Racing: Erhaab is eclipsed

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THE heat was on here yesterday, and it was too much for Erhaab. The Derby winner was found wanting in the Coral Eclipse Stakes, and could finish only third behind the five-year- old Ezzoud and the four-year- old Bob's Return.

All eyes were on Erhaab, odds-on to become only the eighth Derby hero this century to beat his elders in the first Group One clash between the generations of the season.

Before the race Erhaab was about the coolest of the field of eight, winners of 31 races between them, on a sultry, sweltering afternoon that had most of the runners dripping with sweat before they left the paddock.

Philip Robinson set a pace as scorching as the temperature from the start on Bob's Return, setting off so fast that Erhaab's pacemaker, Lattam, could never get his head in front. Last year's St Leger winner hurtled into the straight two lengths clear, with Perfect Imposter third and Erhaab heading the chasing bunch.

The Sandown hill is a daunting challenge, doubly so in enervating heat, but gallant Bob's Return kept up his gallop. Behind him Erhaab began to make progress - and the crowd waited for the black bullet to fly. But that wonderful dash he had shown in the Derby was missing.

The little colt was under pressure as he drew level with the leader more than a furlong out and it was clear that Ezzoud, who came through with him on his outside, was going very much the better.

In the final half-furlong Walter Swinburn had his race won, and though Bob's Return rallied, Ezzoud, the second favourite, had a length and a half to spare at the line.

Erhaab plugged on, a game three-quarters of a length third, and his jockey Willie Carson reported, sadly: 'He just ran out of gas.'

If there was a hard-luck story, it was Environment Friend's. The grey, who combines stallion duties with racing, lost his hind legs as he came round the final turn and dropped back to last, but made up a huge amount of ground to finish fourth, four lengths behind the principals.

Bin Ajwaad was a never- dangerous fifth, Lattam sixth, Karinga Bay seventh and Perfect Imposter last. Turtle Island and Prince of Andros were withdrawn because the ground was deemed too firm.

Ezzoud, owned by Maktoum Al Maktoum, runs in a visor and has had a reputation for being a bit cranky, but won at the top level over 10 furlongs, the Eclipse distance, in the York International last year, and was a good second at Royal Ascot last month.

He was ideally suited by yesterday's strong gallop, and his trainer, Michael Stoute, defended his charge's record. 'He's a very good horse on his day,' said the Newmarket handler, 'and certainly good enough to have been here. He is mentally sound - you can't have a five-year-old entire in training otherwise - but he is sometimes a bit of a lad at home. But you can't fault him on the racecourse.'

Mark Tompkins was delighted with Bob's Return, whose next target is the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes at Ascot in three weeks' time. He said: 'He's proved he's in the top bracket from 10 furlongs to a mile and three-quarters.'

Over two furlongs less than Epsom, Erhaab failed where only Nashwan, Mill Reef and Tulyar - all exceptional Derby winners - have succeeded since the war.

Erhaab's owner, Hamdan Al-Maktoum, who had opted to run Erhaab here in the Eclipse instead of last Sunday's Irish Derby at The Curragh, said: 'I was happy to run here before the King George. He does not seem to have a second gear.'

It was sad not to cheer another champion home, and, as Erhaab's trainer, John Dunlop, reflected afterwards: 'Perhaps we have over-rated the Derby form.'