Majestic Sea surges to greater heights still
Mastercraftsman made to seem artisan as champion triumphs in record time
Wednesday 19 August 2009
The occasion was redolent of those great Victorian match races, not least the one staged on the Knavesmire itself in 1851, when The Flying Dutchman beat Voltigeur. Admittedly, Sea The Stars faced not just Mastercraftsman, but two inferiors who had escorted that colt from Ballydoyle, and would do so in the race itself as well. Moreover, Mastercraftsman could hardly pretend to any particular historic resonance. So far as Sea The Stars himself was concerned, however, the only compromises offered to mortality were the sort that made the moment still more precious.
There was, for instance, the humility of the post-race ritual he shared with every other beast here yesterday: the thirsty lapping at a bucket, the splash of water across his hot flanks. This champion struts around the parade ring with a swagger none could miss, but here he was in his animal essence, docile and relieved.
Then there was the tranquil mien of his trainer, John Oxx, who stood impassively among the rest of his party as Mastercraftsman asked their champion a more earnest question than most had anticipated in the Juddmonte International Stakes. They screamed; they jumped up and down; they implored Michael Kinane not to let Johnny Murtagh slip clear on Mastercraftsman. Throughout Oxx gazed towards the big screen with all the curiosity of a commuter waiting for a platform number. Only when Sea The Stars passed the post, a length in hand, did the Irishman permit himself a satisfied nod.
These images helped to remind you that even the most dependable and versatile brilliance, by which Sea The Stars has now won four consecutive Group One prizes, can never be merely metronomic.
In all other respects, however, this performance had epic properties, formally gilded by a new course record. Various dark strategies had been imagined on the basis that two of the four runners were in the service of Mastercraftsman, who was stepping up to 10 furlongs for the first time. In the event, both were ridden in conformity with the protest always made by their trainer, Aidan O'Brien, that Ballydoyle pacemakers are only ever deployed to guarantee a pace that rewards merit.
Murtagh sent his mount between the pair halfway up the straight, but Kinane followed him through so smoothly he felt the need to take another pull on the reins. Mastercraftsman is a pretty intransigent creature, however, and when Sea The Stars came off the bridle he initially seemed to be treading water. On Betfair, his in-running odds touched 3-1. Entering the final furlong, he was beginning to find his stride, and three slaps of the whip were sufficient to make sure.
In short, he had shadowed Mastercraftsman like a Guineas winner, and passed him like a Derby winner. He is both, of course, and the possibility remains that he will have one more start over 12 furlongs in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. But Oxx reiterated that his every movement would be governed by suitably fast going, starting with the Tattersalls Millions Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown.
That is only a fortnight away this Saturday, and he had a relatively exacting race. "He's had a run every month," Oxx said. "We're doing all the things most trainers wouldn't do. I was concerned about Mastercraftsman, because he always looked as though he wanted a mile and a quarter. And strange things can happen in small fields like this one. But this horse makes it easy for us. Two furlongs down, I was asking myself how far were we going to win, because he was just coasting. But he quickened so well that Mick took another pull just as Johnny kicked on. The other horse was no tourist, and he took it to him at the end."
Kinane made the intriguing suggestion that Sea The Stars had been given a little slack since his last run, and might even improve. Oxx perhaps feels a patriotic debt to the Leopardstown race, having scratched Sea The Stars from his home Derby, but final judgement on the colt's standing in the modern pantheon may come on the international stage, either at Longchamp, or in the Breeders' Cup Classic.
Traditionalists would have sooner seen him rescue the Triple Crown from obsolescence. Instead they ended the day looking at a Ladbrokes St Leger that had lost even more lustre in the abject rehearsals produced in the Great Voltigeur Stakes by Alwaary and Harbinger. The unexpected beneficiary at 28-1 was Monitor Closely.
Kite Wood is now the sponsors' 5-2 favourite for Doncaster, followed by Age Of Aquarius on 7-2 and Monitor Closely on 6-1. The latter's trainer, Peter Chapple-Hyam has reservations about the extra distance, but the same was true yesterday, when the colt's owner had to persuade him not to take on the pacemakers for third place – and £64,000 – in the big one. And, in fairness, a place on the podium next to so matchless a champion might well have seemed laurels enough.
Turf account: Chris McGrath
Class Is Class (1.45 York) Still raw when caught out by a sprint finish at the Newmarket July meeting, form that has worked out well, and this step up in distance can ensure that he comes of age today.
Shamwari Lodge (4.40 York) Pity she runs into another one who looked worth backing next time, Burgundy Ice, not least as she must prove her stamina for this extra furlong after that unlucky run at Goodwood last time. However, she remains far better than her present rating.
One to watch
Cascata (L M Cumani) returned from a break to be foiled only by a neck at Ripon on Saturday, six lengths clear of the third. She had lost her position in traffic on the turn, and will soon be building on the promise of her debut success during the winter.
Where the money's going
Elusive Pimpernel is 25-1 with Totesport for the Stan James 2,000 Guineas after his York win yesterday.
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