Entries are unveiled today for the £750,000 G1 Coral-Eclipse, the richest race ever run at Sandown Park, which takes place on Saturday, July 7.
The 2018 renewal of the Coral-Eclipse benefits from a magnificent 50 per cent rise in value to £750,000 from £500,000, which was announced earlier this year.
Coral's sponsorship of the 10-furlong G1 contest has been extended for a further five years, taking its backing of what is already the longest-supported Pattern race in Britain up until at least 2022.
Cracksman (John Gosden, 5/1 favourite with Coral) ended 2017 as the best horse in Europe, following a stunning success in the G1 QIPCO Champion Stakes at Ascot. The four-year-old could not have been more impressive when taking the G1 Prix Ganay at Longchamp by four lengths on his seasonal reappearance on April 29 and represents the same owner/breeder-trainer-jockey combination of Anthony Oppenheimer, John Gosden and Frankie Dettori which captured the 2015 Coral-Eclipse with Golden Horn.
Gosden has also made entries for Crossed Baton, winner of the Listed Blue Riband Trial at Epsom Downs last month, 2,000 Guineas fifth Roaring Lion and Without Parole, unbeaten in his two starts to date.
The victory of Ulysses in the 2017 Coral-Eclipse enabled Sir Michael Stoute to join Alec Taylor Jr as the most successful trainer in the race's long and distinguished history with six successes. There are two entries hailing from his stables at Newmarket's Freemason Lodge this year - Crystal Ocean, who was most impressive when landing the G3 bet365 Gordon Richards Stakes over the same course and distance as the Coral-Eclipse on April 27, and Poet's Word, runner-up in the G1 Dubai Turf at Meydan on March 31.
Aidan O'Brien, reigning champion trainer in Ireland and Britain, has won the Coral-Eclipse five times courtesy of Giant's Causeway (2000), Hawk Wing (2002), Oratorio (2005), Mount Nelson (2008) and So You Think (2011). O'Brien is keen for more success in the G1 Coral-Eclipse as he accounts for almost half the entries in 2018, with 25 engaged.
The Coral-Eclipse offers the first opportunity of the season for the three-year-old Classic generation to take on older horses at G1 level.
The O'Brien-trained entries include recent QIPCO 2000 Guineas hero Saxon Warrior, currently hot favourite for next month's Investec Derby as well as three-year-old fillies Clemmie and Happily, both G1 winners in 2017.
The battalion of older horses from Ballydoyle includes recent G3 Ormonde Stakes scorer Idaho and the 2017 Investec Derby runner-up Cliffs Of Moher, who was the comfortable winner of the 10-furlong G2 Mooresbridge Stakes at Naas on May 7.
Forest Ranger (Richard Fahey) has a G2 success on the board already this season, having taken the Huxley Stakes by a length and a quarter from War Decree (Aidan O'Brien) at Chester on May 11. The four-year-old began 2018 by defeating Deauville by half a length in the G3 Earl Of Sefton Stakes over nine furlongs at Newmarket on April 18.
Fahey, based at Musley Bank Stables in Malton, North Yorkshire, said this morning: "Forest Ranger is in excellent form following his victory in the Huxley Stakes at Chester and the plan is to run in the Coral-Eclipse. If Sandown could make the race a bit easier that would be helpful!
"It is a big step up going back into Group One company but we've been delighted with his progress this season and the race fits well into the calendar.
"We would like to space out his races this season, so we are going to miss places like Ascot and wait for Sandown, as he is a big horse who is going to need time between his races.
"He did have a gelding operation but I wouldn't say that was the main reason for his improvement this year. He is a big horse who probably just matured over the winter and filled into his frame as he was a bit weak last year.
"He had some tough tasks last year as he ran in races such as the St James's Palace Stakes, but we feel that he has definitely improved again and as a G2 winner it is going to be harder to find races for him."
Godolphin is the joint most successful owner of all-time in the Coral-Eclipse, with its five successes including a memorable 1-2-3 in 1998 led home by Daylami.
The trio of Godolphin-owned entries in 2018 is headed by Hawkbill (Charlie Appleby), thrilling winner of the 2016 Coral-Eclipse. Now a five-year-old, Hawkbill has won both his starts so far this year, most recently taking the 12-furlong G1 Dubai Sheema Classic at Meydan, UAE, in good style on March 31.
The other possible starters for the Maktoum family's operation are G1 Dubai Turf winner Benbatl (Saeed bin Suroor) and unexposed three-year-old Key Victory (Charlie Appleby), who is unbeaten in two starts with his latest success coming in the Listed Newmarket Stakes on May 5.
It has been close to 60 years that the Coral-Eclipse last went to France, with the Percy Carter-trained Javelot successful in 1960.
There are a pair of French-trained contenders this year, both hailing from the powerful Jean-Claude Rouget stable. Olmedo won the French 2,000 Guineas at Longchamp on May 13 while the five-year-old Taareef is a dual G2 winner over a mile.
Other eye-catching entries include Elarqam (Mark Johnston), fourth in the 2,000 Guineas behind Saxon Warrior, and Addeybb (William Haggas), already successful this season in the Lincoln Handicap and the G2 bet365 Sandown Mile and set to contest Saturday's G1 Lockinge Stakes over a mile at Newbury.
There is a scratchings deadline for the Coral-Eclipse on Tuesday, June 12 with the five-day confirmation and £50,000 supplementary entry stage taking place Monday, July 2.
Coral's David Stevens: "We're delighted to have extended our flagship Flat racing sponsorship and our partnership with the team at Sandown for a further five years, and with this year's race worth a record £750,000, we can look forward to another high-class and exciting renewal of this famous contest.
"Following an impressive winning return at Longchamp last month, Cracksman heads our opening show on the race at 5/1, while Aidan O'Brien has a typically strong hand, including the QIPCO 2,000 Guineas winner Saxon Warrior at 10/1, the same price as the 2016 winner, Godolphin's Hawkbill."
Coral-Eclipse, Coral odds: 5/1 Cracksman, 8/1 Benbatl, Cliffs Of Moher, Gustav Klimt, Poet's Word, 10/1 Addeybb, Elarqam, Hawkbill, Saxon Warrior, 12/1 Roaring Lion, 14/1 Crystal Ocean, Eminent, Taareef, 16/1 Happily, Key Victory, Olmedo, Yucatan, 20/1 Forest Ranger, Magical, Nelson, Rostropovich, The Pentagon, Without Parole, Zabeel Prince, 25/1 Bar.