Dar Re Mi tuned up for Eclipse tilt

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The Independent Online

A certain theme, already evident this season, may well be continued at Sandown on Saturday. The female of the thoroughbred species has been performing with great credit in open company at the top level this season; think Goldikova, winner of the Queen Anne Stakes, think Plumania, who nosed out perennial best man Youmzain at Saint-Cloud on Sunday, think Sariska, High Heeled, Chinese White, Daryakana, Fleeting Spirit, all Group One-placed.

The expansion of the elite programme for fillies and mares in recent years has had the wholly beneficial effect of encouraging their remaining in training beyond their three-year-old season and, while some may opt to stay in single-sex competition, the very best are increasingly trying their luck against colts in the best races.

The next Group One pit stop on the European middle-distance circuit is the Eclipse Stakes, traditionally the first clash of the generations and genders of the season in the highest grade. The John Gosden-trained Dar Re Mi, the only female among yesterday's 13 acceptors for the 10-furlong showpiece, is challenging Twice Over for favouritism, but this particular glass ceiling is a hard enough one to breach for the girls. In 112 runnings only two have done so, Pebbles in 1985 and Kooyonga in 1992.

And some great fillies have tried and failed, most notably Sceptre, beaten a neck by Ard Patrick in 1903, and Bosra Sham, victim of an injudicious ride when odds-on 13 years ago. The "iron lady" Triptych, tried three times, her second place to Dancing Brave as a four-year-old 24 years ago being followed by two thirds to Mtoto. The most recent mare to run was Ouija Board, only fifth as 2-1 favourite in 2006.

The beautifully named Dar Re Mi (she is by Singspiel out of Darara and carries the colours of Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and his wife, Madeleine) has faced mixed company on her last three runs, a fifth in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, a third in the Breeders' Cup Turf and, in March, victory in the Dubai Sheema Classic.

The Eclipse was the brainchild of Hwfa Williams, the man who invented the pay-at-the-gate enclosed racecourse in an effort to keep out Victorian yobs and make the sport more attractive to women. Sandown, opened in 1875, was an instant success and 11 years later came the country's first £10,000 race (when the Derby was worth £4,600), specifically designed to bring the best of the generations together. The 1903 running was close to perfection; the four-year-old Ard Patrick, winner of the Derby, beat the legendary Sceptre, who had won the other four Classics the previous year, a neck, with the hitherto undefeated three-year-old Rock Sand, who was to go on to win the Triple Crown, back in third.

There is no three-year-old, though, of the calibre of last year's winner Sea The Stars this time. Seven are among the entry for the £500,000 purse, all bar Godolphin's late Irish Derby defector Chabal supplied by Aidan O'Brien. Viscount Nelson, fifth in the Prix Du Jockey-Club last time out when Sunday's Curragh hero Cape Blanco was only10th, is perceived as the best Ballydoyle prospect by the market.

Overall, older horses hold the call over the Classic generation. The race has gone to three-year-olds on 47 occasions, to four-year-olds 52 times, to five-year-olds 12 times, and to a six-year-old, the inaugural winner Bendigo, once.

Turf account

*Sue Montgomery's Nap Goldtrek (2.30 Brighton)

A step up to today's distance brought the necessary improvement last time.

*Next Best Distant Sun (4.45 Hamilton)

*One to watch

A maiden win should be a formality for Nationalism (J H M Gosden), who has the scope to prove a cut above average despite his belated debut.

Where the money's going

Hanoverian Baron has been installed as 8-1 favourite for Saturday's Old Newton Cup at Haydock by sponsors bet365.

Chris McGrath's Nap

Gritstone (3.45 Hamilton)