top trainer John Gosden is taking nothing for granted as his Betfred Dante and Epsom Derby hero Golden Horn puts his unbeaten record on the line when racing against the older generation for the first time in today’s Coral-Eclipse at Sandown.
Though many regard today’s Group One race as a formality after the horse’s mesmerising win at Epsom under Frankie Dettori, and the runner-up Jack Hobbs franking that form by running away with the Irish Derby last Saturday in scintillating style, Gosden has the greatest of respect for today’s four rivals who are headed by the Yorkshire challenger The Grey Gatsby.
Winner of the Dante, French Derby and Irish Champion Stakes last year, Kevin Ryan’s stable star was desperately unlucky at Royal Ascot when beaten a short-head by Free Eagle in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes after jockey Jamie Spencer repeatedly found trouble in running. Today’s small but select field lessens that likelihood, a point acknowledged by Golden Horn’s trainer.
“I have a lot of respect for The Grey Gatsby, looking at his form from last year and the form of his last race, finishing second in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes,” he said. “Then you have the horse that finished third in the Queen Anne, Cougar Mountain, which is the best form around over a mile, so these are top older horses we’re taking on.
“I think the odds are a little bit unusual and I don’t think they’re representative of the chances the other horses have. I’ve no illusions about it. It’s a mile and a quarter on a track that can favour front-runners and against older horses. I’ve bags of respect for those horses and nothing is a given.”
Despite his caution, Gosden says that Golden Horn has done everything right at home since his Epsom heroics as the horse bids to become the first Derby winner since Sea The Stars in 2009 to also win the Eclipse.
The 10-furlong trip – the same distance as the Dante at York – should play to the favourite’s strengths and Gosden said: “We talked at Epsom about wanting to go to Sandown and I’ve been happy with his work. He has a good constitution – his favourite two occupations are eating and sleeping. There’s no harm in that. He’s quite relaxed and quite lazy sometimes in his work. He’s lazy in his races sometimes as well, but he’s a grand horse.”
Now unbeaten in four starts, the pressure of protecting this winning sequence is not something that concerns the phlegmatic handler who said: “I don’t let it bother me. Any horse can get beaten, it happened to Nijinsky, Kingman in the Guineas. I’m never going to let that worry me. If the horse’s ability is there and they’re in good form and come out of their races well, that matters to a trainer probably more than anything else.”
The champion carries the colours of owner-breeder Anthony Oppenheimer, who was moved to tears in the winner’s enclosure at Epsom.
He is looking forward to his colt’s latest challenge, but also describes the betting as “mad”. “I believe he is developing and I believe he’s going extremely well,” said Oppenheimer.
“I think it’s going to be a fantastic race. When you get only four or five runners, then it’s completely tactical, but it could be one of the most exciting races you’ll see all year. We’ll just have to wait and see. In a very slowly-run race, it plays into the hands of non-stayers and anybody can come from behind much easier than in a 10 or 12-horse race. You could get on the finishing line, with three or four horses arriving at the same time. It’s anybody’s race. The betting is mad. They should all be almost the same price.”
The owner already has one eye on a potential July double with his pride and joy, with the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot in three weeks’ time under serious consideration.
One horse to watch is Gosden’s second string Western Hymn who is a course specialist. His jockey James Doyle, who is in a rich run of form, said: “A lot of respect has to be given to Golden Horn and The Grey Gatsby . My fellow loves the track and the trip, he has just got to prove himself at that level. If the race does become tactical, it might help Western Hymn as he has got a great cruising speed and turn of foot.”