The name ‘Eclipse’ continues within world horse racing to this day, but not many modern watchers are aware of the great horse himself. Eclipse ran in the late 18th century, winning 18 races.
He ran before the advent of the Classics, winning eleven King’s Plate races, during a time when four-mile heats were the normal fayre. Despite a relative lack of opposition, he is considered to be one of the greatest horses of all time.
Appropriately, Eclipse was a successful stallion after retiring from racing. He sired three Derby winners and later became known as a great ‘sire of sires’, his line surviving into the modern day via Northern Dancer who then produced Sadler’s Wells, in turn Galileo, then onto Frankel and so on.
Foaled on April 1st, 1764, Eclipse was a chestnut colt with a narrow blaze. Large for his time, he was thought of as strong and fast from very early on.
|Parents||Grand Parents||Great Grand Parents|
|Sister To Old Country Wench|
|The Ruby Mare||Huttons Blacklegs|
|Fox Cub Mare|
|Mother Western||Easby Snake|
|Old Montagu Mare|
There was a solar eclipse on April 1st 1764, after which this horse was named.
Eclipse was foaled at the Duke of Cumberland’s Cranbourne Lodge. He was by Marske, while his mare Spilletta was by Regulus, a horse by the Godolphin Arabian. His paternal great-great-grandsire, was the Darley Arabian.
The Darley Arabian, the Godolphin Arabian and the Byerley Turk, are the three stallions to whom all modern thoroughbreds can trace their lineage.
Eclipse therefore, with two of them in his very close bloodline, comes right near the start of the brilliance and importance of the entire thoroughbred breed as we know it.
The racing programme in the 18th century is nothing like the one we see today.
Eclipse didn’t run until he was five. A trial race was arranged at Epsom Downs or Mickleham, depending on the history you read, with rumours about the horse’s skill having been around for some time. As such, bookies ran to the track to get a look at him but did not arrive in time.
Legend says that some of the bookmaking fraternity came across an elderly lady who told them that she’d seen a horse attempting to chase another, one with a white leg, who she though would not catch him even if he tried to the end of the world. Eclipse was the horse with the one white sock, since birth.
After hearing that, Eclipse started his first official race on May 3rd, 1769, at odds of 1/4. It was a £50 Plate race over four miles, one he won easily. The rest is history.
- 18 runs, 18 wins
- 8 walkovers
- 11 King’s Plates
Eclipse raced at a mixture of tracks we still know, and some now long gone. He competed at Epsom, Ascot, Winchester, Salisbury, Canterbury, Lewes, Lichfield, Newmarket, Guildford, Nottingham, York and Lincoln Heath.
He raced between May 3rd 1769 and October 3rd and 4th, 1770.
Earnings are attached to 12 of Eclipse’s 18 wins that we know of. They ranged from 30 guineas up to 400 guineas. In total, his recorded race track earnings were £1,605.50. That equates to around £230,000 in modern money, some way short of what he’d have earned today with that ability.
Surviving until the age of 24, Eclipse died after an attack of colic on February 27th, 1789.
While there is a skeleton at the Royal Veterinary College said to be that of Eclipse, there is plenty of room for doubt as to the whereabouts of all of his bones.
A necropsy performed on Eclipse found that his heart was large. Abnormally so in fact. It alone weighed 14lbs.
The fact that enlarged hearts were also found in deceased superstars Phar Lap and Secretariat has led many to believe that such an abnormality is what leads to their brilliance; perhaps the ability to pump the blood faster leading to greater performance.
The Eclipse Stakes and Eclipse Awards
One of Britain’s key summer races is the Eclipse Stakes, known for many years now as the Coral-Eclipse, a Group 1 event named after the great horse.
Taking its name from one of the greatest of all time, the race has also helped to produce more greats with famous wins in this contest for Brigadier Gerard, Sadler’s Wells, Mtoto, Daylami, Giant’s Causeway, Sea The Stars, Roaring Lion and Enable often helping to define their careers.
Over in the States, an Eclipse Award Trophy is given to the winner in each division, much like the Cartier Awards in Europe.
Eclipse’s Stud Career
After racing for seventeen months, it was found that nobody on course was betting on any of Eclipse’s opposition horses. Due to lack of competition therefore, and after several walkovers, he was retired in 1771.
Eclipse initially stood at Clay Hill Stud near Epsom with his fee rising from 10 guineas at first up to 50 before he was moved to Cannons Stud in Middlesex. In his time at stud, he managed to sire some 344 winners.
Although he didn’t manage to become the leading sire in Britain and Ireland in an individual year, he was runner-up in that record some 11 times, often behind the great stallion Herod.
By 1970 it was estimated that close to 80% of all thoroughbreds had Eclipse somewhere in their pedigree. That percentage has increased steadily over time, with estimations now sitting at 95%. This is no surprise, given his close relations to two of the original three stallions to whom all thoroughbreds can trace their roots.
Bred by Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, Eclipse’s owners were listed as William Wildman, Dennis O’Kelly and Lewis Burwell.
There are records stating that a name for his trainer was “Sullivan”, but little else is known.
There are no reliable records to show us who his race riders were during his 18-race unbeaten career on the track.