JOCKEY Tony Hamilton is hoping the Richard Fahey-trained Forest Ranger can upstage Classic winners Masar and Saxon Warrior in the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown and provide him with the biggest success of his career. The Group One summer showpiece, which forms part of the 35-race QIPCO British Champions Series, has drawn a final field of eight. It carries prize money of £790,625 and will be the richest race ever run at the Esher racecourse.
Hamilton has enjoyed many big winners for Fahey during their 17-year association but none of them have been at the highest level and he will be riding in the mile-and-a-quarter contest for the first time.
The 34-year-old said: “Forest Ranger has got to improve on what he’s done but he seems on an upward curve and hopefully he will give a good account of himself. It’s going to be a tough race, and you’d be hopeful rather than confident, but it’s great to be involved.”
Forest Ranger was gelded at the end of last season and has shown improved for in his two races this campaign. He won the Group 3 bet365 Earl Of Sefton Stakes at Newmarket on his reappearance in April and was a commanding winner of the Group 2 Homeserve Huxley Stakes at Chester on his latest start.
“Chester was definitely a personal best for him,” Hamilton said. “It was the first time he’s quickened like that and I thought the way he went away from the field was most impressive.
I don’t know whether the gelding operation has had anything to with his improvement, but I doubt it. He’s a gent of a horse and no different than when he was a colt – I’d say it is more that he has just grown into his body.
“He’s a huge horse – the biggest in the yard – and is maturing. He’s just getting better with age and I think he’ll keep getting better.”
Forest Ranger’s record relays that he goes well fresh and he has had a two-month break since his Chester win. However, Hamilton has sat on him plenty in the interim.
“I ride him in all his work. He doesn’t do a lot at home and you just go by his wellbeing and demeanour,” he said. “If you are working him with a 60 or 70-rated horse he will just go with it, but if you take him with a nice horse he’d go with that too. They are the ones you want – those who don’t do a lot at home but sprout wings when they get to the track.”
The weight for age scale means Forest Ranger has to concede at least 10lb to the three-year-olds in the line-up and is a key factor when considering the key areas of sports betting. “I have no strong opinion on it [the scale] but it’s a lot of weight and could prove costly. We’ll just have to see,” Hamilton said.
The betting market is headed by Epsom derby winner Masar who is the 7/4 favourite. The horse he beat at Epsom Roaring Lion is next at around 3/1 and Aidan O’Brien threw a spanner in the works by declaring 2,000 Guineas winner Saxon Warrior, who is 4/1.
Charlie Appleby is delighted with the wellbeing of Masar ahead of the colt attempting to become only the fifth Derby winner in the past 50 years to win the Eclipse in the same season. The other quartet have been Mill Reef (1971), Nashwan (1989), Sea The Stars (2009) and Golden Horn (2015).
The Godolphin-owned chestnut, supplemented to run on Monday at a cost of £50,000 after satisfying his connections in a dawn workout at Newmarket’s July Course on Saturday, created history at Epsom last month when he became the first Derby winner to race in four different countries – England, France, America and Dubai – en route to scooping the premier Classic.
Masar will already be having his fifth run of the season but his Newmarket-based trainer believes he has never been better. “We do tend to look after and protect them (the horses) but he’s thriving on his racing,” he said. “However he runs on Saturday, he looks if not better now than before the Derby. Physically, he’s doing well and he’s becoming a very professional sportsman.”
Appleby points to him competing at the Breeders’ Cup last November, when he was a close sixth in the Juvenile Turf after not enjoying the rub of the green, as being pivotal in his development.
“It helped him, there’s no doubt about it,” he said. “We’ve seen it for years with Coolmore and Ballydoyle – they travel their horses all over the world and they just seem to get stronger. Mentally it [the travelling] makes them stronger and those who don’t stress so much put condition on, so then the body becomes stronger. That’s part of the game – in any sport you need mental resolve and that’s what he has.”
Masar will be dropping to a mile and a quarter and the ground seems certain to be faster than it was at Epsom with no end to the hot spell of weather in sight.