Is Golden Horn unassailable in Eclipse?

Profile Picture: Kellie Reilly

July 3rd, 2015

Undefeated Epsom Derby (Eng-G1) hero Golden Horn is the prohibitive favorite for Saturday's Eclipse (Eng-G1) at Sandown, with his odds currently hovering around 4-11.

His ever-forthright trainer, John Gosden, described that price as "pretty ridiculous" as his star colt takes on older rivals -- albeit only four of them -- for the first time.

"It's far from a one-horse race," Gosden told Racing Post, "and I have a great deal of respect for The Grey Gatsby, who is a multiple Group 1 winner and was a little unfortunate not to win at Royal Ascot. He’s arguably the best mile-and-a-quarter horse around and sets a very high standard. I think the odds should be more like evens and 2-1 rather than what they are now."

The Grey Gatsby is the main danger, having captured last year's French Derby (Fr-G1) and Irish Champion (Ire-G1) (where he stunned then-reigning Derby hero Australia). Although the Kevin Ryan charge has taken time to reach peak form this season, he was back to his best last time. As Gosden noted, The Grey Gatsby was the victim of traffic trouble before missing by a diminishing head to Free Eagle in the June 17 Prince of Wales's (Eng-G1) at Royal Ascot.

But as strong as that formline is, The Grey Gatsby has two challenges to overcome: he has to concede 11 pounds to the younger Golden Horn, and a tactically messy race, devoid of an obvious pacesetter, won't serve up the strong tempo that he thrives on.

Gosden's other runner, Western Hymn, was third to Free Eagle and The Grey Gatsby at Royal Ascot, but he's a Sandown specialist. Three-for-three over the Eclipse course and distance, he landed the 2014 Classic Trial here as well as the April 24 Gordon Richards (Eng-G3) and May 28 Brigadier Gerard (Eng-G3). On the other hand, Western Hymn prefers a bit more give in the ground than he's likely to get on Saturday, and he can be a little wayward down the stretch. And there's that matter of an 11-pound concession to his more talented stablemate, Golden Horn.

Aidan O'Brien's representative, Cougar Mountain, tries 1 1/4 miles for the first time. A rallying third to Solow in the Queen Anne (Eng-G1) down the straight mile at Royal Ascot, he could appreciate it if the Eclipse turns into a sit-and-sprint. Having worn cheekpieces in his latest, he adds blinkers now, and keeps Ryan Moore in the saddle. Still, it's remarkable to think that this time last year, Cougar Mountain was running fifth in the six-furlong July Cup (Eng-G1), and kept to sprints (with worse results) in last summer's Nunthorpe (Eng-G1) and Haydock Sprint Cup (Eng-G1). Could that really be the profile of a future Eclipse winner?

The oldest of the quintet is seven-year-old Tullius, principally a miler who has been well beaten in his two attempts at this distance, including when fourth to Western Hymn in the Gordon Richards. His signature win came over this course in last year's Sandown Mile (Eng-G2), and he has run well in defeat in such Group 1 mile events as the 2014 Lockinge, Queen Anne and Queen Elizabeth II. As with Cougar Mountain, a farcical early pace might help Tullius outperform his high odds as the rank outsider of the group.

But Golden Horn won't necessarily be unsuited by a slow early pace himself, given his abundant gears, and jockey Frankie Dettori won't be caught unaware. Indeed, Dettori has even floated the possibility of setting his own pace. Whether that's a real card to be played, or just a way of getting inside his opponents' heads, the point remains that Golden Horn won't be set a tactically difficult task. With his Derby form being franked categorically in last Saturday's Irish Derby (Ire-G1), and his significant pull at the weights here, he's very difficult to oppose.

As unassailable as Golden Horn looks on paper, though, Gosden knows the fate of all too many "sure things" in our sport.

"Any horse can get beaten," the trainer said. "It happened to Nijinsky, Kingman in the Guineas; I'm never going to let that worry me."