The prospect of So You Think returning to the scene of one of his greatest triumphs for a scintillating final bow was a tantalising proposition for Sandown Park and the thousands of racegoers heading towards the Esher track for Saturday's renewal of the Coral-Eclipse. However, Saturday will now be a case of so close yet so far for So You Think as a new champion looks to capitalise on the sudden and untimely retirement of the son of High Chaparral who now heads back to Australia for a career at stud. As one champion exits, could an unexposed four year old continue his rapid progression towards the top? Godolphin will certainly hope so. Things have been very different for Godolphin in recent years; Long gone - seemingly - are the days of domination, the days where the likes of Dubai Millennium and Sakhee would blow apart Group 1 races with an exceptional turn of foot, but a return towards something like their best has been threatening for sometime. Victory at Royal Ascot for Colour Vision as part of a Godolphin 1-2 in the Ascot Gold Cup capped a fantastic double of victories at the 2012 festival for Saeed bin Suroor and fired a reminder to the racing world that Bin Suroor is far from finished with this game yet. The announcement of Mahmood Al Zarooni as a second trainer for Godolphin in 2010 looked to suggest that Saeed Bin Suroor would slowly be eclipsed by his new rival-come-teammate but, despite his immediate assertion on the British racing scene with the dominance of the likes of Blue Bunting and Opinion Poll in 2011, Bin Suroor is battling back with increasing levels of untapped potential within his firepower.
Thrice-raced prior to the Prince of Wales' Stakes at Royal Ascot, Bin Suroor heads into this race with a four year old son of Pivotal by the name of Farhh. Impressive in lower grades in notching up a double of handicap victories last year, Farhh's career had been delayed by injury after an impressive demolition of his maiden field in July 2010 in which he was victorious by an ever extending six lengths. A return to the racetrack finally came in October 2011 as did a return to the winners enclosure; The unfancied member of a Godolphin trio, Farhh stretched away to win an autumn Newmarket straight mile handicap on his first public outing for fifteen months with a signal of intent that there was much more to come. Move to come there was; Unable to get to the racetrack again in 2011 having reappeared so late in the British race season, Farhh wasn't to be seen again until May 2012 at which point there was no stopping him as a heavily favoured choice in a Class 2 Thirsk handicap. Stretching away for a sublime six length victory, Farhh had announced himself to the racing public and a campaign in Group races looked sure to follow but not many would've expected the step straight into Group 1 company. Despite that concern, Farhh was not out of his depth in Group 1 company and finished with a flourish to take third place on the line at Royal Ascot and arguably would've secured second if not for the significant levels of trouble Dettori and his charge found in running towards the inside of the Berkshire track. Like most of Pivotal's progeny, Farhh will be seen to greater effect on rain-softened ground and, despite the initial promise that significant rainfall this week would head towards Sandown Park, rainfall has been largely absent this week. Class may yet carry Farhh to victory in this years' renewals of the Coral-Eclipse and, in a time where Bin Suroor is making a ready return to the limelight, it's entirely possible that victory here may just be the start of something big for Godolphin twelve months on from the moment they lost another of their middle distance stars, Rewilding. Frankel may not be stepping up in distance this time around but the experienced head of Twice Over returns yet again for another crack at the Coral-Eclipse. Victorious in this race in 2010, there will be no more popular a victory than if Sir Henry Cecil's seven year old can regain his crown. Twice Over's trial at the track in April saw more of a lacklustre performance than the kind of effort we are used to from the son of Observatory. On soft ground, Twice Over proved no match for Colombian and Poet over course and distance. An old head on young shoulders, Twice Over had been improving with age coming into this season but is yet to show the same kick that is all too familiar with a performance from Cecil's charge but fans will take heart in knowing that Sir Henry Cecil is not the kind of trainer to continue with a horse at the very top level if that horse can no longer perform with the very best. Juddmonte also enter the Dubai Duty Free victor, Cityscape, for Roger Charlton and the ever-improving jockey, James Doyle. This will be the furthest trip Cityscape has ever run over but a performance even vaguely mirroring that of Meydan could see him shock many with an impressive victory for the green and pink silks. Cityscape isn't the only Dubai Carnival winner on show; If the boys in blue can't win it with Farhh then maybe the Dubai World Cup victor is an alternative chance for glory. Monterosso returns for the first time since that wide-margin victory at Meydan at the end of March in which he annihilated the likes of So You Think in victory but back on the turf for the first time since March 2011 and in the UK for the first time since August 2010, it'll be more of a watching brief as to how Mahmood Al Zarooni's big money victor will settle back in England. A different proposition to that of taking on St Nicholas Abbey, Workforce and Rewilding in a King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes, Nathaniel also returns to the racetrack for the first time since the QIPCO British Champion Stakes. Arguably still relatively unexposed, Nathaniel is another who favours rain softened ground and would appreciate a slightly further trip. Gosden has been vocal in confirming that he would like his son of Galileo to return to the scene of his King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes victory and with that race just two weeks away it's hard to imagine just how close to peak fitness Nathaniel will be over an insignificant trip. Gosden has also aired a warning that Nathaniel may miss this race if the ground is unsuitable. If he runs, this may not be the race for Nathaniel but Group 1 races at the mile-and-a-half trip could well be his for the taking towards the end of this season.
So You Think exits a champion; A champion with a total of 10 Group 1 victories to his name covering two continents and the experience of competing at the very top in four continents - his progeny will turn out to be incredibly determined battlers just like their father was - but the Coral-Eclipse is about to showcase a new line of talent and introduce a new light about to burn bright. For Farhh, victory is far from assured on ground which is likely to be less than favourable yet it is entirely possible that this horse may be that light about to announce himself at the very top.
Saeed, it's time for a return to the big time.
Photos Courtesy of Emma-Louise Kerwin (Goodtosoft.co.uk)