Genes and genius: a day to praise the greatest horseman
Sunday 07 June 2009
Before the race, destiny had seemed to intimate itself in the black armbands worn by the jockeys. In the event, however, much the most pertinent clue proved to have been far less cryptic. In fact, it was right there on the rostrum.
The owner of Sea The Stars, Christopher Tsui, was presented with a bronze of Arthur Budgett and his two Derby winners. Budgett bred, owned and trained Blakeney to win in 1969 – and then returned four years later with the colt's half-brother, Morston. And now a pair of Derby winners has once again been foaled from the same mare. Sea The Stars is a son of Urban Sea, herself the coruscating winner of no less a prize than the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in 1993, and when she retired to stud her third tryst was with the champion stallion, Sadler's Wells. The result was Galileo, who ran away with the 2001 Derby and has now succeeded his own sire as the bedrock of the Coolmore Stud. Urban Sea died only in March, as a result of complications after foaling one last, precious colt, but her status as one of the great thoroughbred matriarchs is now guaranteed.
It was another, more recent loss, and a still greater legacy, that had deceived many of us into reading a different constellation from Sea The Stars. Vincent (MV) O'Brien, trainer of six Derby winners and founder of the Ballydoyle-Coolmore empire, died only on Monday, at the age of the 92. And no fewer than six of the runners yesterday – half the field – represented his successor and namesake, Aidan O'Brien.
In the event, they managed second, third, fourth and fifth. But while it will scarcely seem so just yet, for the authors of so bittersweet an achievement, even the solitary champion who thwarted this cavalry has vindicated the project.
This was one Derby that renewed a sense of order in the aspirations of horsemen. With the sort of genius celebrated on the eve of the meeting – at O'Brien's funeral in Newbridge on Thursday – they can craft the genes of champions into something no less coherent than did Philip Blacker, when he sculpted the Investec Derby trophy.
All the big spenders in bloodstock have made staggeringly expensive mistakes under the pressure of an auctioneer's gavel. Tempting conformation and pedigree has made a serpent of many a yearling. But when a family tree becomes as laden with golden fruit as the one that unites Galileo and Sea The Stars, then at least you have both parts of the bargain. You may have lost your innocence, but at least you have found the tree of knowledge as well.
Budgett was here in person, the official guest of honour indeed, and a spry witness to the reiteration of these basic tenets. He was born 10 months earlier than MV and is still playing a round of golf every week. And if it was Budgett who happened to set the template for this race, he did not do so alone. When he arranged those momentous matings for Windmill Girl, herself second in the Oaks here, he was persevering along the same path as many who had gone before, and many who now follow him. The same path as MV, and the same as the modern masters, men like Michael Kinane, the veteran jockey of Sea The Stars and already the breeder of a Derby winner himself, or Aidan O'Brien, still only 39, 10 years his junior. They all come here as artists, but they share a science, too.
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