City Of Troy passes Eclipse test but O’Brien star still has plenty to prove

York or Leopardstown likely next target for Derby winner after Sandown victory on rain-softened ground

City Of Troy ridden by Ryan Moore coming home to win the Eclipse on day two of the Coral Summer Festival at Sandown Park Racecourse. Photograph: Steven Paston/Jockey Club/PA

Rather like England at the European soccer championships, City Of Troy got the result in Saturday’s Coral Eclipse but it was anything but a convincing performance.

And just as Bellingham & Co are apparently so much better than that, extenuating circumstances were abundant on the back of City Of Troy’s functional at best Sandown victory.

Chief among them was rain-softened ground that reduced opposition to Aidan O’Brien’s star to just a handful, including his pacemaking stablemate Hans Andersen.

Considering City Of Troy won impressively on soft ground in last year’s Dewhurst — the performance that prompted Frankel comparisons — to see him getting the full Ryan Moore drive to hold off Al Riffa by a length was distinctly underwhelming.

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What might have occurred had another older Irish horse, White Birch, lined up instead of being forced to miss the race will occupy a lot more minds than just the grey’s west Cork trainer John Murphy.

Moore, too, blamed the ground, and himself for apparently coming up the middle of the track instead of obeying his partner’s instincts for the rail, a charitable interpretation for what, on the face of things, looked like a horse hanging and making his jockey’s life difficult.

In a results business, the outcome this time was a one-length defeat of a 114-rated performer who hasn’t won in a couple of years and who conceded 10lbs to a colt acclaimed by O’Brien as the best he’s ever had.

“Beforehand, I thought he would probably beat them 10 lengths, to be honest with you,” Moore admitted. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he does that next time.”

That next time could be York’s International or the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown in September before a much-heralded date with dirt destiny in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Del Mar in November.

Maybe those races can justify the “just you wait” tone implicit in post-race remarks from the entire Coolmore team. Gareth Southgate-like angst is hardly spattered all over O’Brien’s face.

But the bare facts are that City Of Troy has delivered one convincing performance in three starts this season, hardly a strike rate to justify the more extravagant claims made on his behalf.

Even John Magnier, the most commercial mind racing has ever had and who all but created modern promotion in the bloodstock business, was of a mind on Saturday to curtail the hard sell.

“It wasn’t what we were expecting to be honest and we’re not making excuses; you don’t need to when the horse wins the race. But a quarter of the field was taken out because of the ground and he really is a good-moving horse. It’s quite extraordinary how this horse moves.

“There is no point us talking about this horse any more. We only look foolish and after the 2000 Guineas we were really in the mess,” said the Coolmore supremo before putting it up to his star in earthy terms.

“This horse now has to do it himself. It’s like his clothes are off and he’s in the bed, it’s up to him. The year is long, and we would just like to see him run on his ground. He’s only been beaten once in his life and we’re here complaining, so that will tell you what we think of him,” he added.

Perhaps it’s just as well that City Of Troy is happily unaware of the pressure to perform, although it will undoubtedly swirl around him next time he appears.

Given how O’Brien’s faith in the son of Justify was vindicated so spectacularly at Epsom, no one’s going to dismiss the chances of a spellbinding performance that lives up to the hype.

But while a clash with his stable companion Auguste Rodin is hardly on the cards, should older talent such as White Birch and Passenger, or even the Dante winner Economics, pitch up against City Of Troy at York or Leopardstown it will hardly get billed as any kind of penalty kick.

One older star unlikely to run into City Of Troy is the recent Pretty Polly winner Bluestocking. Her trainer, Ralph Beckett, is instead targeting her at Goodwood’s Nassau Stakes before lining up in the Yorkshire Oaks.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column