There is no way of telling what might have been in any given race had circumstances been different. And it would be seem audacious to say that Rip Van Winkle was the best horse in the Coral Eclipse Stakes (Eng-I), won by Sea the Stars, but a close look at the race reveals several reasons why that statement might have validity.
For most of the race, Rip Van Winkle raced directly behind Sea the Stars near the back of the pack. Turning into the stretch, Johnny Murtagh was looking to swing outside Sea the Stars. Mick Kinane, on Sea the Stars, took a peak to his outside to check on Rip Van Winkle. When he saw the Ballydoyle colt looming on his outside he brought Sea the Stars out, forcing Murtagh to change tactics and alter course to the inside. With one horse directly inside Sea the Stars, Kinane brought Sea the Stars back in, shutting off the opening that had been there. With no place to go, Murtagh brought Rip Van Winkle back to the outside and finally was able to get a clear run.
Sea the Stars had surged to the lead, with Rip Van Winkle bearing down on him. Sea the Stars seemed to have repulsed the challenge, but Rip found another gear and made a second, bolder run and appeared ready to pounce on Sea the Stars. Murtagh went to a left-handed whip, and Rip Van Winkle drifted in closer to Sea the Stars and now was able to look him in the eye. Kinane reacted by going to a left-hand whip. Just as Rip Van Winkle pulled up to Sea the Stars’ throatlatch, Kinane’s whip came so close to his challenger’s head (it was hard to tell whether it clipped him or not), Rip Van Winkle shied noticeably from the whip, turning his head abruptly. When he did, he began drifting out, now under right-handed whipping, costing himself valuable momentum. He gathered himself and continued his run, but fell a length short.
As mentioned, no one can say for sure that all these instances combined cost Rip Van Winkle the race. After all, we are dealing with a great horse in Sea the Stars. But considering the one length he was beaten, Rip Van Winkle surely had enough excuses to suggest the result might have been different with a cleaner trip.
Rip Van Winkle went on to score powerful victories in the group I Sussex Stakes and Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, and now comes into the Classic a relatively fresh horse compared to some of the other horses Aidan O’Brien has run in the Classic. He no doubt is going to be bet heavily, especially after what happened in last year’s Classic. In short, he is a horse you simply cannot throw out of your pick 6’s and pick 4’s and any of the exotics.
If there is any concern, it is the number of niggling foot injuries he’s suffered right before big races this year. Remarkably, he ran through all of them and performed at the highest level in every race this year. Because Rip has been injury prone, Aiden O’Brien has Mastercraftsman in the Dirt Mile (gr. I) in case he is needed as a replacement. But for now, Rip Van Winkle is healthy and heading to the Classic in top form.