The Early Days
It was in June 2008 that whispered reports began to seep out from Currabeg that John Oxx had "a half-brother to Galileo that was doing all the right things at home." A horse with his pedigree, by Cape Cross out of the Arc de Triomphe-winner Urban Sea, who herself had already produced three Group 1 winners, will always take peoples eye in the early stages of his career, but no one could have guessed just how much of an impact he would make on the racing world in the next 16 months or so. Sea The Stars, as he was to be named, first appeared on a racecourse in what is traditionally a red-hot maiden on Oaks weekend at the Curragh. It looked a typically-strong renewal on paper and paddock inspection only reinforced what the form and pedigree books suggested. Sea The Stars was one of standouts on looks. Tall, strong, everything in proportion and all topped off by a most intelligent-looking head. He looked fit enough to do himself justice, but so did the rest and on ground that was perhaps on the soft side for him, Sea The Stars made a more than satisfactory start to his career by finishing a close fourth having been checked at a vital juncture just over 1f from home. If those who had heard the reports that this was the best juvenile John Oxx had were disappointed with his failure to win at the first time of asking, in the weeks that followed the race it transpired that it wasn't a bad performance at all, with the three horses that finished in front of him and three others than finished close behind him all earning ratings in the 100's and 90's.
A month later, Sea The Stars was sent to Leopardstown for his second start and having been sent off at 2/1, he made no mistakes, winning easily on ground that was most certainly too soft for him. After that, there were some whispers about sending him straight into Group 1 company to contest the National Stakes at the Curragh, but in typically well-reasoned fashion, Oxx elected to send his star colt to contest the Group 2 Juddmonte Beresford Stakes at the Curragh instead. That decision looked a wise one when almost un-raceable ground prevailed for the Group 1 contest and Mastercraftsman and Shaweel both endured horrendously hard races in fighting out the finish, with Oxx's other top juvenile Arazan finishing a not-unduly-punished third. A fortnight later, Sea The Stars was more workmanlike than impressive in winning the Beresford, beating his stable mate Mourayan by ½- length. The good-to-soft ground didn't play to his strengths and Mick Kinane did an excellent job to ensure to son of Cape Cross did not ensure a hard race. After that win, Oxx was content to call time on the colt's season and remarkably, the colt had stayed under the radar of many punters and pundits alike going into winter quarters, with many favouring the likes of Mastercraftsman, Rip Van Winkle and Crowded House for the 2009 Classics.
The Guineas Approaches
As winter turned to spring, Oxx's preparations of both Sea The Stars and Arazan picked up in pace. Both were reported as being targeted at the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket and having taken each other on in a racecourse gallop at Leopardstown in April, the Kinane-ridden Arazan came out the narrowly in front. However, what the observers didn't know what that Sea The Stars had quite a rushed preparation and was very much in need of that blow out. As Newmarket got nearer and nearer, it became apparent that the ground would be very fast indeed and it was on that basis that Oxx decided to declare the firm-ground-loving Sea The Stars for the race and leave Arazan at home in Kildare. Much of the build-up to the first Classic of the season centred on which of the Ballydoyle contingent Johnny Murtagh would elect to ride, a situation that very much suited Oxx, and with no pressure on his shoulders, he saddled his star in relative peace. However, once the imposing colt was led into the parade ring, it wasn't long before people began to comment on what an attractive individual he was and all of a sudden, his price shortened a few notches.
Once the race began Mick Kinane was content to settle his mount in touch with leaders, making smooth headway to challenge just over 1f out and asserting his authority over Delegator in the closing stages. It was a win that was greeted with great satisfaction in most quarters, such is the regard Oxx and Kinane are held in by the racing public, and they duly made their pleasure known in the winner's enclosure.
The Epsom Derby - Will He/Won't He?
Following his tremendous win at Newmarket, talk inevitably turned to Sea The Star's prospects in the Epsom Derby, a race he was immediately made favourite for. Much to most people's surprise John Oxx seemed only hopeful rather than confident about his horse's ability to stay the 12f trip, such was the speed he had showed him on the gallops. Now, if such comments were made by other members of the training fraternity, many racing fans would be excused for taking them with a large pinch of salt, but when the famously honest Oxx expressed such doubts, not many people doubted the sincerity of his words. And so began the debate of whether he would run and whether he would stay the trip. The discussion continued all the way to race time and with Ballydoyle fielding a small army of horses in opposition to Sea The Stars, many wondered what sort of tactics would be utilised. As it turned out, the Ballydoyle battalion surprisingly opted to set a steady pace, presumably in a bid to aid their own doubtful stayer Rip Van Winkle. Those tactics did not help Sea The Stars at all, as he racing very freely for the first half of the race, tucking furiously at Mick Kinane's arms in a bid to be allowed utilise his natural cruising speed. However, Kinane kept hold of him and having been positively carted into contention, he led going well just over 1f out and was soon in command under a sympathetic Kinane ride. It was in the immediate aftermath of this race that the pundits and racing public alike began to realise that John Oxx had something very on his hands. It is so rare for a horse to have the versatility to win a Group 1 over both a mile and 12f, but for won to do so in such prestigious races as the 2000 Guineas and the Epsom Derby is truly remarkable. However, Sea The Stars was anything but finished in his journey towards greatness.
