Racing: Compensation for Kooyonga in Eclipse

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Expect the weather to take a turn for the better. The rain rarely let up at Sandown Park yesterday, but so much hot air was generated before the Eclipse Stakes field was sent on its way that a return to the sweltering temperatures of a week ago must surely be imminent.

The origin of it all was Kooyonga, and more specifically the widely-touted belief that the soft going, the distance, even her very sex meant that the Irish- trained filly could not win. Whatever else horses may do, you can be certain that they will never stop making fools of us.

That she was sent off favourite at 7-2 speaks volumes about the pre- race confusion of punters and bookies alike. As Mellaby broke quickly to go about his task of ensuring a true pace, the Eclipse looked about as open a Group One contest as you will find, particularly thanks to the wild card of rain-softened going. Kooyonga was held up towards the back of the field by Warren O'Connor, whose riding came in for some stern criticism after the filly's disqualification from first place in the Prince of Wales's Stakes at Royal Ascot, as the other leading fancies jostled for position in the run towards the final turn.

Just about everything bar the pacemaker looked to have a chance as they turned for home and spread out across the course. Terimon was widest of all, coming up the stands rail in search of better ground, as the likes of Zoman, Arcangues, Twist And Turn and Opera House all looked as if they would have a hand in the finish.

At which point Kooyonga appeared on the scene, and the rest were chasing second. O'Connor's mount joined issue without being asked, swept into a two-length lead and won as she liked. The jockey's whip, which caused so many steering problems at Ascot, was not once waved in anger. Opera House was hard-ridden into second, a length and a half away, with Sapience the same distance back in third.

The significance of the stick- free success was not lost on O'Connor, who has already picked up four bans for misuse of the whip this season. 'I was becoming known as The Butcher and had to do something about it,' he said afterwards. 'During my suspensions I practised my style on a wooden horse and Tommy (Carmody, the former Irish champion) was a great help. I knew I had them beaten two out and she still had a bit in hand at the finish.'

It is to be hoped that that bit in hand will prove large enough to stretch to covering an extra two furlongs, because although the International Stakes at York is vying with a valuable race in Germany to be Kooyonga's next assignment, her owner is Japanese and her ultimate aim is the Japan Cup in Tokyo in November. Although a 12- furlong trip might seem to be asking a lot of her, after yesterday's performance few will be brave enough to write her off.

There was rather less space to spare at the finish of the Star And Stripes Sprint Stakes, a Listed contest, although a furlong out Tbab seemed sure to win by at least five lengths. The backers who were already in the bar demanding champagne were soon forced to change the order to Liebfraumilch, however, as Medaille D'Or's apparently futile pursuit suddenly became very earnest indeed. Alan Munro finally forced his way into the lead two strides from the line.

At Haydock, Pat Eddery was valuably rewarded for missing his expected Eclipse ride on Rock Hopper when Matador, the 11-4 favourite, took the Old Newton Cup. Eddery sent Matador to the front a furlong and a half out, and he just held on from Quick Ransom, who came from well off the pace and would have won given another 15 yards.

Every winner is vital for Eddery as Michael Roberts refuses to accept that his position as champion is immutable. Matador completed a double for Eddery, successful earlier on Bowden Boy, but it was his brother Paul who took the card's principal contest, the Group Three Lancashire Oaks, on Michael Stoute's Niodini.