Eclipse (1 April 1764 – 26 February 1789) was an undefeated 18th-century British Thoroughbred racehorse who won 18 races, including 11 King's Plates. He raced before the introduction of the British Classic Races, at a time when four-mile heat racing was the norm. He was considered the greatest racehorse of his time and the expression, "Eclipse first, the rest nowhere" entered the English vernacular as an expression of dominance.

Eclipse (by George Stubbs)
Foaled1 April 1764
CountryGreat Britain
BreederDuke of Cumberland
OwnerWilliam Wildman
Dennis O'Kelly
Lewis Burwell
Record18 starts, 18 wins (plus 7 heats)[1]
Earnings2,149 guineas
Major wins
Winchester King's Plate (1769)
Salisbury King's Plate (1769)
Canterbury King's Plate (1769)
Lewes King's Plate (1769)
Lichfield King's Plate (1769)
Match race against Bucephalus (1770)
Newmarket First Spring King's Plate (1770)
Guilford King's Plate (1770)
Nottingham King's Plate (1770)
York King's Plate (1770)
6yo+ Great Subscription Purse (1770)
Lincoln Heath King's Plate (1770)
Newmarket October King's Plate (1770)
Eclipse Stakes at Sandown Park (GB)
Prix Eclipse at Maisons-Laffitte (France)
The Eclipse Awards (USA)
Last updated on 29 October 2012

After retiring from racing, he became a very successful sire, whose offspring included three Epsom Derby winners: Young Eclipse, Saltram and Serjeant. He was also a successful sire of sires, and his sire line has become dominant in the modern Thoroughbred worldwide through descendants such as Northern Dancer, Mr. Prospector and Sunday Silence.

Breeding edit

Eclipse was foaled during and named after the solar eclipse of 1 April 1764, at the Cranbourne Lodge stud of his breeder, Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland.[2] It was at this stud that his sire, the Jockey Club Plate winner Marske (by Squirt from The Ruby Mare) stood. His dam, Spilletta (foaled 1749), was by Regulus, who was by the Godolphin Arabian. Eclipse's male-line great-grandsire was Bartlett's Childers, and his male-line great-great-grandsire was Darley Arabian. Eclipse was a brother to the successful broodmare Proserpine. They were inbred to Snake in the fourth generation (4m x 4f) of their pedigree. After the death of Prince William in 1765, Eclipse was sold for 75 guineas to a sheep dealer from Smithfield, William Wildman.

Eclipse was a bright chestnut with a narrow blaze running down his face. He had a white stocking on his right hind leg. Eclipse was a big horse for his time, just over 16 hands (64 inches, 163 cm), and was an inch higher at the rump than at the withers. He was strong, sound and fast. He was sometimes criticized for having a large, unattractive head. His difficult temperament was well documented, and might have led to him being gelded.[3] Instead he was turned over to a rough-rider, who worked him hard all day, and at night as well on poaching expeditions if the stories are to be believed. This treatment, rather than souring his disposition, settled Eclipse enough to allow him to be raced, although his jockeys never attempted to hold him.[4]

Racing career edit

Before Eclipse's first start at the age of five, a trial was arranged at Epsom (although the location has also been given as Mickleham[5]). Bookmakers, trying to verify whether rumours about the horse were true, showed up but were too late — the trial had already been run. On their way home, though, they encountered an old woman who told them she had seen a horse with a white leg being chased by another, who she did not think would catch the horse with the white leg, even if he pursued him to the end of the world. Accordingly, when Eclipse started in his first race on May 3 1769, a £50 Plate for horses who had never won, he was 4/1 on favourite.[5] The race consisted of three heats of four miles each. Eclipse won easily.[6]

After his second victory in a race in May 1769, Dennis O'Kelly purchased Eclipse in two stages. (50 percent in June 1769 for 650 guineas, 50 percent in April 1770 for 1,100 guineas).[7][8] Supposedly, at this time O'Kelly used the famous phrase "Eclipse first and the rest nowhere", before making his bets for this race, although some sources[5] have him saying this for the second heat of the horse's debut. At that time, a horse that was more than 240 yards behind the lead was said to be nowhere. His jockey was John Oakley, supposedly the only jockey who could handle Eclipse's temperamental manner and running style of holding his nose very close to the ground.[9] Eclipse won the race and covered O'Kelly's bet.[7]

