Saturday's 105th Eclipse Stakes, the first élite clash of the generations of the season, is shaping as the usual showdown between the game's behemoths. The Derby runner-up Hawk Wing is odds-on to give the Ballydoyle-Coolmore axis its eighth Group One victory of the campaign; Equerry, for Godolphin, is likely to start market second choice to clip the favourite's feathers. Of the 12 other colts currently engaged in the £325,000 Sandown showpiece, five are Hawk Wing's stablemates and a pair carry the royal blue.
Defiance, however, is possible. The big two may have annexed 11 races between them at the top level in Europe this year, but their team members have also had to settle for seven runner-up spots and four thirds. There are five outsiders – and not all of them no-hopers – set to raise their heads above the parapet on Saturday.
One of those with the task of belling the twin-headed cat is four-year-old Indian Creek, whose latest effort was his commendable five-length second to Godolphin's Grandera in the Prince Of Wales's Stakes. His trainer David Elsworth has never been afraid of a challenge and his talk yesterday was as pugilistic as ever.
"I think my horse has more finishing speed than Hawk Wing," was his opening punch. "He showed a remarkable turn of foot when he passed the whole field in the last 200 yards of the Earl Of Sefton Stakes. I feel he has improved since Ascot – he seems to be in the best form of his life – and we expect a good run."
Indian Creek is entitled to be on a rising curve; Saturday's venture will be only the twelfth race of his life. Having been too much of a baby to race at two, he was gently plying his trade in handicap company this time last year. His rise through the ranks in the autumn was swift and effective, though, and his 66-1 third to Nayef and Tobougg in the Champion Stakes was no surprise to those closest to him.
"He hasn't taken the conventional route to the big time," admitted Elsworth. "We gave him time to mature and when we ran him at Newmarket last year he was no forlorn hope. We knew he was progressing nicely and he justified our belief in him."
Elsworth, 62, has been in the training trade for nearly a quarter of a century and has been there, done that at the highest level under both codes.
But, though there have been some near misses at the top recently – most notably Persian Punch's heartbreaking head second in last year's Gold Cup – the last time Elsworth was in the winner's circle after a Group One Flat race was when Seattle Rhyme won the Racing Post Trophy in 1991.
"Is it that long?", said Elsworth when the fact was confirmed by the office staff at his Hampshire yard. "Christ, that's pathetic. We'll have to put that right on Saturday. But we have been winning Group Twos and Group Threes. And we've got one of the nicest fillies seen so far, Duty Paid, and one of the nicest colts, Norse Dancer.
"We may not have the numbers we used to but we like to think we've still got quality at Whitsbury. We do realise that the horses who are available to us mere mortals are not, broadly, the calibre of those available to those with greater resources. But we must not be, and are not, intimidated."
Luckily, Indian Creek, on whom Richard Quinn will have the task of unleashing acceleration on Saturday, does not realise that he carries Seymour Cohn's colours, rather than Michael Tabor's or Sheikh Mohammed's.
Between his Earl Of Sefton win and his Ascot second, the son of Indian Ridge was undone by soft ground behind Rebelline in Ireland. And Sandown, Esher, is only six miles from wet Wimbledon. "His best form has been on fast ground," said Elsworth. "Good ground would not be a problem but we do not want significant cut. But if the rain stays away I'll be disappointed if he does not go close. We've been knocking at the door and it's time it opened."
n Jockey John Egan, against whom an arrest warrant was issued in Hong Kong after he failed to return to the former colony on Sunday to face a charge of allegedly accepting a bribe to provide tips, was given the go-ahead to continue riding in Britain at a Jockey Club hearing yesterday. The Irishman was given the benefit of the doubt pending further investigations and clarification of the situation in Hong Kong and he promptly rode a winner at Lingfield on the aptly-named Start Over.Reuse content