Halling worthy of hall of fame

Sue Montgomery celebrates a double Eclipse
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The history and tradition of racing is one of the sport's strengths, although, conversely, it has been argued that rigid adherence to ritual is also one of its weaknesses. But it is the best-documented of man's competitive activities, and achievements by the main protagonists, the horses, remain in the record books to be judged, as is generally best, from a distance of time.

Halling joined a select honours list with his stirring repeat victory in the 99th running of the Eclipse Stakes on Saturday. The 10-furlong contest was founded in 1886 as the first great middle- distance clash of the generations by Hwfa Williams to give a boost to his new Sandown Park track, one of the first enclosed courses. Some of the greatest names of the Turf have won it, but only five have won it twice, and Williams would not have been disappointed with the latest spectacle or result.

And Orme, Polyphontes, Buchan and Mtoto, if they owned human emotions, would not be ashamed to have alongside them Halling, who by his victory has not only established himself as a top-class 10-furlong specialist but also one of those rare enough thoroughbreds who seem to revel in doing the job for which he was bred and prepared.

The race was in its infancy when Orme won for the first time, in 1892. A son of the mighty Ormonde, he was champion two-year-old and regarded as another Triple Crown winner for John Porter's Kingsclere stable. But a few days before the Guineas came the news that the colt had been poisoned. His life hung in the balance, he missed the first two Classics, and the apprehension of the nobblers - whose identity was never discovered - became a cause celebre in the days when the names of the best horses were household ones. Orme was mobbed when he beat Orvieto a neck in his first Eclipse. He had revenge on La Fleche, winner of her Guineas, Oaks and St Leger (in which race Orme was an ineptly ridden fifth) when he won for the second time, and retired to stud the winner of 14 of his 18 starts.

The Classics also eluded Buchan, but he was placed in the Guineas, Derby and St Leger. He was long odds-on in a moderate field for the 1919 Eclipse, but had a tougher task a year later.

Polyphontes' career was nothing if not varied. The 1924 Eclipse was the ninth start of his three-year-old season; he had been unplaced in the Guineas, run fifth in the Derby four days after beating older horses at Lingfield, won the Ascot Derby and two days later finished eighth in the Hardwicke. But he started joint-favourite at Sandown, and justified his position by easily disposing of the previous year's Derby winner, Papyrus. The following year he warmed up for the Eclipse by carrying top- weight into second in the Royal Hunt Cup.

The exploits of Mtoto are more easily recalled. Like Halling, he won the Eclipse at four and five, like Polyphontes, he beat a Derby winner, Reference Point, in his first, like Buchan, he later showed high-class form over further, and like Orme, has sired a Derby winner.

Yesterday Halling was lording it over his stablemates at Sheikh Mohammed's Godolphin base in Newmarket. It is all too easy - though wrong - to ascribe our own feelings to horses, but the big chestnut had a strut in his walk and a lift in his head carriage that could almost have been read as pride in a job well done, and a snook cocked at the doubters who had written him off after his failures in the Breeders' Cup Classic and Dubai World Cup.

A horse like Halling is a gift for those who decry the early loss of horses to stud. A thoroughbred in his mature prime, he is described by his connections as a professional in his attitude to his job, and all who have ridden him have been struck by his determination not to be beaten. He deserves his place in the Eclipse pantheon and his re-match with Bijou D'Inde - another gifted, willing athlete - at York will be a race worthy of any era.

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