His toughest challenge was a match race versus the highly regarded Bucephalus in April 1770. Bucephalus was game, but Eclipse was the easy winner.[6] In August, he took on top class horses Tortoise and Bellario in the Great Subscription Purse at York, but at odds of 20/1 on, routed both of them, being over a furlong in front after two miles, and winning in a canter.[5]

Eclipse won 18 races, including 11 King's Plates, supposedly without ever being fully extended and proving far superior to all competition.[7] During his racing career, Eclipse ran over 63 miles and walked 1,400 miles to race meetings across England.[1]

Eclipse is still remembered in the phrase "Eclipse first and the rest nowhere", snowcloned as "[name of competitor] first and the rest nowhere", referring to any dominating victory. This phrase is occasionally seen in American print media (most often in newspaper sport sections) but is more common in Britain.

He is attested to have covered 83 feet per second at top speed, and covered 25 feet in a single stride.[4]

Race record edit

Date Race name[4] Distance Course Prize Odds Runners Place Runner-up
3 May 1769 £50 Race 4 mile heats Epsom Downs 050 £50 0.25 1/4 5 1 Gower
29 May 1769 £50 Plate 2 mile heats Ascot 050 £50 0.125 1/8 2 1 Crême de Barbade
13 June 1769 King's Plate 4 mile heats Winchester 105100 gns 1.25 5/4 5 1 Turner's Slouch
15 June 1769 50 Guinea Plate Winchester 05350 gns N/A 1 1 Walkover
28 June 1769 King's Plate Salisbury 105100 gns N/A 1 1 Walkover
29 June 1769 City Silver Bowl 4 mile heats Salisbury 03130 gns 0.1 1/10 3 1 Sulphur
25 July 1769 King's Plate Canterbury 105100 gns N/A 1 1 Walkover
27 July 1769 King's Plate 4 miles Lewes 105100 gns 0.1 1/10 2 1 Kingston
19 September 1769 King's Plate 3 miles Lichfield 0.05 1/20 2 1 Tardy
17 April 1770 Match race Newmarket 0.67 4/6 2 1 Bucephalus
18 April 1770 King's Plate 3.5 mile heats Newmarket 420400 gns 0.1 1/10 4 1 Diana
5 June 1770 King's Plate Guildford N/A 1 1 Walkover
3 July 1770 King's Plate Nottingham N/A 1 1 Walkover
20 August 1770 King's Plate York N/A 1 1 Walkover
23 August 1770 Subscription Purse 4 York 319£319 0.05 1/20 3 1 Tortoise
3 September 1770 King's Plate Lincoln Heath 105100 gns N/A 1 1 Walkover
3 October 1770 150 Guineas Race Newmarket 157150 gns 0.014 1/70 2 1 Corsican
4 October 1770 King's Plate Newmarket N/A 1 1 Walkover


In ten of the King's Plates, Eclipse carried 12 st, or 168 pounds, the highest weight (by one pound) that was carried by a winner in England up to 1840.[4]

Stud record edit

In 1771, Eclipse was retired to stud after a racing career of about 17 months due to lack of competition as nobody was betting on rival horses. Initially he stood at O'Kelly's Clay Hill Stud, near Epsom (Surrey), for a fee of 10 guineas which rose rapidly to 25 and then to 50 guineas a mare. During 1788, he was relocated to Cannons Stud, Edgware (Middlesex).[7]

Overall, Eclipse sired 344 winners of more than £158,000[11] (although the number varies with different reports, ranging from 325 to 400).[7]

