‘Eclipses’ an Important Part of Racing History

Twilight Eclipse won the Grade 1 Man o’ War Stakes in 2015 and ran third in the 2014 Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf. (Eclipse Sportswire)

More than 250 years ago, a total solar eclipse swept across Great Britain. It was on that day — April 1, 1764 — and during the eclipse itself that a horse was born at Cranbourne Lodge. Arriving as he did during such a rare, celestial event, the horse was named Eclipse, and through his achievements on the track and at stud, he would ensure that the name Eclipse would never be forgotten.

Eclipse (WikiMedia Commons/Artist George Stubbs)

As a racehorse, no one could warm him up; he went unbeaten in 18 races, eight of them “walkovers” in which no other horse could be found to compete against him. As a stallion, he proved so successful that he appears somewhere in the pedigrees of most Thoroughbreds even today. So immeasurable was Eclipse’s impact on the Thoroughbred breed that he is even the namesake of U.S. racing’s year-end awards, the Eclipse Awards.

But while the name Eclipse has been set aside for years and can’t be reused, there have been many other horses — some of them famous, others unraced — that have had “Eclipse” in their names. With the 2023 Eclipse Awards coming up in a few weeks, now seems like a good time to look back through history at other famous horses whose names include “Eclipse.”

As described by William H. P. Robertson in his book “The History of Thoroughbred Racing in America”: “the name has sprung up again and again whenever a breeder thought he had a likely looking foal, and while a few of the horses thus hopefully named justified it, the majority did not.

“American Eclipse was the brilliant exception.”

American Eclipse (WikiMedia Commons/Artist George Stubbs)

Born in 1814, American Eclipse proved just as unbeatable as his British namesake, going unbeaten in eight races from 1818 to 1823 before eventually being inducted into the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame. In perhaps his most famous moment, the nine-year-old American Eclipse gallantly defeated Sir Henry in a highly anticipated and much-attended match race in New York City, prevailing in two of the three four-mile heats to stamp himself as perhaps the greatest racehorse seen on the American turf to that point in time.

But American Eclipse wasn’t the first noteworthy horse to be named after Eclipse; that honor might well belong to Young Eclipse, a son of Eclipse who won the second renewal of the prestigious Epsom Derby in 1781.

Success has been less forthcoming for horses with more traditional Eclipse-oriented names. There have been several North American-bred horses named Solar Eclipse, but according to the The Jockey Club statistics, only two — a Canada-bred who won 10 races in the 1950s and a Virginia-bred, Arizona-based claimer born in 1979 — ever won a race.

Lunar Eclipse? There have been several of those and the best of them — a Texas-bred born in 1967 — won 23 of 104 starts from 1970 through 1975.

Australia, England, Ireland, South Africa, New Zealand, Japan, Germany, and the United States have all been graced by horses named Total Eclipse, but only one American colt seemed to have a winning instinct; while he never prevailed in a stakes races, the Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney-bred runner did win 21 of his 85 races during the 1930s and 1940s and placed in a pair of stakes.

But in recent years, a few less-obvious “Eclipse” horses have risen to prominence. Certainly, the best was Twilight Eclipse, who won the Grade 1 Man o’ War Stakes in 2015 during a long and successful career that saw him earn $2,103,953 and finish third in the 2014 Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf.

Niigon’s Eclipse, bred in Canada, won the Victoriana Stakes in 2017 and has placed in a couple of other stakes races, while Midnight Eclipse was a stakes-placed filly who briefly embarked on the Kentucky Oaks trail in 2014.

Suffice to say, the name “Eclipse” has been bestowed upon the Eclipse Awards for good reason. Even after all these years, the name Eclipse still resonates throughout the sport, and the bloodlines of Eclipse himself live on through his thousands of descendants. It’s a fitting legacy for one of the greatest horses in the history of the sport.

Note: This story originally was published in November 2017 and has been updated.

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