The Eclipse Stakes - History Beckons
After completing the remarkable 2000 Guineas/Epsom Derby double, Sea The Stars was aimed next at the Irish Derby back at his home track of the Curragh. However, it was not to be as the inclement weather made the ground soft enough for Oxx to withdraw his star colt, a decision that was exceptionally difficult for Oxx to make. With Fame And Glory bolting up from an array of his stable mates in that race, some began to whisper that O'Brien's charge would be more than a match for Sea The Stars if they met again, but before then Oxx's colt was on a collision course with Rip Van Winkle for the second time, on this occasion in the Eclipse Stakes at Sandown. Many felt that O'Brien's charge would be much better suited by the drop to the 10f trip, but plenty of others felt that Sea The Stars would settle better over the shorter trip and thus prove even more devastating than he had at Epsom. As it turned out, both those sets of people were right as, after a blistering pace was set by Rip Van Winkles pace makers, Sea The Stars was left in front no less than 2f from home and Rip Van Winkles was getting the perfect toe into the race immediately behind him. Kinane had no choice but to ask his colt to quicken and try and take the race by the scruff of the neck and while Rip Van Winkle briefly looked as though he was swooping to conquer, the idling Sea The Stars readily pulled out more and drew on to prevail by an authoritative length, thus becoming the first horse since the mighty Nashwan to complete the 2000 Guineas/Derby/Eclipse treble.
The Juddmonte International - The Battle of York
Having been allowed a six-week break between races, Sea The Stars returned to the track to bid for his fourth Group 1 victory in as many months in the Juddmonte International at York. This time, Ballydoyle threw Mastercraftsman at Oxx's colt, and with the son of Danehill Dancer having added two more Group 1 wins to his tally since finishing fifth behind Sea The Stars in the 2000 Guineas. With just four runners lining up, the two main protagonists in addition to two pacemakers from Ballydoyle, one could be forgiven for anticipating a somewhat uneventful contest. However, it proved very dramatic indeed, with Johnny Murtagh going for home through a gap between his pacemakers over 2f out and Kinane boldly opting to follow him through, with it briefly looking as though he might be squeezed out, but the son of Cape Cross had the gears necessary to execute the manoeuvre. However having gone in pursuit of Mastercraftman, it looked for a handful of strides that he might struggle to peg back his brave rival, but he picked up in typically taking fashion inside the final 1f to lead late on and forge away to prevail by a length, beating the course record by no less than .8 of a second. While not nearly as extravagant as some of his previous victories, there was a strong suspicion that Kinane's mount was only doing the minimum and that if he had been asked for more, he would have given it readily.
The Irish Champion Stakes - A Glorious Homecoming
Throughout the season John Oxx had stated again and again that he felt Sea The Stars needed genuine fast ground to be seen at his very best and would not risk the colt underperforming by running him on unsuitable ground, a point he illustrated by withdrawing him from the Irish Derby. So, when the Tattersalls Millions Irish Champion Stakes was declared as Sea The Stars next target after York, plenty of cynical Irishmen expressed their doubt about the colts participation such was the inclement nature the Irish weather. Those doubts were borne out in no uncertain terms in the week building up to the race with the rain bucketing down at the South Dublin track. Blogs emerged on the internet solely to monitor the weather at the track and it was all anyone involved in Irish racing could talk about. Everyone knew that this would in all likelihood be the final chance racegoers would have to see this great horse race on Irish soil and everyone was willing the weather to play its part in making it happen. Leopardstown did everything they possibly could to entice Oxx into running, with them deserving particular praise for deciding at short notice to divide the racetrack into two separate courses, running half the races on each course in a bid to ensure the best possible racing surface for the feature event. Despite seemingly the entire Irish racing nation resigning themselves to the horse not running in the days leading up to the race, Oxx decided that the good-to-yielding ground was just good enough for him to let his colt take his chance. However, Ballydoyle clearly felt that the Champion would be at his most vulnerable on the prevailing surface and they surprisingly declared not only Fame And Glory, but also the four-time Group 1-winner Mastercraftsman in a bid to get the better of Sea The Stars. The scene was most definitely set for arguably the most anticipated Flat race on Irish soil in decades.
