Each year the horse racing industry celebrates its champions with the Eclipse Awards. These awards are named after a horse that some fans of EZ Horse Betting might not know. Eclipse was one of racing’s first great champions. He retired undefeated and went on to sire many future champions. As a matter of fact, you can find Eclipse in the pedigree of many horses competing today all over the world.
The Early Years of Eclipse
On April 1st, 1764, a solar eclipse left the Cranbourne Lodge in Britain in darkness. At that very moment, a colt was foaled. The Duke of Cumberland, the breeder of the horse, seems to have thought that Eclipse was a proper name.
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His appearance was more like a full ray of sun than an eclipse. The colt was a vivid chestnut. A narrow blaze adorned his face, and the right rear leg had a white stocking. In time, Eclipse would grow to a height of 16 hands, large for a thoroughbred. His head was disproportionately large and his rump was taller than his withers. Saying that the colt had a strange look would be putting it mildly, but the breeding was sound. Eclipse was only two generations removed from the Godolphin Arabian, one of the three original sires of the thoroughbred breed.
From the outset, Eclipse had a personality as dark as the skies on the day he was foaled. The colt didn’t like being handled, and there was even talk of gelding him. It was decided to send the colt to a rough rider. These riders were trained to handle the most difficult horses, and the measure seems to have worked enough to get Eclipse into racing training. Even so, jockeys found it difficult to hold or rate Eclipse during races.
The Racing Career of Eclipse
Horse racing in the days of Eclipse was nothing like it is to day. For starters, horses did not typically make their racing debut until age five. Such was the case with Eclipse. He first participated in a trial at Epsom, but there were few onlookers to witness his performance. Still the word got out, and when Eclipse was officially entered in a race he went to the post as the favorite. He did not disappoint.
Another difference between racing then and now was distance. The first race of Eclipse was conducted over three heats at four miles each! No trainer today would even think of running a thoroughbred horse that far. Eclipse handled the distances with ease.
Despite his early success, Eclipse was put up for sale. The man who purchased him, Dennis O’Kelly, made two payments. In 1769 he paid an installment of 650 guineas, quite a sum then. In 1770, O’Kelly handed over another 1,100 guineas. Eclipse was given a new jockey, John Oakley. Oakley was the only rider who seemed to be capable, or willing, to handle the horse’s bad manners. Eclipse never grew out of his bad behavior, and he may have contributed to the false notion that all thoroughbreds are high strung and ill-behaved.
During his racing career, Eclipse started 18 races and won 18 times. Perhaps it is even more significant to note the manner in which he won. A phrase was even coined to describe it. “Eclipse first and the rest nowhere.” This was in reference to his tendency to leave rivals very far behind. In those 18 races, Eclipse covered a total of 63 miles. He also walked more than 1,400 miles just to make it to race meetings. He won 11 King’s Plates. Few horses in the history of horse racing can claim the same level of endurance as the great Eclipse.
Eclipse in His Later Years
Once he was done racing, Eclipse was sent to stud and became one of the most heralded sires in history. He is in the pedigree of countless thoroughbreds today, many of whom have become champions in their own right.
The great horse died in 1789 after a bout of colic. He as 24 years old. It is said that the skeleton of Eclipse is now kept at the Royal Veterinary College, but there is no way to substantiate this claim. What is curious is that an autopsy on the horse revealed an abnormality. Eclipse had a heart that was larger than that of the average thoroughbred. What is even more interesting is that some of his direct descendants have also manifested the same condition. Among them are Secretariat and Phar Lap.
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