Notable progeny edit

s = stallion, m = mare

Foaled Name Sex Major Wins
1772 Planet s Jockey Club Plate, Weights and Scales Plate, 1200 Guineas Stakes
1773 Potoooooooo (Pot-8-Os) s 1200 Guineas Stakes, Clermont Cup (x3), Jockey Club Plate (x3), Newmarket Whip (x2), Craven Stakes[12]
1774 Jupiter s 100 guineas sweep at Newmarket[13]
1774 Satellite s Guildford King's Plate, Winchester King's Plate[14]
1775 King Fergus s 500 guineas sweep at Bath[15]
1778 Joe Andrews s Stand Plate at York[2]
1778 Mercury s Lewes King's Plate[16]
1778 Young Eclipse s Epsom Derby[2]
1780 Dungannon s Craven Stakes[17]
1780 Saltram s Epsom Derby[2]
1780 Volunteer s 1200 Guineas Stakes, Cumberland Subscription Stakes[18]
1781 Serjeant s Epsom Derby,[2] 1200 Guineas Stakes
1782 Alexander s Ran at Newmarket in the late 1780s[19]
1784 Annette m Epsom Oaks[2]
1784 Don Quixote s
1784 Pegasus s Macaroni Stakes[20]

Eclipse's daughters include Horatia, one of only twelve mares to produce two Derby winners: Archduke and Paris.[6] She also produced two-time Doncaster Cup winner Stamford. Other daughters of Eclipse produced Derby winners John Bull and Skyscraper, and St. Leger winners Tartar, Remembrancer and Phoenomenon. Chanticleer, Haphazard, and Weasel are also noted as important runners out of Eclipse mares.[3][21]

Eclipse was never the leading sire in Great Britain and Ireland, although he finished in second place 11 times, usually behind Herod. A book published in 1970 stated that the Royal Veterinary College had determined that nearly 80% of Thoroughbred racehorses had Eclipse in their pedigree.[1] That percentage has naturally increased with time and the inevitable inbreeding in the Thoroughbred population. More recently it has been estimated that Eclipse is not only somewhere in the pedigree, but a tail-male ancestor of "95pc of contemporary thoroughbreds"[22] or of "nearly every living thoroughbred."[2]

This modern dominance comes mainly through a sire line established by Potoooooooo, although King Fergus would also found another successful branch leading to Ribot.[23] Potoooooooo's grandson Waxy would lead the sire list in 1811, and Waxy's grandson Birdcatcher in turn led the sire list in 1852 and 1856. Birdcatcher's grandson Stockwell outdid them both, becoming leading sire seven times. Stockwell's grandson Bend Or founded a line that led four generations later to Phalaris[24] The Phalaris line has several branches, notably through Nearco and Native Dancer.

In Great Britain and Ireland, the Eclipse sire line includes modern leading sires such as Sadler's Wells, Danehill and Galileo. In North America, leading sires in his line include Bold Ruler (sire of Secretariat), Mr. Prospector (ancestor of American Pharoah), Danzig, Storm Cat, A.P. Indy, Giant's Causeway and Tapit. In Japan, Eclipse's sire line includes leading sires Sunday Silence, King Kamehameha and Deep Impact, while in Australia leading sires from his line include Redoute's Choice, Encosta De Lago and Fastnet Rock.

Death edit

Skeleton of Eclipse

Eclipse died due to an attack of colic on 27 February 1789, at the age of 24. His skeleton is now housed at the Royal Veterinary College, Hertfordshire, in the Learning Resource Centre named after him, although it cannot be said for certain whether all the bones displayed are really from Eclipse.[25] His hooves were made into inkstands, although the fact that there are at least five Eclipse-hoof inkstands casts some doubt on the authenticity of some. Hairs from his tail have also been used for decorations.[26]

A necropsy on Eclipse by Charles Vial de Sainbel[27] found that he had an abnormally large heart, weighing 14 pounds (6.4 kg). This trait has been referred to in the context of thoroughbreds as the "X Factor" Theory.[28] While the theory has yet to be proven, it has gained popularity due to the large hearts seen occasionally in his descendants, including Secretariat and Phar Lap.

Honors and analysis edit

The Eclipse Awards are American Thoroughbred horse-racing awards named after Eclipse. They honour the champions of the sport, and are sponsored by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA), Daily Racing Form and the National Turf Writers Association, who select all finalists at the end of the year. The most prestigious of these Awards is the Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year title.

