The magnitude of Sea The Stars' task yesterday was such that only four horses had ever previously completed it. But the effortless insouciance with which the handsome bay colt added the Eclipse to his 2,000 Guineas and Derby victories would surely have Nashwan, Blue Peter, Diamond Jubilee and Flying Fox bowing their heads in ready welcome to the fifth member of an exclusive club.
Sea The Stars, trained by John Oxx in Co Kildare, had already established his brilliance by becoming the first since Nashwan 20 years ago to take the two Classics, the first over a mile, the second a mile and a half. The three-year-old's latest challenge was to drop back to the intermediate distance of 10 furlongs and face older horses in the first elite inter-generation clash of the season.
As the pacemakers – Lang Shining, for Conduit and Set Sail, for Rip Van Winkle – set furious fractions up front, Sea The Stars settled amenably mid-field, the picture of controlled power under Mick Kinane.
As the field turned into the straight to face the testing Sandown climb to the finish, it was apparent that the Derby hero was travelling infinitely more easily and more purposefully than any of his nine rivals, to the extent that his trademark change of gear took him to the front fully two furlongs out. This was sooner than ideal, exposing him as a target for most of the home straight but in truth there was little the rider could do to contain his mount's sheer class.
The attack, a furlong out, came from his contemporary Rip Van Winkle, but the Ballydoyle raider's thrust looked meaningful for a few strides only; Kinane had to issue only a couple of reminders to his idling partner to produce another surge of acceleration.
"He is just so quick, gets into his stride straight from the stalls," said the 50-year-old jockey, "and although I maybe hit the front too soon today, it was hard for me to stop him. I was hoping to get taken along to the furlong marker – that's the place to quicken and it doesn't give him time to start dossing in front as he tends to do.
"But when the second horse came to me, mine just picked up again. Because he does only what he has to he'll never win by much. But you just don't get many like him too often." No indeed. Before Nashwan, the top-level treble was achieved in 1939, 1900 and 1899.
Sea The Stars was the third Derby winner in five years to contest the Coral-sponsored £500,000 showpiece, going one better than Motivator and Authorized. His winning margin was only a length, but a comfortable one, and the two three-year-olds drew four-and-a-half lengths clear of the best four-year-old, the confirmed stayer Conduit.
In the preliminaries, and afterwards, Sea The Stars kept his cool on a sticky afternoon. Not so his Hong Kong-based owner Christopher Tsui who, overcome by heat and emotion, fainted shortly after his champion passed the post. He quickly recovered.
Sea The Stars has the step back up to 12 furlongs in the King George at Ascot later this month as a possible next option before the valuable autumn programme. "I don't think he has a best distance," said Oxx, "he can do them all. It is very, very rare you get a horse with all the qualities. For 19 days out of 20 you say to yourself why train racehorses, why not do something easier. But a horse like him and days like today are what keeps you doing it."