Gritty Nathaniel digs deep to Eclipse field
Like a fighter in a fairground boxing booth, Nathaniel took on all-comers in the home straight at Sandown on the way to victory in the Coral-Eclipse Stakes. Monterosso, Cityscape and finally Farhh, the favourite, all tried to force their way past last year's King George winner inside the final two furlongs, but Nathaniel, which was running for the first time since October, beat them off.
It was a brave performance from a horse which made his name last season over a mile and a half rather than the Eclipse's 10 furlongs, assisted by the latest in a long series of excellent rides this season by William Buick. The jockey, who was completing a double on the day, committed for home at the top of the straight, and got every ounce of effort from Nathaniel all the way to the line.
John Gosden, who hired Buick as his stable jockey at the start of the 2010 season, is also enjoying a memorable campaign, and this latest first prize of nearly £200,000 edged him closer to £2m for the season. No other British yard has yet reached seven figures -- and though Aidan O'Brien's success in all four Classics to date has put him well clear in the championship race, at least one bookmaker has reopened betting on a contest that had seemed to be a foregone conclusion.
A repeat win in the King George later this month would make further inroads into Gosden's deficit, but this year's race is just a fortnight away, and the trainer will wait to see how Nathaniel comes out of yesterday's race before he commits to a return to Ascot.
"It's a big call to come here without a prep race," Gosden said, "but Nat Rothschild (the son of owner Lady Rothschild) was keen and his mother was listening.
"It was a brave performance. William went through the gears up the hill and he's done it well. Monterosso had an early go at us and that petered out, then Cityscape had a go but he did not quite see it out, then I saw the white hat (of Farhh) coming and I thought he was going to get us.
"This horse was valiant, he came to his neck and he said, 'I'm going again'. He hasn't run since last October, so it's tremendous."
A Group One win over 10 furlongs also opens up other possibilities for Nathaniel, the most intriguing of which is the possible of a rematch with Frankel, which beat him by half a length in a Newmarket maiden in August 2010 when both colts were making their racecourse debuts.
That half-length winning margin remains the smallest of Frankel's brilliant career, and with his campaign expected to conclude with two races at around a mile and a quarter -- the Juddmonte International at York in August and the Qipco Champion Stakes at Ascot in October -- a second head-to-head between the pair is a distinct possibility.
"It's only two weeks to the King George and that is not great, but the next week will tell us," Gosden said. "I'd like to go to Ascot, but he's just put in a massive effort having not run since October and you have to be careful as it can take more out of them than it appears.
"He's a big, stronger horse this year. He met Frankel once -- first time out there was half a length in it, and they're two lovely horses."
Gosden and Buick were completing a double on the card after the success of Trade Commissioner in the Coral Challenge Handicap, while it was a treble on the day thanks to the victory of Nathaniel's sister, Great Heavens, which was ridden by Robert Havlin in the Group Two Lancashire Oaks at Haydock.
Sunday Indo Sport