The Eclipse Stakes is a Group 1 flat race in the United Kingdom for three-year-olds and older run over a distance of 1¼ miles and 7 yards (2,018 metres) at Sandown Park.

Eclipse Press is the book-publishing division of Blood-Horse Publications, an international publishing house for top Thoroughbred and general equine magazines, books, videos, CD-ROMs and annual references.

Sheffield-based Eclipse tools, now part of Spear & Jackson, took their name and their Eclipse first... slogan in 1909 from the horse.

The life story of Eclipse inspired the novel O'Kelly's Eclipse by screenwriter Arthur Weiss.

Nicholas Clee's Eclipse: The Story of the Rogue, the Madam and the Horse That Changed Racing[22] is a biography of Eclipse and of the people connected to him, among them the gambler Dennis O'Kelly and the brothel madam Charlotte Hayes. Other biographies of Eclipse include Michael Church's Eclipse: The Horse, The Race, The Awards (2000), and Theodore Cook's 1907 book Eclipse and O'Kelly.

Contrary to popular belief, the Mitsubishi Eclipse was named for the racehorse, and not for the natural phenomenon.[29]

Pedigree edit

At the time of Eclipse's birth, stud records were maintained by the individual breeder with no central authority. Record-keeping was somewhat haphazard, compounded by spelling and transcription errors, and the fact that the names of mares were often not recorded. In 1791, James Weatherby and William Sydney Towers pieced together the General Stud Book, which is the source of the pedigree shown below. However, there are still several debated entries of interest to pedigree experts. Details of the issues can be found in Appendix 2 of Nicholas Clee's book on Eclipse. The most notable issues are summarized below.[30]

According to all official records, Eclipse's sire was Marske (written as 'Mask' in a 1764 entry in the Royal Stud Book). Marske was a moderately successful racehorse who had little early success in the breeding shed. His stud fee at the time of Eclipse's conception was only half a guinea, though it subsequently grew to 30 guineas. During Eclipse's lifetime, however, it was rumoured that his real sire was Shakespeare, who was a somewhat better racehorse than Marske and was said to resemble Eclipse more closely. According to a contemporary source, Eclipse's dam was covered in 1763 first by Shakespeare and later by Marske, and paternity was based on Eclipse's foaling date corresponding to the date of the second breeding session. Since both Marske and Shakespeare were great-grandsons of the Darley Arabian, Eclipse would still descend from that stallion.[30]

Eclipse's dam was Spilletta, who is shown as a bay in the General Stud Book but recorded as a chestnut in the personal records of her second owner, the Duke of Ancaster. There is again confusion over her breeding: The General Stud Book shows her sire as the undefeated Regulus (by the Godolphin Arabian) but a 1754 racing calendar shows her sire as Sedbury (by the Byerley Turk). Spilletta's dam was Mother Western, whose paternity is subject to similar confusion between Scarborough Colt and Easby Snake.[30] Spilletta raced only once, finishing last in a field of three. In her first eight years as a broodmare, Spilletta produced only one live foal. In 1760, she was bred to Markse for the first time with no issue. Three years later, they were mated again: Eclipse was the result.[31]

Pedigree of Eclipse, chestnut stallion, 1764
Marske (GB)
br. 1750
ch. 1732
Bartlett's Childers
b. 1716
Darley Arabian
b. c1700
Betty Leedes
Sister to Old Country Wench Snake*
Grey Wilkes
The Ruby Mare Blacklegs Hutton's Bay Turk
Coneyskins mare
Bay Bolton mare Bay Bolton
Fox Cub mare
Spilletta (GB)
b. 1749
ch. 1739
Godolphin Arabian
b. c.1724
Grey Robinson Bald Galloway
Sister to Old Country Wench
Mother Western Easby Snake Snake*
Akaster Turk mare
Old Montagu mare Old Montagu
Hautboy mare (Family: 12)[32]

Note: b. = Bay, ch. = Chestnut, br. = Brown

* Eclipse is inbred 4S × 4D to the stallion Snake, meaning that he appears fourth generation on the sire side of his pedigree and fourth generation on the dam side of his pedigree.

