Born during the period, and perhaps even the day, of a solar eclipse and hence his name, Eclipse was a descendant of the Darley Arabian (one of the so-called foundation stallions of Arabian stock brought over to England in the late 17th century). He was the undisputed leading racehorse of his age.
His early prowess was spotted on the downs at Epsom by a flamboyant Irish gambler, Dennis O’Kelly. Eclipse’s first race was at Epsom as a five-year old in May 1769. Races were over long distances in those days, four miles or more, and held in heats. After the first heat, O’Kelly bet that Eclipse would not only win but that, when he crossed the finishing line, none of his four rivals would be closer than the distance-post 240 yards away, ‘nowhere’ in racing terms. Eclipse won... and the rest were nowhere.
Eclipse was undefeated in all his 18 races. An even more successful career followed as a stallion. Eclipse himself sired over 300 winners. He also established a pedigree line without equal. It is estimated that over 90 per cent of all contemporary thoroughbreds have the male blood-line of Eclipse in their pedigree.
Eclipse died aged 24. A post-mortem was carried out by the renowned French veterinarian, Charles Vial de Sainbel. His anatomical study was an important step in the foundation of the (now Royal) Veterinary College. His skeleton is still proudly exhibited there.
A splendid two-thirds-life-size statue of Eclipse, sculpted by James Osborne, is displayed in the entrance to the College. It was donated in 1989 by the American breeder and philanthropist, Paul Mellon, to mark the bicentenary of the great horse’s death. Eclipse first, the rest nowhere.