A champion like Sea The Stars dismantles the dogma used to corral lesser horses. For whatever else might be understood by "class" in a thoroughbred, there are few better indices than versatility. As a winner of Classics over eight furlongs and now 12, this colt transcends routine calibration. Barely 24 hours after he won at Epsom on Saturday, however, another one drew attention to himself very much as a specialist.
The Prix du Jockey-Club forfeited its status as the "French Derby" in 2005, when the race was hacked back to ten-and-a-half furlongs. On Sunday, Le Havre duly became another miler to vindicate a gamble his connections would never have entertained over 12. Meanwhile the best "Derby" type in the field, a previously unbeaten colt named Beheshtam, had to settle for fourth.
Sea The Stars would doubtless have had them all for le petit dejeuner. Adaptable as he is, perhaps the Chantilly race is nowadays run over the distance that will prove his very best. Even at the elite level, however, few horses are quite so adaptable – and it may yet prove profitable to view the race from a more conservative stance.
Beheshtam is trained for the Aga Khan by Alain de Royer-Dupre, just like Zarkava, who last year proved just as immune to race distances as Sea The Stars. He might not match either of them for pure quality, but could yet develop into a more eligible wager than Sea The Stars to emulate Zarkava's success in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in October.
Easy winner of two starts over longer trips, Beheshtam was originally going to sit out Chantilly and wait for the Grand Prix de Paris at Longchamp next month. But connections eventually decided to try their luck, after all, and supplemented the son of Peintre Celebre – only to be caught out by a wide draw, and condemned to a late charge up the rail.
Though De Royer-Dupre is in the same, uncomplaining mould as John Oxx – supervisor not only of Sea The Stars, but of the Aga Khan's Irish string – he feels that Beheshtam "would have won" the race in its traditional guise. Christophe Soumillon, his jockey, in turn made the exasperated claim that the changed distance had now cost him three winners. One was certainly Hurricane Run, the subsequent Arc winner who finished so fast in 2005, and Soumillon said that Beheshtam is "definitely a serious prospect" for the Arc himself.
Oxx has already said that a relish for fast conditions might prompt him not to train Sea The Stars for the Arc, lest autumn ground left the colt primed for a race he cannot contest. Le Havre himself may well be aimed at the Emirates Champion Stakes at Newmarket instead, and likewise the runner-up, Fuisse. All in all, then, odds of 16-1 against Beheshtam for the Arc look pretty generous.
As for Le Havre, he brought the escalating success of his trainer, Jean-Claude Rouget, to a giddy new peak. His yard, in the foothills of the Pyrenees, has long been prolific – in the 1990s he set four consecutive French records for winners trained in a year, successively raising the bar from 178 to 242 – but now he is beginning to match quantity with quality. Le Havre, remarkably, was already his fourth Group One winner this year.
The other three will all seek to increase that tally during the coming days. Stacelita leads the home defence when Fantasia heads over for the Prix de Diane, back at Chantilly this Sunday. Then Rouget will proceed to Royal Ascot, running Elusive Wave in the Coronation Stakes and Never On Sunday in the Prince of Wales's Stakes.
His stable jockey, Christophe Lemaire, hopes that Le Havre could yet end up in the Arc. "The horse is very relaxed and settles very well," Lemaire said. "So for me the trip was not a problem, and I just tried to give him a nice race without any trouble. You know, when you have the class you can run any race."
Syllable for syllable, it might have been Michael Kinane talking about Sea The Stars. But even the best horses can disclose a weakness when others get to play to their strengths.
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