Sometimes, a good story will get in the way of the facts. But it did not take long for the return of Kieren Fallon to be placed in extreme perspective by the things that really bring everyone together – everyone from the two-bit horseplayers, to Fallon himself. For where would any of them be without the common craving for a champion like Sea The Stars? And how acutely, in turn, does this community sense the essential frivolity of its passions, when it comes to share grief as well?
For once, in discarding the script, thoroughbreds have given us cause to be grateful for their capricious ways. The idea was that Fallon would gild his return, after a three-year prohibition from these shores, by winning a Group One prize at Haydock on Saturday and then another, on Youmzain, in Germany yesterday.
In the event, the one winner Fallon has managed since his comeback, Our Kes at Wolverhampton on Saturday night, came in the most prosaic environment imaginable. And, by that stage, curiosity in his fortunes had been numbed by sudden tragedy and a guilty catharsis of joy.
The death of two apprentice jockeys in a fire near Malton – one of them, Jamie Kyne, needing no fulsome decorum to be identified as among the most promising in the land – might seem too harrowing to permit any kind of succour even in a performance like the one produced by Sea The Stars just a few hours later. But this was far too ghastly a waste to have any intelligible bearing on the trivial aspirations that gave purpose, however futile, to these brief lives.
It is a different story whenever life is lost in embracing some professional peril. In this instance, however, the stirring properties of an outstanding thoroughbred can only be measured against any other worldly satisfaction, brutally diminished by bereavement. And Sea The Stars must now be saluted as so rare a champion that he offers at least an illusion of dignity to the many dreams and endeavours sustaining the sport.
Yesterday, in fact, Timeform suggested that his achievement in the Tattersalls Millions Irish Champion Stakes has only been surpassed twice in the past four decades. Their provisional rating of 140 has been matched since 1970 only by Shergar, Dancing Brave and Dubai Millennium; and exceeded by just Mill Reef (141) and Brigadier Gerard (144).
Moreover in reeling off five consecutive Group One wins, Sea The Stars has never intimated that he might be approaching his limit. One, perfunctory slap from Michael Kinane was sufficient for him to see off his most competent challenger to date, Fame And Glory, by two and a half lengths – as big a margin as he has bothered to establish in his indolence once hitting the front.
Even as things stand, however, Timeform's Flat Editor believes that the colt has carved himself into the pantheon. "He should now be classed as one of the all-time greats," Jamie Lynch said. "Mastercraftsman (130) appears to have run his race in third, and there is also good reason for believing that Fame And Glory deserves a rating of 135, to be bracketed in the same league as Sinndar (134), Galileo (134) and St Jovite (135). The form of the race looks solid, and Sea The Stars again left the impression there could be an even better performance in him – if he ever comes up against something able to test him fully."
That seems a pretty remote contingency now, as he approaches the end of a campaign during which he has gone looking for every conceivable kind of trouble, and not taken a single punch. He is one of those horses whose consistency is no less suggestive of flair than his physique and acceleration. He is too immaculate for excuses.
John Oxx, his trainer, was doubtless wise to scratch him from his home Derby, fearing a brutish slog against this same Fame And Glory in soft ground. But that precedent made his appearance at Leopardstown on Saturday seem so unlikely that one Betfair punter got it into his head to lay Sea The Stars at 13.5-1 on Wednesday. But the track drained sufficiently for Oxx to seize this last chance to run the colt on home soil before his likely retirement.
Though he coped serenely with the softer conditions, testing ground over the longer trip would put the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in jeopardy. It would be nice to think that he could then extend his dominion to the Breeders' Cup, though Oxx is already talking anxiously about the demands of a long season to that point.
For now Sea The Stars is no better than 15-8 for the Arc with Coral, and certainly a wholly different calibre than Getaway, who restricted Youmzain (unsuited by the steady pace, according to Fallon) to third in the Grosser Preis von Baden. The Continent's other Group One prize yesterday did go to a British raider, however, Aqlaam's success in the Prix du Moulin reflecting well not only on his trainer, William Haggas, but above all on Goldikova, who thrashed him in Deauville last month.
Goldikova is certainly one of the best fillies of recent years; likewise, over the ocean, Rachel Alexandra, albeit she needed a pretty ugly drive to win a photo against older males in the Woodward Stakes at Saratoga on Saturday. Between them, with Sea The Stars, they have ensured the best of times – even in the worst of times.
Turf Account: Chris McGrath
Simple Rhythm (3.50 Folkestone)
Likely to be suited by the drop back to five furlongs, but hardly needs excuses on her form against a flourishing rival when second in a seller last time. Changed hands that day and can become yet another advertisement for her very able trainer.
Art Scholar (2.20 Folkestone)
Well backed before his debut at Bath and duly bolted up by five lengths, despite showing inexperience early. By an unfashionable stallion but essentially pretty well bred and already looks a real bargain.
One to Watch
Enact (Sir Michael Stoute) is blossoming now, impressive at Nottingham and then failing only narrowly over a seventh furlong at Salisbury the other day.
Where the Money's Going
Ballydoyle's Age Of Aquarius (11-4 from 3-1) and Changingoftheguard (5-1 from 6-1), are in demand with the sponsors for the Ladbrokes St Leger.