• Diversify (1-2) rolls home a big winner in the Evan Shipman.Posted 14 hours ago
  • Blackjackcat (8-1) holds off Vyjack to win the Del Mar Mile.Posted 1 day ago
  • Dak Attack (2-1) is an impressive winner of the Ellis Park Juvenile.Posted 1 day ago
  • Channel Maker (8-5) wins the photo and survives multiple objections to win the Breeders' Stakes.Posted 1 day ago
  • Kelly's Humor (11-1) rolls late to win Ellis Park Debutante.Posted 1 day ago
  • Dream Dancing (6-1) nips Beau Recall in the Del Mar Oaks.Posted 2 days ago
  • Collected (3-1) holds off Arrogate in the TVG Pacific Classic.Posted 2 days ago
  • Hunt (3-1) scores his second graded stakes win of the meet, this time in the Del Mar Handicap.Posted 2 days ago
  • Elate (4-1) rolls home a big winner in the Alabama.Posted 2 days ago
  • Money'soncharlotte (5-2) holds off Martini Glass in the Lady Jacqueline.Posted 2 days ago









The most coveted award in thoroughbred racing -The Eclipse Award-Horse of the Year-started in the NTRA in 1972 and since that time 40 most memorable and honorable contenders of our generation have been under consideration.  Why is this award named 'Eclipse"?  Most all-important events, stake races and handicapped races are named for an important thoroughbred, personality or even closely aligned with the sport.  Recorded history, legend and lore will provide the Legacy of Eclipse.

Eclipse, was an 18th century British thoroughbred who lends his name and reputation to this most prestigious award. Why is this particular 18th century horse honored today as the best of the best? After over 3 centuries of thoroughbred racing what makes Eclipse so esteemed?  Why he is still so highly regarded? What is his contribution to modern day thoroughbred racing?

Eclipse was foaled the day of a solar eclipse, on April 1, 1764 at the Cranbourn Lodge in England. Eclipse was chestnut in color with a thin white blaze on his face and a white hind leg.  At maturity he stood at 15.2 hands (compared to modern thoroughbred averaging 16 hands) and was not a particularly handsome colt. An usual looking animal indeed, his legs were average and his head quite disproportionate to his body. Adding the eerie occurrence of the solar eclipse the day he was foaled added an air of suspicion, mystery and intrigue to him. Popular artist of the day, George Stubbs, captured the bizarre image of Eclipse in several of his works.

Eclipse was nearly gelded due to his temperamental manner and vicious biting (gelding is still practiced as a means of calming high-spirited horses). He was sold as a yearling to a local businessman in Epsom, Richard Wildman, for 75 guineas. Wildman’s business was raising sheep and or selling meat. Being a turf-racing enthusiast he began the colt's rigorous training attempting to break his spirit. Eclipse, being of an independent nature, blossomed under the intense training and 'being run into the ground'.  Eclipse became friskier and more difficult to manage, but Wildman did not give up.  Eclipse had great potential and from this vigorous training built the stamina required for racing in the 18th century. Eclipse began his racing career in 1769, at the age of 5. Contrary to today’s racing careers beginning at 2, the accepted age of a thoroughbred’s embarkation was five. 

He was born to run and needed no encouragement. His permanent rider, Jockey John Oakley never had to spur him on or use the whip; Eclipse was a natural. His speed and endurance was speculated to be the result of his odd running style: racing with his nose close to the ground. This trait has never been scientifically verified and he may have run with his head down in an effort to bite and unseat his jockey.

Horse racing in 18th century consisted of a series of 4-mile heats (runs) always on turf, culminating in the thoroughbred racing over 12 miles in a single day.  Several years later the course distance was reduced to 2 miles.  Eclipse was unstoppable and undefeatable in his career of 18 wins, running 63 miles.

The third owner, "Captain" Denis O'Kelly, an Irishman of dubious reputation and hard drinking, coined the popular British racing phrase 'Eclipse first and the rest nowhere’. Eclipse dominated the field and left his brilliant competitors 'nowhere'.  Eclipse was known as a sure winner. His contemporaries could not win against him, and their owners eventually did not enter their horses. His speed was so impressive that many times Eclipse walked a ‘processional’ to the finish line.  Perhaps never attaining his full potential after a mere 17 months of easy wins and no competitors, the captain had no choice but to retire Eclipse to stud.

He was to stand at O'Kelly Clay Hill near Epsom and later at Cannon's Stud in Middlesex for 50 guineas a mare ($75.00).  When the local stock of mares was depleted, Eclipse was carted throughout the English countryside to be further exploited as a stud.  Eclipse is credited with 325-400 ‘light fleshed and ‘easily trained’ offspring, many of whom became champions.

Eclipse died, from colic on February 27, 1789 at the age of 24. His body was dissected in an effort to determine the exceptional internal physical capacities that gave him his outstanding abilities. His heart was found to weigh about 14 pounds, which was almost 5 pounds heavier than any other horse of his day. His lungs were also unusually large. Eclipse’s unusual performance and appearance may perhaps be the result of his direct lineage to two of the three Arabian stallions (Godolphin and Darley Arabian) imported to breed with the British mares of that time. This is the bloodstock from which the modern thoroughbreds have evolved.

