Eclipse Stakes History
One of the founders of Sandown Park, which held its first race meeting in 1875, was General Owen Williams. Eclipse Stakes history began when Williams had the idea of introducing a top-class race that would enhance Sandown’s already growing reputation as a superior racecourse. He then persuaded Leopold de Rothschild, a friend of the Prince of Wales, to put up the money.
The first Eclipse Stakes was run in 1886, for the princely sum of £10,000 – at the time, a bigger prize fund than for any other race in Britain and more than double the prize on offer for the Epsom Derby.
The Eclipse Stakes takes its name from the legendary racehorse Eclipse, who remained undefeated over all of the 18 races he ran. Such was the success of Eclipse that his owner, Major Dennis O’Kelly, was obliged to retire him – at the races, nobody would bet on any other horse! For much the same reason, eight of Eclipse’s wins were walkovers. His superiority was assumed and competitors weren’t willing to take him on.
Eclipse is also famous for his success at stud. By 1789, the year in which he died, he had sired the winners of a remarkable 860 races. Today, over 90 percent of racehorses can be traced back to Eclipse in the male line.
Except for the years of the first and second World Wars, when the races were cancelled, the Eclipse Stakes has been held annually at Sandown Park since 1886. Among successful owners have been members of the British royal family. The Prince of Wale’s Persimmon won the race in 1897, and his Diamond Jubilee won in 1900. In 1965, Queen Elizabeth II’s Canisbay won the race by a short head.
Among the legendary horses who’ve won the Eclipse Stakes are Ard Patrick (1903), Blue Peter (1939), Ballymoss (1958), Ragusa (1964), Busted (1967), Royal Palace (1968), Brigadier Gerard (1972), Wollow (1976), Sadler’s Wells (1984), Pebbles (1985), Dancing Brave (1986), Opera House (1993) and Giant’s Causeway (2000).