See also edit

References edit

29^ * Church, Michael (2000). Eclipse – The Horse – The Race – The Awards. Thoroughbred Advertising. p. 415. ISBN 0-9538939-0-1.

  1. ^ a b c Ahnert, Rainer L. (editor in chief), "Thoroughbred Breeding of the World", Pozdun Publishing, Germany, 1970
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Thoroughbred Bloodlines: Eclipse Retrieved on 2011-08-21
  3. ^ a b Peters, Anne. "Eclipse". Retrieved 18 June 2016.
  4. ^ a b c d Whyte, James Christie (1840). History of the British turf, from the earliest period to the present day, Volume I. London: H. Colburn. p. 130. OL 6544990M.
  5. ^ a b c d Barrett, Norman, ed. (1995). The Daily Telegraph Chronicle of Horse Racing. Enfield, Middlesex: Guinness Publishing. p. 8.
  6. ^ a b c Byles, Tony (14 January 2015). 101 Interesting Facts on the History of Horse Racing (Kindle ed.). Apex Publishing. Retrieved 7 June 2016.
  7. ^ a b c d e Montgomery, E.S, "The Thoroughbred", Arco, New York, 1973 ISBN 0-668-02824-6
  8. ^ "Jackson's Oxford Journal 28 Apr 1770, page 1". Retrieved 2023-01-01.
  9. ^ Nimrod 1901, p. 2.
  10. ^ "The Derby Mercury 04 May 1770, page 2". Retrieved 2023-01-01.
  11. ^ Barrie, Douglas M., The Australian Bloodhorse, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1956
  12. ^ "Pot8os". Retrieved 18 June 2016.
  13. ^ "Jupiter". Retrieved 18 June 2016.
  14. ^ "Satellite". Retrieved 18 June 2016.
  15. ^ "King Fergus". Retrieved 18 June 2016.
  16. ^ "Thoroughbred Foundation Sires – Mercury". Retrieved 18 June 2016.
  17. ^ "Dungannon". Retrieved 18 June 2016.
  18. ^ "Volunteer". Retrieved 18 June 2016.
  19. ^ "Thoroughbred Foundation Sires – Alexander". Retrieved 18 June 2016.
  20. ^ "Thoroughbred Foundation Sires – P". Retrieved 18 June 2016.
  21. ^ Morris, Simon; Tesio Power 2000 – Stallions of the World, Syntax Software
  22. ^ a b Clee, Nicholas (2010). Eclipse: The Story of the Rogue, the Madam and the Horse That Changed Racing. London: Black Swan. ISBN 978-0-552-77442-0.
  23. ^ "St. Simon Sire Line".
  24. ^ "Phalaris Sire Line". Retrieved 7 June 2016.
  25. ^ Bower, M. A.; Campana, M. G.; Nisbet, R. E. R.; Weller, R.; Whitten, M.; Edwards, C. J.; Stock, F.; Barrett, E.; O'connell, T. C. (2012-10-01). "Truth in the Bones: Resolving the Identity of the Founding Elite Thoroughbred Racehorses". Archaeometry. 54 (5): 916–925. doi:10.1111/j.1475-4754.2012.00666.x. ISSN 1475-4754.
  26. ^ TB Heritage: Eclipse Retrieved on 2009-8-7
  27. ^ "The Works of Charles Vial de Sainbel." In: The monthly Review or Literary Journal Enlarged. (online)
  28. ^ "The X-Factor: Heart of the Matter". Archived from the original on 21 June 2012. Retrieved 3 May 2013.
  29. ^ "MITSUBISHI Eclipse (1990–1994)". autoevolution. Retrieved 18 June 2016.
  30. ^ a b c Clee, Nicholas (2012). "Appendix 2". Eclipse. New York: Overlook Press. pp. 298–307. ISBN 978-1-4683-0333-9.
  31. ^ Clee, Nicholas (2012). Eclipse. New York: Overlook Press. pp. 48–9. ISBN 978-1-4683-0333-9.
  32. ^ Thoroughbred Bloodlines: Lister's Turk Retrieved 2011-08-21

Bibliography edit

  • Nimrod (1901). The Turf. London: Gay and Bird.

External links edit