-olds and up
What a fabulous race. Only six horses are entered for the Eclipse Stakes, but it’s full of class and it wouldn’t surprise if any of them won.
Representing the older horses are the highest-earning horse in the world still racing, #4 Mishriff; dual Dubai Turf (G1) winner #3 Lord North; the emerging talent of Prince of Wales’s Stakes (G1) runner-up #2 Bay Bridge; and #1 Alenquer, who beat subsequent Prince of Wales’s stakes winner State of Rest in the Tattersalls Gold Cup (G1) at The Curragh in May.
French raider #6 Vadeni’s five-length Prix du Jockey Club (G1) victory, relegating Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) winner Modern Games to third, was sufficiently outstanding to put him on top of the British market for this race. There is some doubt exactly how good the field was that he beat, but he undoubtedly has the excitement factor about him.
The other three-year-old in the field, #5 Native Trail, disappointed some when finishing second in the English 2,000 Guineas (G1), failing to cope with stablemate Coroebus’ turn of foot. His Irish Guineas victory was workmanlike rather than outstanding, but he was strong at the end of both Guineas races and looks like he will appreciate 1 1/4 miles.
#2 Bay Bridge disappointed a little when second at Royal Ascot. His previous start may be a better guide — a five-length victory at Sandown in the Brigadier Gerard (G3). He looks talented, and he may well appreciate the return to Sandown.
#3 Lord North’s fifth in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes can be ignored, as he lost several lengths at the start when his blindfold got stuck in his bridle and wasn’t removed until it was too late. Two starts prior, he dead-heated for first in the Dubai Turf (G1) — a race he won outright the previous year — and in between was a close fourth in the Tattersalls Gold Cup (G1) at The Curragh.
The winner that day, #1 Alenquer, is arguably underrated. He has also improved steadily this season, having also beaten Lord North in the Winter Derby (G3) Feb. 26. He was beaten into sixth in between in the Dubai Sheema Classic (G1), but he may well be better at 1 1/4 miles than 1 1/2 miles.
The best-performed horse overall in the race is last year’s Saudi Cup (G1) winner #4 Mishriff. Though he also won the Dubai Sheema Classic (G1) in 2021, his best form arguably came when thrashing Alenquer in the Juddmonte International (G1) at York last August. Even though Alenquer has improved since then, a repeat of that effort would make Mishriff hard to beat.
Unfortunately, Mishriff is hard to assess, as he has only raced once this year — for a distant last in the Saudi Cup in February. His connections say he has been training well, but it’s worth noting he wasn’t at his peak when making his first European start in 2021 in this event, finishing third.
It’s a tough race to pick, but I am going with Alenquer, who I think is a better horse this year and is happiest at 1 1/4 miles. Vadeni is the obvious danger, but anything could happen.
- $10 win: #1 Alenquer
- $1 trifecta: 1, 6 with 1, 2, 6 with all