Most of his skeleton was preserved, with the exception of his hooves that were made into inkstands. The authenticity of this fact is debated, as at least 5 gold encased inkstands are still in existence as Eclipse’s hooves. The skeleton of the great Eclipse is on display at the Royal Veterinary College. ‘Authentic’ skeletons can be found at 5 additional locations throughout England.

In 1970 the Royal Veterinary College determined that 85-95% of all contemporary thoroughbreds are descended from Eclipse. DNA from a tooth later served to verify this fact.

Is the ‘story’ of Eclipse fact or fiction, legend or lore, contrived and embellished?  Regardless of the precise details, Eclipse has survived history and his ancestry proven.  Surely The Legacy of Eclipse is the heritage of our thoroughbred heroes of today and so he is immortalized by The Eclipse Award-Horse of the Year.


Written and Submitted BY:

Margaret J. Clemente


comments powered by Disqus

Older Comments about THE LEGACY OF ECLIPSE...

because we know almost nothing about his racing career and there is no way to rank him comparative to modern thoroughbreds. I give him honorable mention along with Silky and Kincesm
Why is Eclipse rated so low???? 7.7???
in days when an inch was the distance of a king's thumb and a furlong was the amount of plowing a horse could do within a certain time, accurate measurement must have been truly hard to come by.
Sorry fan friends if the hands measurement of 18th century is different than those of our thoroughbreds. Thank you for clearing that up. I wrote this and used over 25 resources, but in some of my research, information seemed more plausible from a consensus of several rather than one. The businessman that purchased Eclipse was said to have been a sheep herder and in another Wildman is said to be a meat salesman. I am thinking the comment below from AmbitiousD about Eclipse nearly being destroyed when he was young probably establishes Wildman as a meat salesman-and Eclipse could have been on the menu, given his odd look and frustrating temperament. For fans like myself that want to know more, I would like to start writing regularly about important upcoming events, awards, stakes or the horses they were named for called "Who Wants History?" THE LEGACY OF ECLIPSE was to make a 300+ year old horse and his story give even more meaning of importance to the Eclipse Award-Horse of the Year. I truly hope you enjoyed bringing Eclipse back to life, even if for just a few short moments while reading his legacy.
a half to me is a half. You can transfer it to any nomeclature you want but that will not change my understanding of that notation.
*No arguement there... not now*
TV... They might have described Eclipse as in the 18th century, we however do not recognize 15.5 as a measurment. 15.2 is the correct way to say that and there is now arguement there. A horse described as 15.1 does not mean the horse is the 60.4 inches tall it means that it is 61 inches tall. Anyone with any equine knowledge at all knows that.
half is 1/2 or 0.5 not matter what you are measuring. If each hand is 4 inches 2/4 still registers 0.5
I thought hands were measured 1 hand for every 4 inches, 15.5 would be impossible... unless you mean 15.2...
the DEFINITIVE book on Eclipse stated that the animal was proably 15.5 hands in height.
I actually thought the phrase "Eclipse first . . . the rest nowhere" was apocryphal but it's accurate and involved a bet his owner won. In those days, if a horse finished too far behind the winner in any heat, they were disqualified. In this particular set of heats, by the last heat there were only a couple horses who hadn't been disqualified and Eclipse running. In the last heat, he beat them so badly they were disqualified as well and so were in fact "nowhere".
15.5 hh? Travel_vic, please explain, I've always seen hands measured in hands.inches, so 15.5 would then be 16.1
ONE major thing missing from most historical accounts: All thoroughbreds are related to THREE foundation sires, TRUE, but this does not count all the other sires, (approximated at over 200) that died out and are no longer, or NEVER WERE listed in the family stud book started by Weatherby (and the same family still owns all right to the same) in 1791 many many years after the "breed" was founded. No record is also availablve of the 200 plus royal mares which the kings family introduced at the start of the Jockey Club in 1750. Mares names are particularly hard to find since they kept chaning. You will find an instance of the same mare having had three different names. when she raced and when she was owned by different breeders later on....SO MUCH about the early history of the breed is really a mystery of the breed and the sanitized version of the stud book being all inclusive is the story that the connections put out JUST LIKE BASEBALL was "invented" in Cooperstown New York!!
interesting article, thanks for posting
Another interesting thing I have read is that Eclipse was nearly destroyed after birth because he was so "mis-proportioned" in confirmation (by that day's standards). A primary reason why he was spared was because he carried the blood of the Godolphin and Darley Arabians. So much history, I love it
Thank you for writing about Eclipse. I find the breeding of Eclipse very interesting. It is funny to think that the Duke of Cumberland's breeding experiments with racehorses gave us both Herod and Eclipse, who together (mostly Eclipse) are the foundation sires of nearly all modern thoroughbreds. The third was Matchem who can account for the remaining fraction, primarily from the success of Man o' War.
Horses DIRECTLY related to Eclipse Septre, Pretty Polly,Phar Lap, Arkle, Nijinsky, Secretariat and Dubai Millenium
fellow named Sainbel was supposed to have measured Eclipse as being 16.2 hands but new data suggest he measured the wrong horse. Racing historians belived that it was closer to 15.5 hands. Also the most famous portrait of Eclipse has several discrepancies in the description of his markings comparing the portraits versus the descriptions.
Used to be a race at Ascot called the Eclipse Foot and one of them would be anually given, but not retained, to the winning connections.
Hooves are show in the book Eclipse: the story of the rogue, the madam and the horse that changed racing." by Nicholas Clee

Related Pages

Related Stories

Top Stories