Race of the century? 1903 Eclipse

by GRAHAM OLIVER The first Eclipse Stakes was run at Sandown Park in 1886 and was won by the six-year-old Bendigo. The race was worth £10,000, making it the richest horse race in Great Britain. The winning purse was very nearly double that of the Derby winner.

The three main protagonists for the 1903 Eclipse were the Derby-winning colts Ard Patrick and Rock Sand, plus the filly Sceptre, winner of four of the five Classics in 1902. Even in 1903 it was being called “the race of the century”.

ARD PATRICK: Ard Patrick was a big brown horse by St Florian out of Morganette, making him a half-brother to the brilliant Galtee More, winner of the Triple Crown in 1897. He was given time to develop by his trainer, Sam Darling, and made his debut in the Imperial Produce Stakes at Kempton Park in September. Ridden by the American-born Danny Maher, he won, beating Royal Lancer a neck. Darling gave him two more races that year, winning the Clearwell Stakes at Newmarket, and then second, beaten a neck, behind Game Chick in the Dewhurst Plate, conceding that filly 2lb.

At three, Ard Patrick took time to come to hand. Despite this he ran a good third to Sceptre and Pistol in the 2,000 Guineas. The following week he was beaten two lengths by Royal Ivy at Kempton, to whom he was conceding 21lb. In his third race of the season, he was disqualified after winning the Newmarket Stakes from Fowling Piece.

Favourite for the Derby was the filly Sceptre. Ard Patrick was ridden by the American “Skeets” Martin, Herbert Randall rode Sceptre. Martin had Ard Patrick quickly away, tracking the leaders until coming down the hill towards Tattenham Corner, where he moved to the front. Randall had been left at the post on Sceptre, and had ridden his filly hard from the start, to catch the leaders. Coming into the Epsom straight Sceptre was upsides Ard Patrick but her challenge was short lived. From running easily she was suddenly a spent force, and dropped back to finish fourth. Ard Patrick, meanwhile, strode clear to win easily by three lengths and the same from Rising Glass and Friar Tuck.

He next ran in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot, injuring himself slightly going down to the start, and was beaten by Cupbearer, although he was awarded the race on that horse’s disqualification. It was found later that he had sprained a tendon and was given rest. Because of the interruption in his preparation it was decided to miss the St Leger. He was given one more race, in the Jockey Club Stakes. He was clearly over the top by then and finished only third behind Rising Glass and Templemore.

In the spring of 1903, Ard Patrick seemed better than ever. His main target was to be the Eclipse Stakes in July but first he was given an outing in the Princess of Wales Stakes at Newmarket, which he won in a canter from Perseus and Cheers.

ROCK SAND: In contrast to Ard Patrick, Rock Sand was a small brown colt by the 1890 Derby winner Sainfoin out of Roquebrune, who was a half-sister to the 1888 Oaks and St Leger winner Seabreeze. He went into training with George Blackwell.

Rock Sand was a precocious juvenile, winning six of his seven races. He won his first five starts including the Coventry and Champagne Stakes. On his sixth start he could only finish third to his stable companion Flotsam and Greatorex in the Middle Park Plate. A fortnight later Rock Sand won the Dewhurst Plate in a canter by three lengths from Mead, with Greatorex back in third. At the season’s end he was recognised as the leader of his generation.

Rock Sand opened his 1903 Classic campaign by winning the Bennington Stakes at Newmarket’s Craven meeting. He started a hot favourite for the 2,000 Guineas and was ridden by “Skeets” Martin, and he did not let his supporters down. Taking up the running after four furlongs from early leader Flotsam, he ran on to beat that colt easily by one and a half lengths with Rabelais two lengths away in third.

There were only seven runners for the 1903 Derby, the smallest field in the 20th century. Rock Sand was the odds-on favourite and was ridden by Danny Maher, one of the most stylish of jockeys. He won nine British classic races and was twice champion jockey. In the Derby, Rock Sand made the early running until the Royal colt Mead took over and led until the entrance to the straight. Rock Sand then went smoothly back into the lead. The French colt Vinicius came from the back of the field to challenge with two furlongs left to run, but it was to no avail. Running on strongly, Rock Sand beat him by a very easy two lengths, with Flotsam a further two lengths behind in third place.

Two weeks later Rock Sand reappeared in the St James’s Palace Stakes over a mile at Royal Ascot. The colt registered his fourth straight victory, and ninth in total, from just ten starts. Next stop Sandown!

SCEPTRE: It would be no exaggeration to say that Sceptre was one of the greatest fillies of all time. She was bred by Hugh Lupus Grosvenor, the first Duke of Westminster, at his Eaton Stud in Cheshire. The Duke never saw her race, as he died when Sceptre was a yearling, and she was put up for auction at Tattersalls. Sceptre was purchased by the noted gambler Bob Sievier for a record 10,000 guineas, surpassing the old record by 4,000 guineas. Sievier later said that he would have gone much higher to secure her.

