Breeders' Cup may be a trip too far for champion

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The Independent Online

When Michael Kinane rode Sea The Stars into the winner's enclosure, an Irish tricolour over his shoulders, a din of euphoria and relief echoed among the plane trees. Willie Mullins, the champion jumps trainer of Ireland, appeared in the throng, smiling happily.

"I was more nervous watching that than watching one of my own," Mullins admitted. But when at last the colt was led away, the cheering suddenly acquired a desperate timbre. Never mind whether we might see his like again. Would we see Sea The Stars himself again?

John Oxx, his trainer, confirmed that the champion will almost certainly be at stud next year, leaving him only one possible swansong: the Breeders' Cup Classic, in California next month.

Immune as he is to any undue haste, Oxx said that there was no point pushing him for a judgement now, and that he would need to discuss the matter with the Tsui family, who own the colt. But the immediate signs were not too auspicious. Oxx reiterated that the colt has already soaked up an unprecedented sequence of big wins, month by month since the spring.

"We will see," Oxx said. "He has done a lot. The Breeders' Cup is 7 November, and I am not sure how we would all feel about that. We will let the dust settle, and now is not the time to make a decision. We will see how the horse is. To have got as far as the Arc is a lot to be thankful for."

Kinane, his jockey, meanwhile observed early traces of a winter coat in a colt who would have to withstand 90 degrees of heat in Santa Anita. On the other hand, he implied that Sea The Stars has only just reached his peak, following wins that include the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket, the Derby, The Coral-Eclipse, the Juddmonte International at York and the Irish Champion Stakes.

"That is probably as easy as he has won," Kinane said. "We probably got away with around 90 per cent at York, and he was fitter for the Irish Champion Stakes – but we were at our fittest today. Physically he has changed dramatically since May, and he is now a powerhouse.

"You have a big responsibility, as he is a very valuable horse. He is phenomenal and you want to keep him right, and would hate to do anything wrong by him.

"He had progressed, and stayed sound of mind and body. Living with him every day is a big deal, a big responsibility for John and everyone.

"He got warm today as he is getting his winter rug on. I don't know what John and the owners have in mind, but what he has achieved already is phenomenal. Does he need to achieve any more? I don't know."

Inevitably, the veteran jockey is now asking precisely the same question of himself. He admitted that the colt's advent had postponed his retirement, and that his departure might hasten it.

"If he hadn't arrived, then I would say that I wouldn't still be riding," Kinane said. "It has been great to dispel any ideas that people may have about you being too old, or not too old. If I want to continue, then I am not too old to ride. I haven't looked past this year yet. Today would be a great day to go out, but I have commitments for the year and I will see them out."

Suiting action to his words, Kinane promptly went out and won another Group One prize for Oxx on Alandi, showing the strength of a man half his years to get home in a photo. Back in third was Yeats, bringing down the curtain on a unique career of his own, spanning four Ascot Gold Cups. By then, however, a valedictory tone had already been set.