Racing: Will Bosra show who is boss?

The 100th running of the Eclipse on Saturday should produce a classic duel between a champion colt and a fabulous filly. Sue Montgomery reports

Next Saturday's 100th running of the Eclipse Stakes at Sandown should produce a contest worthy of the great race's centenary when Benny The Dip, hero of this year's Derby, takes on Bosra Sham, the best four- year-old in the country.

The 10-furlong race provides the season's first middle-distance clash of the generations at Group 1 level, giving the present Classic crop its first test against its elders. When it was inaugurated in 1886 to celebrate the success of Britain's first notable purpose-built enclosed racetrack, it was the first pounds 10,000 race in Britain.

It soon grew in status and has produced some electric finishes. In the 1903 running four-year-old Ard Patrick, the previous year's Derby hero, beat his contemporary Sceptre, who had taken the other four Classics, with the three-year-old Rock Sand, who went on to complete the Triple Crown, back in third. And in 1910 came the only dead-heat, when the Derby winner Lemberg shared the spoils with the 2,000 Guineas winner Neil Gow. The first to take the Derby and Eclipse in the same year was Flying Fox in 1899, but the race has tended not to be an automatic target for an Epsom winner. In the first half of the century Ascot, then the St Leger build-up held more kudos for the true 12-furlong horse, and the expansion of the racing programme post-war has meant that the King George via the Irish Derby is often the route taken.

It takes a very good Derby winner to go on to Eclipse glory. The last four to have done so have been Nashwan (1989), Mill Reef (1971), Tulyar (1952) and Blue Peter (1939). Erhaab, Reference Point and even Sir Ivor failed.

It also took an exceptional filly, Pebbles, to beat the hoodoo for the distaffers the race seemed to have, and in Bosra Sham we seem to have one from the same mould. It will be a fascinating contest worth travelling a long way to see.

Benny The Dip

Age

Three-year-old brown colt, born 25 March. Bidding to become the ninth Derby winner to triumph in the Eclipse Stakes in his Classic year. Only three have done so post-war, Tulyar (1952), Mill Reef (1971) and Nashwan (1989).

Lineage

American-bred by Silver Hawk - Rascal Rascal, by Ack Ack. By a horse, under-rated as a runner and until recently as a sire, who won up to a mile but was well suited by further, having run third in the Derby and second in the Irish version. Has already proved he stays 12 furlongs but his connections feel that, at this stage and particularly on easy going, a mile and a quarter may be his optimum trip.

Form

Ran 8, won 5, second 2, third 1. Earnings: pounds 786,890.

After his Derby win was given a higher post-Epsom rating than either of the previous two winners, Shaamit and Lammtarra. Has won once over 10 furlongs (this year's Dante Stakes) and was four lengths clear at the distance in the Derby. Can quicken, and is thoroughly resolute, despite a tendency to sweat up before his races. Yet to race on going extremes.

Trainer

John Gosden, aged 46. Benny the Dip's Derby was his 15th European Group 1 win since he came to Newmarket eight years ago after a successful career in the United States. Has joined Henry Cecil and Michael Stoute as one of the town's "Big Three", nudging out Luca Cumani. His only previous Eclipse runner, Muhtarram, ran sixth in the race two years ago.

Owner

Landon Knight. A 72-year-old newspaper publisher from Ohio who bred his colt and named him after a pickpocket character in the Guys and Dolls stories written in 1931 by the journalist and author Damon Runyon.

Jockey

Frankie Dettori, aged 26. Former champion jockey who became a legend when going through the card at Ascot last year. Has yet to ride an Eclipse winner in two previous attempts, having been short-head runner-up on Misil in 1993 and third on Red Bishop two years ago. Missed both of the wins of Halling, from his retaining stable, having been on better- fancied Red Bishop first time and injured last year.

Odds: 3-1

Bosra Sham

Age

Four-year-old chestnut filly, born 28 February. Only two of her sex have won Eclipses, Pebbles (1985) and Kooyonga (1992), but her age group has the best record, with 47 wins in 99 runnings.

Lineage

American-bred by Woodman - Korveya, by Riverman. Her brother Hector Protector and half-brother Shanghai, both winners of the French 2,000 Guineas, were best over a mile, but she has already proved her excellence over 10 furlongs with victories last season in the Champion Stakes and 12 days ago in the Prince of Wales' Stakes.

Form

Ran 8, won 7, second 1. Earnings: pounds 549,693.

Beaten only once, when runner-up to Mark of Esteem in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes last year. Is the highest-rated horse trained in Britain; her three Group 1 wins have come in the Fillies Mile at two, and when she took the 1,000 Guineas and trounced a dual Eclipse winner (Halling) in the Champion Stakes last year. She beat subsequent Hardwicke Stakes winner Predappio on her return and then left Alhaarth for dead in the Prince of Wales' Stakes at Royal Ascot. Has an excellent turn of foot and is very genuine. As yet unproven on very soft ground.

Trainer

Henry Cecil. Aged 54, has trained three previous Eclipse winners, Wolver Hollow (1969), and two successful favourites, Wollow (1976) and Gunner B (1978), from 16 runners. Has sent out three beaten favourites, Eltish (1995), Reference Point (1987) and Lucky Wednesday (1977). Wollow finished second to Trepan and was later promoted on the technical disqualification of the winner.

Owner

Wafic Said, a Dubai-based businessman. Changed his filly's name from Quercifolia (which means oak-leaved) to Bosra Sham, a place in his native Syria, after paying 530,000 guineas, the highest auction price of 1994 in Europe, for her as a yearling.

Jockey

Kieren Fallon, aged 32. Having a tremendous first season as Warren Place stable jockey, with his first two Group 1 races already under his belt, the 1,000 Guineas on Sleepytime and Oaks on Reams of Verse. His second Eclipse ride after Ela-Aristokrati, fourth last year.

Odds: 4-6

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