Racing: Light to perform a total Eclipse

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The Independent Online
IS THERE a horse in today's Eclipse Stakes fit to join the roll of illustrious winners of the first of the summer's great all-aged, middle- distance races? The search for the season's true champions starts here as the Classic generation take on their elders for the first time.

The Eclipse of 1903 produced the first "race of the century" when Ard Patrick, Sceptre and Rock Sand, who had won eight Classics between them, fought out the finish. And from Bayardo in 1909, through Coronach and Colorado in the 1920s to the champions of the 1970s, Mill Reef and Brigadier Gerard, and on to the latter-day winners Pebbles, Dancing Brave and Nashwan, the greatest names have graced the Sandown turf. The King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, first run in 1951, and York's International Stakes, which did not see the light of day until 1972, are new arrivals compared to the Eclipse which is still going strong at the age of 113.

Sadly, the field for this final Eclipse of the century is hardly a vintage one. Godolphin, having coughed up a week ago to supplement last year's winner, Daylami, for the race, decided yesterday that pounds 15,000 was small change they could afford to toss away and withdrew the colt to save him for the King George.

Having supplied the first three home last year, the Dubaians now rely solely on Xaar, who produced a decent, solid performance to be third in the Prince of Wales's Stakes at Royal Ascot last time, but one which bore little resemblance to the awesome display in the 1997 Dewhurst Stakes which earned him such a lofty reputation.

The Ascot race holds the key to today's Eclipse though with the first four home, Lear Spear, Fantastic Light, Xaar and Chester House reopposing. With Chester House too often a reluctant participant, Lear Spear's stamina potentially vulnerable up the long hill of the Sandown finishing straight and Xaar a horse with his greatest hour behind him, it is FANTASTIC LIGHT (nap 4.05), who attracts as a betting proposition at 11-2 with Ladbrokes and the Tote.

One of only two three-year-olds taking on the old guard, Fantastic Light represents a year group that has struggled in the Eclipse in recent years and has not produced a winner of the race since Environment Friend in 1991. Still, after only six career starts he has lots of scope for improvement and is the pick, ahead of Insatiable, of Michael Stoute's stable jockey Gary Stevens, who believes he would have beaten Lear Spear in another stride at Ascot.

Croco Rouge, the favourite, is trying to become France's first Eclipse winner - excluding the disqualified Trepan in 1976 - since Javelot in 1960, but is better suited by give in the ground. So it is Lear Spear, recommended on this page at 14-1 on Tuesday and still, surprisingly, 9- 1 with Ladbrokes, who might again prove Fantastic Light's greatest threat.

Barrister (2.50), another improving, lightly-raced three-year-old, may thwart Stoute's Lonesome Dude in the first televised race, while To The Roof (next best 3.25) may have had enough in hand of Dashing Blue at Epsom to dish out another beating to that rival. Shining Dancer (4.40), though, who stayed on well at Ascot last time, may be able to gain revenge on the winner there, Generous Ways, on 8lb better terms.

At Haydock, Noushkey (3.05) can uphold the form of the Oaks, in which she finished second, in the Lancashire version, while Tabareeh (3.40), in the Old Newton Cup, can complete a big handicap double for the Marcus Tregoning stable that won yesterday's feature race at Sandown.

Greek Dance represents the Stoute stable in tomorrow's Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud, but Dream Well, who would have won the Coronation Cup under a better ride, the Arc winner Sagamix and the Japan Cup winner El Condor Pasa represent the toughest opposition.

n Fairy King, sire of the Derby winner Oath, has been put down at the age of 17. He was suffering from laminitis and had been infertile since last year.

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