william haggas hopes his stable star Mukhadram can return to winning ways in today’s Coral-Eclipse – one of the most eagerly-anticipated races of the 2014 Flat season.
But the Yorkshire-born trainer accepts that today’s task is tougher than 12 months ago when Paul Hanagan’s mount finished an unlucky third following interference with the winner Al Kazeem.
He is right. This Grade One race over 10 furlongs sees a fascinating clash between older horses, like Mukhadram and The Fugue, and the young pretenders headed by 2000 Guineas winner Night Of Thunder, Epsom Derby runner-up Kingston Hill and Godolphin’s True Story.
Though soundly beaten, like so many, by The Fugue in the Prince of Wales’ Stakes at Royal Ascot when Andrew and Madeleine Lloyd-Webber’s fantastic filly was back to her brilliant best, Mukhadram’s form should not be dismissed – he won last year’s Sky Bet York Stakes and was second in the lucrative Dubai World Cup.
He is also the mount of Hanagan, who is riding with so much confidence after his Epsom Oaks win on Taghrooda.
“Mukhadram seems fine. I don’t think we saw the best of him at Royal Ascot but the Eclipse should tell us more,” said Haggas.
“He ran in Dubai in March, but effectively the Prince of Wales’ Stakes was his first run back and it did not really go as we had hoped.
“Admittedly, he was beaten by three of the best horses around at the moment. He plugged on and in no sense was it a bad run, but we had hoped for more. I think this Eclipse is a stronger race than last year – it has more depth and the three-year-olds seem to be a good crop.
“But I also think that Mukhadram is a better horse than a year ago, he’s much more mature and focused. A lot of people are going to see what the weather does and, just like The Fugue, Mukhadram would prefer it if there was no rain.”
As for The Fugue, history is against the John Gosden runner whose victories include successes at York in the Musidora Stakes and last summer’s Yorkshire Oaks.
The Eclipse has only been won by two fillies in the past 50 years and William Buick’s mount was bitterly disappointing in the corresponding race 12 months ago when last.
Much also depends on the well-travelled horse putting together another career-best performance less than three weeks after her Royal Ascot triumph – and for the ground to remain on the quick side.
However, there is no doubting the horse’s place in the affections of Buick who said after Royal Ascot: “It wasn’t just that she broke the track record, it was simply that we’ve been through so much together, highs and lows.
“I’m pretty sure that you saw a career best from The Fugue because when she won the Irish Champion Stakes last season she was always pulling over the opposition.
“This time she had to be at her peak and she delivered what we’ve always know she has under the right conditions, a devastating turn of pace. All she needs is 10 furlongs on a quick surface.
“I think she’s better at five years; physically she looks great and has filled out and is just stronger. I can understand why she’ll be heading for the Eclipse at Sandown because in this form she’s a handful for any horse of any age that’s in training over a mile and a quarter.”