Racing fans did see stars

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The Independent Online

To have had one horse of genuinely superstar status to enjoy in one year is fortunate; to have had two might be considered felicitous. But 2009 will be remembered for a pair of stellar performers who blazed their meteoric deeds across the formbook: Sea The Stars on the Flat, and Kauto Star among steeplechasers. But if the appearance of two such paragons in different fields in the same 12 months should seem remarkable, think back.

Those before them whose place in history is supposedly inviolate, respectively Sea-Bird and Arkle, were also at their imperious best in the same year, 1965. Now, two more sublime talents have at least, at last, interrupted the hushed tones in which the old names are uttered.

The debate about the relative merit of elite performances which happen so many decades apart can never be properly resolved. But what is indisputable is that last year's heroes produced displays of neck-prickling, heart-pounding brilliance that verged on perfection.

Sea The Stars (and his unflappable trainer John Oxx) deserved every plaudit as he progressed unbeaten through six European Group One contests to the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. The 2,000 Guineas and Derby both marked the three-year-old as something way out of the ordinary but it was his finale at Longchamp, when he produced a stunning change of gear to burst clear of his rivals from a wholly unpromising position, that was astonishing.

The colt will shortly start his stud duties but Kauto Star is still around. The 10-year-old gelding, meticulously prepared by Paul Nicholls, produced a hard act to follow by becoming the first to regain a Cheltenham Gold Cup but did it with his solo tour de force for an unprecedented fourth successive King George VI Chase.

But in 2009 we were not just doubly blessed. Below the highest steps of the pantheon came an array of equine performances that would each have made any normal year: Yeats' record fourth Ascot Gold Cup; the exploits of North America's two wonder fillies Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra; Denman's terrific comeback in the Hennessy Gold Cup and, on the human front, jockey Tony McCoy's 3,000th winner and trainer Mark Johnson's breaching of the 200-winner barrier for the first time in Britain. Last year we really did see the stars.

Three to watch

St Nicholas Abbey Unbeaten Aidan O'Brien-trained colt, hot ante-post favourite for both the 2,000 Guineas and Derby.

Frederik Tylicki One of the brightest young talents in the Flat weighing room who looks sure to make the grade as a senior.

Tim Vaughan Rookie dual-purpose trainer whose impressive strike-rate is increasingly attracting attention.

Sue Montgomery

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