Eclipse

Eclipse by Nicholas Clee Read Free Book Online Page A

Book: Eclipse by Nicholas Clee Read Free Book Online
Authors: Nicholas Clee
one will not be ‘off’ (primed to do his best) for his next race, but is being laid out for a later contest. By the time horses get to the racecourse, the betting market is well primed, and offers a fair reflection of their chances of success.
    One would assume that Dennis, with his gambling interests, wanted to keep this trial quiet. If so, he failed: Eclipse’s early biographers report that touts, no doubt members of Dennis’s circle, travelled down from London to see Eclipse in action. But, likeWildman (reputedly) at the Cranbourne Lodge auction, they arrived too late. Scanning the Downs for a chestnut with a white blaze, and unable to spot one, they asked an elderly woman, who was out walking, whether she had seen a race. The woman replied that ‘she could not tell whether it were a race or not, but that she had just seen a horse with white legs, running away at a monstrous rate, and another horse a great way behind, trying to run after him; but she was sure he would never catch the white-legged horse, if they ran to the world’s end’. The touts returned to the capital. By that evening, the prowess of Eclipse was the talk of Munday’s coffee house.
    51 The English Triple Crown. Nijinsky was the last horse to achieve this feat.
    52 Medley’s obituary in the Gentleman’s Magazine in 1798 stated that the sum had come from the Jockey Club.
    53 Dennis would covet today’s stud earnings. Fifty guineas, Eclipse’s initial fee, is the equivalent of about £6, 000 today. Montjeu’s covering fee is 125, 000 euros – and he covers a hundred mares in a season.
    54 One local history spoils the story by telling us that Dr Nehemiah Grew of the Royal Society had made the discovery some thirty years earlier.
    55 Defoe’s lines give you an idea of the atmosphere in which, a few years later, the Protestant Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, would be greeted as a hero for destroying the Catholic Jacobites.
    56 Now West Hill.

9

1-100 Eclipse
    A T EPSOM ON THAT early May day, William Wildman and his team at Mickleham saw for certain that they had a potential superstar in their stable. Their tasks now were to maintain his form, to keep him sound, and to plan a programme of races that would prove his greatness.
    Modern trainers would have let Eclipse take it easy for a while. Following the race, they would have given him no more than gentle exercise, only by gradations building up to a stiff gallop or two; finely tuned, he would have returned to modest workouts in the days before his next race. It is a regime that would have struck Georgian trainers as namby-pamby. At Mickleham, Eclipse was back to the uphill gallops and ‘sweats’ right away.
    Getting to race meetings was tougher then as well. There were no horseboxes: you had to walk. Setting off, with his groom beside him, in the small hours of the morning, a horse could cover about twenty miles in a day. So Eclipse and Oakley probably made their journey from Mickleham to their next race, thirty miles away at Ascot, in two stages, with an overnight stop at an inn. They would have arrived about five days before the race, and continued training on the racecourse, where they may have run a trial against their prospective opponents. Perhaps Eclipse’s performance at thetrial explains why just one other horse braved turning up for the race itself.
    Eclipse’s rival at Ascot on 29 May 1769, for another £50 Noblemen and Gentlemen’s Plate, was called Cream de Barbade. Eclipse was quoted at 8-1 on. He won the first heat as easily as the betting had suggested he would. But Cream de Barbade was not a distance behind him, so they raced again. It seemed an unnecessary exercise, and it was: Eclipse won again.
    This was when Dennis O’Kelly stepped in to make William Wildman an offer. He asked for a share in Eclipse, and Wildman accepted. Why did Wildman give up any portion of this exciting horse to a man

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