Whether it’s a bike race or a horse race, tactics can decide the best competitor on the day, although not necessarily the innately best competitor.
And to apply the topical terminology, the riders of the top fancies in the Eclipse Stakes sat in the peloton and looked at each other as a rank outsider broke clear, and were left somewhat embarrassed as one of those quick-minded enough to chase the breakaway prevailed.
Not that Mukhadram, 14-1 winner of the first all-aged middle-distance clash of the season, is at all a no-hoper. He had finished an arguably unlucky third in the 10-furlong event 12 months previously, had three other Group 1 places to his credit and is clearly far too good a runner to allow any rope. But it was still the strapping five-year-old’s first top-level prize in six attempts, so full marks to jockey Paul Hanagan.
Last year, Mukhadram blazed his own trail until being overtaken and then hampered inside the final furlong. This time, he had the Godolphin pacemaker Somewhat – acting for Trading Leather and True Story – to tow him along. Trading Leather, ridden by Kevin Manning, did keep tabs, but the trio were clear of the pack.
Before the turn in, Hanagan moved out of the leader’s slipstream and kicked for home on a most-willing partner and, as the former dual-champion jockey knows well, lengths pinched on fast ground on the stiff, uphill finish at Sandown on a horse travelling strongly are a huge advantage.
Mukhadram, trained by William Haggas in Newmarket, readily kept up his momentum, galloping relentlessly two lengths clear of Trading Leather (12-1) from Jim Bolger’s yard. Behind them, the three-year-olds Kingston Hill, True Story, and four-year-old The Fugue, the 5-2 favourite – ridden respectively by Frankie Dettori, Kieren Fallon and William Buick – were closer at the finish than any other time in fourth, fifth and sixth, but had too much ground to make up to catch even 100-1 shot Somewhat, who held on for third.
It was a second Group 1 victory of the season for Hanagan, after last month’s Oaks on Taghrooda in the same blue-and-white silks of his new boss, Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum.
“We went a good gallop and it suited him just perfectly,” Hanagan said, “and if there is a horse who deserves this, it’s him, so brave and consistent.”
Mukhadram, whose sire Shamardal was much-fancied for the 2005 Eclipse Stakes before going lame on the eve of the race, had finished only fourth to The Fugue at Royal Ascot, but before that had beaten all bar African Story in the Dubai World Cup.
For Haggas, the victory was justification of his faith in the horse.
“He’s not always had the luck, but we have always believed in him,” Haggas said, “and he thoroughly deserves this. We were taking on the three-year-olds, which I think this year are a particularly good crop, and yes, he might have had the run of the race as the first three were prominent throughout. But he was always travelling well. We know at home how good he is, and he’s proved it today.”
Mukhadram is likely to have the chance to consolidate his new-found status in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes over two furlongs further at Ascot later this month.
“If he is going to improve again,” added Haggas, “it will be over a mile and a half.”