“Can’t keep my eyes from the circling skies. Tongue-tied and twisted just an earth-bound misfit, I.” – Pink Floyd “Learning to Fly”
For thoroughbred racing fans in the United States, you might be excused if you’ve been a bit late to catch onto the Irish-bred phenomenon that is Sea the Stars. The sensational colt has taken the European racing world by storm in recent months by winning the Epsom Derby and the 2000 Guineas in dominating style. It’s been hard to get good glimpses of him though, especially this past weekend when he added the world’s most prestigious turf race, the $5.8 million Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, to his resume in convincing style.
Ridden by Mick Kinane, the son of Cape Cross began rather slowly, but wound up putting his talent on display and powering home to a two length victory over the 6-year-old Youmzain. Cavalryman, who broke from the extreme outside finished 3rd, with 2008 Breeders’ Cup Turf champion Conduit in 4th. Youmzain has now been defeated by Dylan Thomas, Zarkava, and Sea the Stars while running for 2nd in the last 3 runnings of the Arc. According to trainer Mick Channon, Youmzain will “be here next year” if all goes as planned.
So why was this victory so important? It seems as though apart from the diehard fans of the sport (and most of us reading this probably consider ourselves “diehards”), not many folks cared that much here in the U.S. The race barely received any attention here. Granted, the post time (10:15 ET) was a bit early for anyone in the U.S. living on the west coast. Across the pond, however, folks are whispering not just that Sea the Stars is good, but that he might be that good. You know what I’m talking here – the kind of good where you start to wonder where a horse ranks among the all-time greats?
Consider for a moment how unique that is. English racing fans don’t seem the type to me that would jump up at the chance to call the next flavor of the month the “best ever” – so for them to even raise the question suggests that we’ve greatly under appreciated this colt’s qualities – at least in terms of how much we should’ve been screaming about him from the rooftops. Here in the U.S. the yearly Kentucky Derby winner gets some foaming at the mouth followers convinced he’s the “best ever” – and we’re all forced to suffer through the nonsense the follows.
In the U.K. though? I’d almost expect some gentlemen named Sebastian in a top hat (and preferably with a monocle – either for functional purposes or purely for decoration) to slap me silly for daring to speak the words “best ever.” There’s simply too much history to contend with. Or so one might reasonably assume.
As amazing at it sounds, the British handicapping service Time Form even has odds laid out on where Sea the Stars will rank in terms of all-time greats. He’s currently listed at 10/1 to match the all-time best Time Form rating set by Sea-Bird II (145), while he’s 14/1 to break that mark.
Before we go any further with this discussion, I have to state that personally I’m not one to put a whole lot of stock into “greatest ever” arguments. The entire nature of the discussion is inherently subjective. In a perfect world I think it’s important that your past be storied and held to a standard perhaps even greater than it was in it’s immediacy, if only that we not cheapen our present. To put that in plainer terms, unless we safeguard the history, legacy, and traditions of the sport by revering the past, then any moment – no matter how larger than life it may seem while it’s happening - will remain relevant for only a precious few seconds.
Is Sea the Stars really that good? I can’t answer that question, but if our friends in Europe think it’s a question worth asking than I’d have to defer to them. They probably wonder the same thing about our Rachel Alexandra infatuation.
If he is indeed that good – then what a shame we didn’t showcase this runner here in the States a bit more. Who cares if he didn’t run here – I bet more Americans watched the Dubai World Cup than watched the Arc. Think about that, and then realize we’re talking about a race where a potential legend makes history and a 2008 Breeders’ Cup champion finishes 4th as opposed to a race between Well Armed and Asiatic Boy?
On a related note – as big a racing fan as I am, my experience on Saturday was illustrative of everything that is wrong with the sport at the moment. The world’s richest turf race is on. A race with potential Breeders’ Cup implications here in the U.S. A race with as highly heralded a favorite as I can remember in recent memory – and yet I couldn’t find a live broadcast anywhere. How sad that is.
Something tells me that racing fans in Europe and Japan don’t have that same problem if, by chance, they wanted to watch our Kentucky Derby. I don’t have the answers to this problem, but as a fan it’s destructively frustrating and simply HAS to change. If you did get the race live – good for you. Consider yourself lucky and pray that you don’t have to live in the blindness and informational vacuum that no live coverage creates.
When you wind up driving someone like me – a person who lives and breathes horse racing and wants only to be able to watch and wager on exciting, top quality racing action – and force me to change the channel to watch ESPN College GameDay (my alternative was the Hawthorne replay show??? Seriously????) – guess what – you aren’t getting me back. Like most men, I have the attention span of fruit fly.
Well, okay, that’s not entirely true as I did come back to watch Super Saturday at Belmont, but I kept the football coverage on “previous channel” memory on my remote so that I could switch back defiantly during each commercial break! Each such occasion being accompanied by a blood curling, defiant, full throated rebel yell.
In other racing news over the weekend, Careless Jewel and Music note each cemented their paths to the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic. If, by some chance, Zenyatta decides to run in the open Classic on Saturday, than one of these runners would likely be your morning line favorite for the Ladies’ Classic. Up next we’ll get to see Icon Project in the Grade 1 Spinster at Keeneland, and Zenyatta will take on the California girls (Life is Sweet, Anaaba’s Creation) in the Grade 1 Lady’s Secret.
In a bit of a stunning upset, Goldikova was actually defeated at Longchamp on Saturday when longshot Veranar pulled the upset in the Prix de la Foret (Group 1). The defending Breeders’ Cup Mile runner was cutting back to 7 furlongs on Saturday, and may have been burned up a bit by a swift early pace that she got too close to. Trainer Freddy Head indicated after the race that the Breeders’ Cup was still likely, but that “nothing is written in stone.”
Elsewhere on “Super Saturday”, I’ve got to give a big shout out to my main man Tim Ice and his fantastic 3-year-old colt Summer Bird who throttled the field of the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup. Tim told me during the Haskell that the plan was to send Summer Bird to the Breeders’ Cup Classic, so we’ll have to see if that is still the case. The chestnut son of Birdstone has turned in a remarkable, and likely 3-year-old champion Eclipse Award winning summer campaign that included victories in the Belmont, Travers, and now the Jockey Club Gold Cup to go along with a game 2nd to Rachel Alexandra (likely Horse of the Year winner) in the Haskell.
Summer Bird will always be a favorite of ours since we got to hang out with his connections on Haskell morning. He was also my wife’s pick for the Belmont, so he’s earned some major brownie points there. Well done, Tim! And way to go, Summer Bird! The Iceman winneth!
We’ll be back before the weekend with a look at the upcoming Spinster, Lady’s Secret, and of course the Goodwood.