Remarkably, Eclipse, who died from colic at the age of 24 in 1789, features in the paternal line of 95% of modern thoroughbred racehorses including, albeit 19 generations later, Frankel. Like his illustrious descendant – who, in 2012, became the highest rated horse in the history of World Thoroughbred Rankings – Eclipse completely dominated his contemporaries and remained unbeaten throughout his career, which lasted 18 months and a total of 18 races. However, unlike Frankel – who topped the world rankings as a two, three and four-year-old – did not make his racecourse debut until he was five years old.
Bred by Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, Eclipse was acquired by Smithfield cattle salesman William Wildman at a dispersal sale following the death of the Duke, in 1765, and made his racecourse debut in the ‘Noblemen and Gentlemen’s Plate’ at Epsom four years later. An effortless win in the first heat of that four-mile contest prompted Irish-born opportunist Denis O’Kelly to famously proclaim that the result of the second heat would be ‘Eclipse first, and the rest nowhere’. Eclipse did, as predicted, pass the post before any of his rivals had reached the distance marker and O’Kelly immediately parted with 650 guineas for a half-share in the horse.
Thereafter, Eclipse won a further seven races against the best horses of the day , without coming under even the slightest pressure, before O’Kelly bought him outright for 1,100 guineas and transferred him to his stables at Clay Hill, Epsom. Further success followed, with no fewer than eleven victories in versions of the ‘King’s Plate’, run as far afield as Canterbury, Lewes, Newmarket and Winchester. Indeed, Eclipse reportedly walked 1,000 miles or more between races during his career. By the end of his career, Eclipse had proved himself the best horse of his generation so convincingly that he regularly frightened off the opposition and ‘walked over’. In fact, the lack of viable competition hastened his retirement from racing. Notwithstanding his staggering influence on modern bloodstock, Eclipse is commemorated by the Group One Coral-Eclipse Stakes, which has been run annually, over a mile and a quarter, at Sandown Park since 1886.