Chris McGrath: Calls for sensational Sea The Stars to duck Classic are well wide of the mark
Saturday 10 October 2009
Let's get this straight. Here we have a colt so powerful that he might be fed by Getafix, the druid who brews the magic potion for Asterix and his fellow Gauls. And all people can do is fret that the sky might fall on his head.
The next person who tells me that Sea The Stars should not be sent to the Breeders' Cup had better be John Oxx himself. Otherwise I may not be responsible for my actions.
Unfortunately, Oxx does not have the luxury of absolving himself that way. Indeed, after that epoch-making performance in Paris last Sunday, his next action carries a still greater burden of responsibility.
The way this wise and gentle man has campaigned Sea The Stars to date means that it would be impertinent to grumble, should he finally resolve that discretion is the better part of valour. But that does not explain why so many others are being mysteriously precious on his behalf.
What, they ask, if Sea The Stars were to go to California – and something happened? Well, that's a pretty safe bet. Something would happen, all right. As happenings go, you couldn't really ask for more than one of the most momentous races in Turf history. And that is exactly what you would get.
For Oxx, poor fellow, has more than one responsibility here. As he rightly reiterates, his initial priority must be Sea The Stars himself. He could not "do the wrong thing by the horse". Fair enough. No problem with that, no sir.
But Oxx has already marvelled that Sea The Stars is in better shape than ever. Before the Arc, he felt the same sort of historic reservations, bequeathed by the failures of past champions, as he now admits in contemplating California. But every time he saw the sheer bloom in the colt, all doubt was stifled. Michael Kinane, his jockey, asserts that Sea The Stars has only now reached the peak of his powers.
As Oxx said here, a week ago, that is what makes the best better – the way Sea The Stars can thrive, mentally and physically, on the demands that excoriate lesser talents. With that in mind, let's just consider what is supposed to be so "unfair" about sending him to Santa Anita.
It is too glib to dredge up the memory of Dancing Brave, whose failure at the same track belongs to a Triassic period in international racing. Sea The Stars has contested six Group One races, without a break. And exactly the same was true, last year, of Henrythenavigator, before he ran the race of his life in the Classic. Second, that is, to Raven's Pass – who had run seven times without a break (albeit only five Group Ones). Anyone who saw these two slug it out at Goodwood, in high summer last year, has to explain why endeavours at Santa Anita should be beyond a horse who has barely felt the whip in his life.
If you instead prefer to exhume the carcass of poor George Washington, moreover, you actually turn the moral imperatives in favour of running Sea The Stars.
For the loss of George Washington, in a vile slop at Monmouth Park, was one of several grotesque accidents that shocked American conservatives into acknowledging the need for the sort of synthetic surface introduced at Santa Anita. It is only the coincidence that the Breeders' Cup comes to the same venue, for the second year in a row, that makes it a remotely palatable project for Sea The Stars. In 2010 it is back on dirt, in Louisville, where it would never have been remotely entertained.
This process of integration was first embraced, against colossal vested interests, by American visionaries; and then by the trainers who favoured the Classic, for Raven's Pass and Henrythenavigator, over the Mile on turf. Back in fourth last year, however, was Curlin, whose connections are so disgusted that the Classic will again be run on "plastic" that they have vowed to keep away their outstanding filly, Rachel Alexandra.
In that context, Oxx might sense a responsibility to the future of the sport. The Breeders' Cup already lacks one marquee name; to miss this one, too, would be poor reward for its wholesome renewal.
Some people say Sea The Stars has nothing left to prove. But that's pretty insulting, whether to the Americans or the intelligence. For if you are so worried about a 6,000-mile journey; about clipping a winter coat in 90 degrees of heat; about the colt who gave him the toughest race of his season at Sandown; and about meeting new, indigenous rivals, including the unbeaten Zenyatta, on a new surface; then how could this horse not prove himself more wonderful still?
By the same token, posterity would not think one jot less of Sea The Stars should he happen to falter. Everyone laments the brevity of a Flat champion's career, yet now they want to rush him to the fire escape.
Sea The Stars is being treated as near divine; certainly as sacrosanct. But much theology is predicated on the sacrifice of the immaculate, of the divine embracing mortality for a noble cause. Horses get hurt in races, but they get hurt in paddocks, too. Let the sky fall on his head. It is all the Gauls feared. But at worst they would have seen the stars.
Henderson back in Hunt at right time
Whatever the merits of his punishment for a positive drugs test, even Nicky Henderson will acknowledge that his suspension could not have been timed more conveniently. Never much of a man for summer jumping, the Seven Barrows trainer ends his three-month exile with a runner in the bumper at Ffos Las tomorrow – just as the National Hunt season begins to take shape.
Today's card at Chepstow has long been cherished as something of a curtain-raiser, not least by Paul Nicholls who saddled four winners there last year. Sadly it is nowadays a victim of the BBC's savage neglect of the sport, but for those more interested Any Given Day (4.10) looks eligible for its most valuable prize. Though beaten for the first time over hurdles at Market Rasen last time, he produced his best form yet in only just going down to a well-treated rival.
Channel 4 faithfully sends cameras to both Ascot and York, though Kieren Fallon will be found at neither. He has gone to Santa Anita for the weekend, to ride Gitano Hernando for the adventurous young Newmarket trainer, Marco Botti, against no less a horse than Mine That Bird, the Kentucky Derby winner.
Class Is Class (3.30) deserves perseverance in the big handicap at Ascot, having been caught out by a drop back in trip last time, while Theola (2.40) looks the best televised opportunity at York, being an unexposed young stayer who summoned grimly on her stamina reserves at Pontefract last time.
Scarab (5.30 York) Last on his debut for this stable, but showed up well before his seven-month absence told, and may not have stayed the longer distance. Drops back in trip here and, gelded during his summer off, can resume the promise he has offered.
Vimiero (4.05 Ascot) The only maiden in the field but that may be reflected in the odds, and he could hardly have shaped better than on his debut at Newbury.
*One to watch
Tabaran (Mrs A M Thorpe) has joined a stable with a record of upgrading new recruits, and nearly struck at the first attempt when a gamble was narrowly foiled at Exeter during the week.
*Where the money's going
French raider Never On Sunday is 7-1 from 9-1 with William Hill for the Emirates Airline Champion Stakes at Newmarket next Saturday.
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