Sea The Stars a true champion - at 1m 2f

Filed on 10 Jun 2009 @ 13:19

Sea The Stars a true champion – at a mile and a quarter

By Ian Carnaby

So, it all worked out in the end.

Sea The Stars was the best horse in the Investec Derby and his supporters were starting to count their winnings as Mick Kinane eased him around Tattenham Corner with no traffic problems, not too many in front, nothing making a premature rush on the outside and only Golden Sword, not Fame And Glory, up ahead. It was a good result in this corner, the first really big pick-up since 1997 and Benny The Dip, whom no one truly remembers but who fought like a tiger to hold Silver Patriarch.

With a name like that, many thought Benny The Dip must be a character from Guys And Dolls, though aficionados of Damon Runyon’s work were quick to shoot them down. St Benny The Dip was actually a 1951 film of no great consequence starring, among others, Dick Haymes. It took me quite a long while to discover this, so it was quite rewarding when winning jockey Willie Ryan showed interest.

Watching Sea The Stars on a big screen at Doncaster, I thought he looked a near-certainty from half a mile out. If Kinane had written the script the night before, he’d soon have realised the gods were more than happy with it. For some reason, the detailed plan worked out by Aidan O’Brien for his six runners never looked like coming to fruition and one can only speculate on the reasons for that.

Golden Sword must surely have been there to help Rip Van Winkle

Obviously, Golden Sword did not go fast enough to cause Sea The Stars any problems or leave Kinane with any awkward decisions to make. Presumably, if he was not fancied himself, Golden Sword was there to help one of the other Ballydoyle contenders and that must surely have been Rip Van Winkle. Funnily enough, it worked to a degree. Rip Van Winkle, sprint-bred on the dam’s side but the ‘choice’ of Johnny Murtagh, did well to finish fourth and was still going on in the closing stages. He was short of a gallop before the 2000 Guineas but was not beaten all that far by Sea The Stars that day. It is far from implausible that O’Brien, inch perfectionist that he is, thought the best chance of beating John Oxx’s horse lay in a test of speed over the final furlong and half, with the pair of them suited by the steady pace earlier on.

Of course, Kinane was determined to stay close to that pace and it would have taken a Sir Ivor or a Nijinsky to come past him, once Sea The Stars moved into the lead with any amount still to offer. Rip Van Winkle is a very good horse but not in that class.

Oxx knows that only fast ground at the Curragh before the Irish Derby will give his star a proper chance of repeating the dose. If there is give underfoot, O’Brien can run any number of pacemakers to sap his strength before Fame And Glory is unleashed with the final challenge. I do not mean to imply that Fame And Glory should have won at Epsom, though it certainly helped Sea The Stars that not too much rain fell and the pace dictated by Golden Sword was average.

The notion that Sea The Stars might contest the St Leger is extremely fanciful and Oxx has already moved to crush it. Nonetheless, it was interesting to hear him say that the Triple Crown might well be achieved by something over the next ten years ‘with the very good stallions that are about to get horses to stay’. Godolphin will certainly hope so, because their situation is disappointing bordering on desperate at present, with Kite Wood’s limp ninth at Epsom effectively summarising their fortunes at Group One level.

Sea The Stars has nothing left to prove at a mile and a half

No, Sea The Stars has nothing more to prove at a mile and a half and will presumably contest all of the top ten-furlong races open to him - the Coral-Eclipse, the International at York and the Champion Stakes on either side of the Irish Sea. He may well prove unbeatable at the distance and should put several thousand on the gate wherever he goes.

The racing pubic craves heroes and it has an embryo one now. The atmosphere at Epsom was special and the television coverage good, though not quite as outstanding as some have suggested. John Parrott, amiable as always, is there simply to introduce Gary Wiltshire, who needs to be led in rather than deliver his pieces straight to camera. That is never a problem for John McCririck, of course, and Channel 4’s coverage remains superior where betting is concerned.

The other disappointment concerned the late arrival in the paddock of the O’Brien runners. The trainer, world class at what he does, is essentially a helpful, likeable man doing a difficult job. Personally I could live without regular references to a superior being guiding things from above because I’m happy enough with Johnny Murtagh, but maybe that’s just me.

The reason O’Brien’s job is difficult is that he works for very powerful men for whom coming second is of no interest. Jamie Spencer is a very good jockey but we all know how long he lasted at Ballydoyle. There is no room for error, no time for excuses. Occasional setbacks must be balanced by a string of successes.

Alarming though this may be to those of us with simpler pleasures - a Thomas McGuane short story and a pint of Bombardier in the Bristol Ram - it remains a fact of life and it’s bound to affect O’Brien. It was no great surprise that sorting out running plans cut into the time when the paying public might reasonably have expected to see the horses parade and even less of a surprise when the trainer was brief and non-committal after the race - this after saddling second, third, fourth and fifth in the most famous Flat race in the world.

It is probably just as well that Sea The Stars’ optimum distance will almost certainly turn out to be a mile and a quarter. Plans to run him ragged in the Irish Derby would even now be under consideration and there are those of us who’d like him to go through the rest of his career without a care. At a mile and a quarter, that may well be the case.

Filed on 10 Jun 2009 @ 13:19