To say that Sceptre was well bred would be a huge understatement. She was by Persimmon, winner of the 1896 Derby and St Leger, Ascot Gold Cup, and Eclipse Stakes. Sceptre’s dam Ornament was by Derby winner Bend Or out of Lily Agnes, making her a full sister to the mighty Ormonde, winner of the Triple Crown and undefeated in sixteen races. It would be impossible to imagine a better bred filly in turf history. Mind you, pedigrees do not win races!

Sceptre made her debut in the Woodcote Stakes at the Epsom Derby meeting. She won in a canter, but unfortunately jarred her knees on the firm surface and was given a few weeks rest. She next reappeared in the July Stakes at Newmarket, again winning easily. Her final race of the season was the Champagne Stakes at Doncaster, where she ran well below form to finish third behind Game Chick and Czardas. Charles Morton, Sievier’s trainer, left before the start of the 1902 season, to become private trainer to Mr J H Joel, so Sievier decided to train the horses himself, and aim Sceptre at the Lincolnshire Handicap. She was just beaten by St Maclou.

Sievier then aimed his filly at the Classics. A feature of Sceptre’s three-year-old career was that Sievier planned her racing in patterns of two. First she ran in the Two Thousand Guineas, which she won easily from Pistol and Ard Patrick, then two days later she beat St Windeline and Black Fancy in the 1,000 Guineas. We have discussed her race in the Derby earlier, suffice to say that she was given an injudicious ride by Herbert Randall, a jockey in only his second year as a professional. In the circumstances Sceptre performed well to manage fourth behind Ard Patrick.

Two days later Randall partially redeemed himself when Sceptre won the Oaks in a canter from Glass Jug and Elba. There was to be no respite after this success for Sceptre, and she next went over the Channel for the Grand Prix de Paris. Randall rode another awful race, keeping Sceptre to the extreme outside all the way round. In the circumstances she did well to be beaten only a few lengths by Kizil Kourgan.

On to Royal Ascot and fifth place in the Coronation Stakes. Next day she won the St James’s Palace from Flying Lemur and Rising Glass. At Goodwood she ran second in the Sussex Stakes to Royal Lancer before winning the Nassau Stakes from Elba and Ballantrae. At Doncaster Sceptre proceeded to thrash Rising Glass and Friar Tuck in the St Leger. The two colts had finished in the same positions behind Ard Patrick in the Derby. Not only had Sceptre won the Triple Crown but she became the first filly to win four Classics outright. Formosa had won the same Classics in 1868, although she had “only” dead heated for the 2,000 Guineas. Sievier brought her out again at Doncaster in the Park Hill Stakes. Finally her season’s exertions took their toll, and Sceptre finished unplaced.

At the start of 1903 Sievier again ran Sceptre in the Lincoln, but this time she could finish only fifth. Sievier had had a sizeable wager on Sceptre in the race and the result forced him to sell her as once again he had dire financial problems. She was purchased for 25,000 guineas by Mr (later Sir) William Bass and sent to be trained by Alec Taylor, the “Wizard of Manton”. Taylor cut down on Sceptre’s workload and exercised extreme patience with the filly. She was ready to run by Royal Ascot and won the Hardwicke Stakes very easily. Her next race was the Eclipse.

1903 Eclipse Stakes, Sandown Park

The esteemed Classic winning trainer, the Hon. George Lambton wrote in his memoirs that he went to Sandown “with the intention of having a dash on Rock Sand against Ard Patrick and Sceptre. But when I saw these three champions walking round the ring, much as I loved Rock Sand, and often as I had won money on him, I had to give him third place. A beautifully made horse and not by any means a small one, yet the other two were a pair of giants, both in performances and stature, and the old saying that a good big one will beat a good little one was born irresistibly into my mind.”

Apart from the three principals, the only other horses of note in the race were Duke of Westminster and the filly Oriole. At the off, Rock Sand was a firm favourite at 5-4 with Sceptre at 7-4. Ard Patrick was the outsider of the three main contenders at 5-1. The rest were “any price you like”.

eclipse2                Ard Patrick gets back up to beat Sceptre (TBheritage.com)

In the race itself Coronation Stakes winner Oriole made the running ahead of Rock Sand, Ard Patrick, and Sceptre. As the runners approached the straight Otto Madden on Ard Patrick brought his colt up to challenge Rock Sand, ahead of the weakening Oriole. Meanwhile, Sceptre, travelling ominously well, came to press the two principals into the straight. Then, suddenly, Rock Sand was beaten, and Ard Patrick and Sceptre began to draw clear. Gradually Sceptre got her head in front of Ard Patrick, and the pair battled it out for the last two furlongs. As hard as they were running, Otto Madden had kept a little in reserve with Ard Patrick, and producing a final burst at exactly the right moment, Ard Patrick regained the lead from Sceptre close home to beat her a neck. Rock Sand stayed on gallantly to finish third, beaten three lengths, but never troubled the front two.

When writing about this race George Lambton had also said: “About the best thing in racing is when two good horses single themselves out from the rest of the field and have a long drawn-out struggle.” Lambton and all the other spectators at Sandown that sunny afternoon certainly saw the very best.


Ard Patrick never ran again, his tendon injury recurring. Sceptre carried on winning, and Rock Sand completed the Triple Crown when winning the St Leger.



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