In scenes more traditionally associated with jumps racing, the crowds surged into Leopardstown and piled 10-deep around the parade ring to catch a glimpse of the returning hero. The colt, in typically relaxed style, seemed oblivious that all the fuss was for him and having lobbed down to the start, his thousands of fans packed the grandstands and generated a truly electric atmosphere. A Cheltenham Festival-style roar went up as the stalls opened and with the Ballydoyle pacemakers haring off into a clear lead, Kinane was content to settle his mount into mid-division. As the race began in earnest, Mastercraftsman struck for home early in the straight and Johnny Murtagh fired Fame And Glory past Sea The Stars in an effort to get first run on him. However, Kinane remained ice-cold, as he did throughout this colt's racing career, and he gradually eased his mount into the race before unleashing his withering turn of foot to scythe down Mastercraftsman and then Fame And Glory, with a deafening roar erupting from the stands as he hit the front. He eventually came home 2½ lengths in front of Fame And Glory and before he had even crossed the line, the stampede for the winner's enclosure had already begun. The winner was greeted with scenes of rapturous celebration from a knowledgeable crowd who recognised they had witnessed the best performance yet from a true Champion, despite the ground not being near suitable. It was a truly remarkable race and occasion and one that will live forever in the memories of those lucky enough to be present to witness it. In terms of form, it was the best Sea The Stars ever ran and for him to do that on what his trainer considered unsuitable ground really makes the mind wonder as to what this great colt could have achieved when truly challenged in perfect conditions.
The Arc - A Legacy Is Sealed
After the rout at Leopardstown, thoughts soon turned to the only real challenge left for Sea The Stars in Europe, the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp. The Arc invariably attracts a field that is as big on quantity and it is on quality and many a top horse has become undone through no fault of their own, none more famously than the last Triple Crown winner Nijinsky. Despite being generally heralded as one of the greatest racehorses of all time, the colossal prize money on offer at Longchamp encouraged no less than 18 rivals to line up against Sea The Stars, a fact which prompted many to fear that the great horse would fall victim to poor luck in running. However, as ever Oxx and Kinane were unperturbed. That said, as much as they deny it, even they must have been worried when, soon after the stalls opened, Sea The Stars was pulling fiercely as the two pacemakers hared off into the lead and were ignored by the chasing pack who went along at just a fair pace. In a bid to get cover, Kinane reined back his mount into mid-division on the inside to be surrounded by a wall of horses. The manoeuvre worked, as Sea The Stars soon settled, but Kinane now found himself very much at the mercy of luck and circumstance. With the field turning for home, the two pacemakers unsurprisingly collapsed and after some quick thinking and even faster steering from Kinane, the race all of a sudden opened up for him and Sea The Stars and the three-year-old did not need to be asked twice. Utilising his trademark turn of foot, Sea The Stars went from being a couple of lengths off the leader to bursting through the pack to lead just over 1f out and impressively draw clear, typically idling close home to be just two lengths clear at the line. Visually, it was as an impressive a performance as Sea The Stars ever produced and unsurprisingly, it prompted emotional and joyful scenes both at Longchamp and in the living rooms of millions of racing fans around the world. They all had witnessed a true great performing at his brilliant best in the top middle distance race in the world.
As we now know, that would be the last time we saw Sea The Stars on a racecourse, but it was the most fitting finale imaginable for a horse of his stature. He had nothing left to prove and no one could expect any more from a true great.
Perfection. That is the only word to describe Sea The Stars. The pedigree, the looks, the temperament and most importantly the God-given ability to run faster than any other horse on the planet, he had it all. At 8, 10 or 12 furlongs, on soft or firm ground and everything in between, on flat or undulating tracks, in Ireland, England or France, Sea The Stars proved imperious. His remarkable trainer and ice-cool jockey did not foot a single toe out of step throughout his entire career and no pair of professionals in racing were more deserving of being trusted with a colt of Sea The Stars' ability. Considering the influence his half-brother Galileo has already had on the world on breeding, many will hope that Sea The Stars' impact in the world of horse racing has only just begun and he is set to be the most anticipated new recruit to the stallion ranks in many decade. If the whispers are to be believed, the great horse will stand at stud in Ireland, the country where he was bred and raised, the country where his trainer and jockey were born and ply their respective trades, and the country that has embraced him the most throughout his racing career. He enjoyed a truly unique and remarkable career in racing and one can only hope that his legacy will grow even more when his progeny begin to reach the racecourse in 2013.