The 3-year-old generation received the boost it needed in Saturday's Coral-Eclipse Stakes (Eng-I) over 10 furlongs at Sandown – but not from the horse everybody expected it from.
In a shock result, Epsom Derby (Eng-I) winner Motivator lost his undefeated record when beaten by half a length into second by the Aidan O'Brien-trained Oratorio, a colt who had finished unplaced behind him at Epsom. The Italian-trained 7-year-old Altieri took third, 2 1/2 lengths away.
Sent off the 2-5 favorite, Motivator looked to be in total command having taken up the running almost as soon as the seven strong field entered the three furlong home straight. But the bold tactics of John Murtagh, who had kept the son of Montjeu close to the pace throughout, backfired badly in the closing stages when he and Motivator effectively became sitting ducks for Kieren Fallon and the late-finishing Oratorio. The latter was sent off a 12-1 shot after being placed in both the English and Irish Two Thousand Guineas (both group I) and the St James's Palace Stakes (Eng-I).
The race lost much off its pre-race fizz due to the absence of Shamardal, retired the day before the race due to injury, but come 15.15 on a slightly muggy south east England day, the excitement among the crowd was tangible.
It was noticeable, too, how composed and collected Oratorio and Motivator – the only 3-year-olds in the race – were in the preliminaries compared to some of the older horses, particularly the former Australian Starcraft, who played up badly in the paddock and was keen going to post. For all the publicity surrounding Motivator's temperament, he behaved impeccably here.
So did his trainer Michael Bell, who simply refused to offer any excuses for Motivator's defeat. "Everything went according to plan and he went to win his race. Let's not start to knock him because of one defeat. He's been knocked off his pedestal for now, but he might soon be back on it. We're disappointed but not distraught."
In winning his third Eclipse in six years, O'Brien explained that Oratorio, a neatly put together son of Danehill who had been struggling turning for home but responded gamely to Fallon's urgings, had retained his faith despite four defeats this season.
Asked if this victory was a surprise, O'Brien took a long sigh and said: "We've always been confident. We've been disappointed every day until now. He's a lazy lazy lazy horse but he is going to be something to look forward to for the rest of the year. "
O'Brien is planning a step down for Oratorio in the Sussex Stakes (Eng-I) at Goodwood July 27.