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2011 ECLIPSE STAKES - Brough Scott

SUNDAY TIMES 3rd July 2011

The best moment is often not the finish but the crucial move when the challenger lays it down to the one in front. When Australian star So You Think pulled out to try reel in Derby and Arc hero Workforce in the Coral Eclipse it was as good a moment as any British track has seen in years.

For this was the long awaited duel when continents would collide. Say You Think and Workforce, last season’s champions of the Southern and Northern Hemispheres came to Sandown to put their titles on the line. All too often, such showdowns suffer from over hype but any study of their records let alone a look at the two individuals stalking the paddock let you know that this was a pair to stand comparison with any of the greats which had come up this Surrey slope since the Eclipse was first run way back in 1886.

British racegoers know Workforce for his storming triumph in last year’s Derby and his magnificent drive up the rail to win Europe’s richest race in Paris last October. In May he had made a winning comeback on this same Sandown course when still carrying a slab of extra condition. As he stepped into the paddock yesterday you could see A flash of ribs along his flank. Trainer Michael Stoute’s head man Stuart Messenger was beside him. “This is a very fit horse now,” he said.

Last year Australian racegoers hailed So You Think as one of the finest thoroughbreds they had seen in years as he won 5 of his 6 races and ran a tremendous third in the Melbourne Cup over almost double his optimum distance. But while he won his first two starts in Ireland after his transfer to Aidan O’Brien in Ireland during the winter, his big moment at Ascot was foiled by Rewilding and an inspired Frankie Dettori. It was a good run but not what the Aussies had promised. So national honour was also on the line.

So You Think was first into the paddock yesterday. A big calm colt whose gleaming bay coat sported the obligatory branding marks of his New Zealand birthplace. Helen Moran, wife of one of his breeders had only arrived in the morning. “Even from a foal, he looked a star, honestly,” she said as she was introduced to a gracious Aidan O’Brien and his entourage. “The horse is very well,” added Aidan in those almost whispering tones, “things didn’t quite go right for him at Ascot but he is now where I wanted him to be then. He is in a very good place.”

Before yesterday So You Think and Workforce had won more than £6million in prize money and behind them last year’s Oaks winner Snow Fairy had already bagged more than £2million of her own. However it appeared to be a more basic instinct that attracted her to her other rival Sri Putra who insisted on disporting his awesome manhood to the irritation of connections and to the giggling titters of the paddock crowd.

The numbers were made up by the useful Confront but his role was that of Workforce’S pacemaker and in the race itself jockey Jimmy Fortune set a much more sensible gallop than the “crazy hare” antics of some recent big race leaders. Indeed as Confront swung a bit wide into the straight allowing Workforce to take over fully three furlongs out with So You Think in the pocket between them it looked as if the Stoute team had played their cards perfectly.
But it’s a long, long way up that Sandown hill and while Jimmy Fortune did not have enough horse beneath him to hold in the great Australian, the big question was whether So You Think would be able to pick up the Arc winner now that Ryan Moore had committed him for home. Don’t be deluded by final reports of a “comfortable” half length verdict at the line. So You Think got there but he had to dig and dig deep.

On him 38 year old Seamus Heffernan was having the finest moment of his whole career. A long time fixture at the Ballydoyle stable he had been aboard So You Think in each of his Irish successes this season but replaced at Ascot by Ryan Moore who has become the “go to” jockey for O’Brien runners in Britain. As So You Think’s tongue lolled out and Heffernan’s shoulders pumped, anything but victory could have been described as jockey error.

But Seamus was not for erring. He was working in the saddle but he had another gear to engage. With a furlong and a half to run he angled  So You Think out to the left. At the furlong post he was still a length down and Moore and Workforce were not faltering. But then Seamus tilted his body forward and as he increased his intensity the Southern champion put in a final extra effort to carry him past the northern star.

“It all went as I wanted it,” said Seamus  whilst sensibly refusing to be drawn about his prospects of keeping the ride beyond saying “at least my hat is always in the ring.” It  was an admirable day for him as it was for the O’Brien camp who now have enviable equine ammunition for the rest of the season. Some bookmakers priced So You Think up for the King George and The Arc but his likely route is the Irish Champion Stakes, the new £2m Champion Series showdown at Ascot in October and Aidan O’Brien even talked of a return south for the Cox Plate in Australia.

For Workforce, there was plenty of honour in defeat. Every bit as big as So You Think, his best distance is  a mile and a half and you could still back him to beat his rival if they renewed battle on those terms. But that’s the future, this was a splendid present whose results linked back to a glorious past. For three of the other winners were trained by Andrew Balding, a treble which matched that of his father Ian on the same day 40 years ago albeit including the Eclipse itself with Mill Reef. Now that was a star who [has] stood the test of time. So will yesterday’s.