07/04/2013 3:19PM

Europe: Al Kazeem holds edge in Eclipse Stakes at Sandown

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At the beginning of this year, 5-year-old Al Kazeem never had even started in a Group 1 race, but in Saturday’s Eclipse Stakes at Sandown Park in England, Al Kazeem attempts to win his third straight Group 1 while cementing his position as a leading middle-distance horse in Europe.

Seven were entered in the 1 1/4-mile Eclipse. Miblish appears overmatched, and 3-year-old Mars would require a major forward move to contend, but Declaration of War, Mukhadram, Pastorius, and The Fugue all rate a chance.

Al Kazeem, out on the other side of an injury-plagued early portion of his career, has emerged from relative obscurity as a rock-solid high-level performer this year. He was a Sandown course-and-distance winner (an obvious mark in his favor Saturday) of the Gordon Richards Stakes to start his season, and has since reeled off Group 1 wins in the Tattersalls Gold Cup at The Currgah and in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot. In the latter race, Al Kazeem, a son of Dubawi trained by Roger Charlton, had to reel in a loose-on-the-lead Mukhadram, who fought gamely but was headed in the final 50 yards. Jockey James Doyle has tactical versatility with Al Kazeem, who has raced effectively from various positions.

Declaration of War, who burst between horses and won the Group 1 Queen Anne at Royal Ascot, will widely be considered Al Kazeem’s major rival. A lightly raced Aidan O’Brien-trained 4-year-old, Declaration of War was fifth in Farhh’s J.T. Lockinge Stakes win in May, his Group 1 debut, but bounced back with a stronger performance last month in the straight-course Queen Anne. Declaration of War might be a miler at heart, but appears capable of seeing out a longer distance Saturday.

The German horse Pastorius, another 4-year-old, ended his 2012 campaign with a promising fourth behind Frankel and Cirrus des Aigles in the Champion Stakes, and started 2013 with a sharp victory in the Group 1 Prix Ganay at Longchamp, but his form is clouded by a 12th-place finish May 19 in the Singapore Cup. Pastorius might be excused the flop and should offer excellent betting value in the Eclipse.

Front-running Mukhadram won the Brigadier Gerard over 1 1/4 miles at Sandown to start his 4-year-old campaign, backed up that improved form with the close loss to Al Kazeem, and appears to be a gate-to-wire threat. The Fugue, the Eclipse’s lone female runner, was a mildly closing third in the Prince of Wales’s, a run she probably needed making her first start since a troubled third in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf last fall.