Any concerns that a four-runner race for the Coral-Eclipse might not be enough of a spectacle for 4,000 racegoers were dismissed in a matter of seconds here on Saturday as St Mark’s Basilica left two of the best older horses in Europe treading water with a withering burst of speed inside the final quarter.
It takes a top-notch three-year-old to win this first big clash of the generations and St Mark’s Basilica, the even-money favourite, crossed the line with the same three-and-a-half- length margin as Golden Horn, the subsequent Arc winner, in 2015.
Addeybb, already the winner of four Group Ones, set the pace under Tom Marquand until just over two furlongs from home, where Mishriff, last year’s French Derby winner, moved alongside and into a slight lead. Ryan Moore had been patiently waiting for his moment to unleash St Mark’s Basilica, however, and the dual French Classic winner surged into a decisive lead in a few strides with more than a furlong to run.
“He had a lot to lose today by getting beat,” O’Brien said. “It was going to neutralise all the work he had done up to now but he had to step in [against older horses] somewhere. They weren’t two ordinary older horses. You’d often come here and meet Group One winners but not as strong as those fellas were. We’ve had horses that get into fights and brawl it out but he’s very happy to follow horses and quicken, and he puts races to bed very quickly. That’s what he did again today.”
Sea The Stars, another subsequent Arc winner, was a one-length Eclipse winner in 2009 and one bookmaker cut St Mark’s Basilica to 12-1 to win Europe’s showpiece event at Longchamp in October. O’Brien, though, also has the fillies Snowfall and Love as possible contenders and for now at least St Mark’s Basilica seems likely to stick at around 10 furlongs, with the Juddmonte International Stakes at York next month an obvious next target.
Confusion reigned after a photo-finish to the opening race at Sandown, when an initial announcement that Phoenix Star had beaten Hurricane Ivor was subsequently amended to a dead-heat between the two. This still left most racegoers thoroughly baffled, however, as a print from the “mirror” image which was shown on big screens around the track seemed to suggest that the winner had been Hurricane Ivor.
Some bookies at the track had started to pay out on Phoenix Star before a klaxon sounded to announce a stewards’ inquiry. The outcome was amended to a dead-heat a couple of minutes later but it was mid-afternoon before the stewards could report that due to “distortion of the mirror”, the image could not be relied on.
William Haggas, the trainer of Hurricane Ivor, was able to inspect the photo-finish prints while the inquiry was going on and said he could understand why the result had been given as a dead-heat, but not why Phoenix Star had initially been called the winner. “In the top picture of the winners, it’s clear that our horse has won by the white of his nose,” Haggas said, “and in the bottom one, it looks like a dead-heat.
The amazing thing is how the judge called the other one the winner, because the only thing that hasn’t happened is that the other one has won.”
Saturday’s first race was far from the only time that Sandown has experienced problems with photo-finishes. The wrong winner was called in a sprint handicap in July 2018, and confusion involving the track’s two winning posts – one for hurdles races and another for chases – led to a result being reversed in March 2019.