Kentucky will soon be the center of the universe for all things eclipse-related. But of course, the commonwealth is also famous for, of course, thoroughbred horse racing. On August 21, the two will meld at Churchill Downs, and it won’t be the first time an “Eclipse” has had ties to the track here in town.
“He was named after an eclipse of 1764; there was an eclipse that year,” said Kentucky Derby Museum Senior Curator of Collections Chris Goodlett. “That’s why he got the name ‘Eclipse.’ He was a pretty prolific stallion.”
Goodlett said Eclipse, the eighteenth century thoroughbred race horse, was the first of his kind and dominated horse racing in England for the short time he competed.
And prolific he was indeed. Winning all 18 of the races he ever entered, the stallion retired early due to the lack of competition. It was no longer lucrative for him to race since no one would bet against him.
But after retirement, Eclipse became a successful sire.
“About 90 percent or more of modern thoroughbreds can trace their lineage back to Eclipse,” Goodlett said. “Many of the horses who have raced here at Churchill Downs and in the Derby would have a link to Eclipse, and have him in their lineage if we were to trace it back.”
Both American Pharoah and Secretariat, arguably the two best racehorses of all time, have Eclipse in their pedigree. In fact, after Eclipse’s death, he was found to have an enlarged heart — a condition that Secretariat had as well.
The stallion also gives his name to the most prestigious awards in horse racing. The Eclipse Awards are horse racing’s version of the Grammys or the Oscars. These yearly awards include “Horse of the Year,” (won by American Pharoah in 2015), “Jockey of the Year,” and “Trainer of the Year.” There are also awards given to exemplary press coverage in horse racing.
The Kentucky Derby Museum will host an Eclipse Viewing Tour on Monday, August 21, which will end in the infield and give visitors a chance to view the upcoming solar eclipse. The event will also, of course, celebrate the prolific horse whose lineage has been running under the twin spires for decades.