Talent out of the ordinary comes in many packages and for straightforward, clear-eyed flawlessness look no further than the season's champion horse, Sea The Stars. The three-year-old colt continued his imperious progress yesterday with perhaps his most scintillating display yet as he put two old rivals to the sword in the Irish Champion Stakes.
The Leopardstown contest was Aidan O'Brien's latest attempt to topple Sea The Stars, previously winner of the 2,000 Guineas, Derby, Eclipse Stakes and International. In a field of nine he fielded five, headed by Fame And Glory, who ran away with the Irish Derby after his second at Epsom, and Mastercraftsman, who had taken the peerless one to a length at York 18 days previously.
With the ground soft enough to have made Sea The Stars' participation an eleventh-hour decision by trainer John Oxx, it seemed that O'Brien's only hope was to make the 10 furlongs as gruelling a test as possible. Two of Ballydoyle's hares, Set Sail and Rockhampton, set off at such a rate that the stable's third pacemaker, Grand Ducal, could never play his part.
Going to the home turn Set Sail still held the call, followed by Mastercraftsman and Fame And Glory with Mick Kinane slipstreaming the trio on Sea The Stars. Two furlongs out Johnny Murtagh committed Fame And Glory to the run for home, sweeping past Mastercraftsman with the minimum of fuss. But being Ballydoyle's best is, this season, not enough.
A furlong from the line Sea The Stars lengthened his mighty stride, drew alongside Fame And Glory and then majestically and effortlessly away for a two and a half-length success, the widest winning margin of the year for the lazy son of Cape Cross.
"He's still improving," said an awed Kinane. " Johnny made the jump going to the straight, and tried to get first run, and I was happy to let him do that. I could have gone three out, I just didn't want to."
After a week in which every millimetre of rainfall was monitored, Oxx gave the go-ahead for the showdown, Sea The Stars' final appearance before his home crowd, yesterday morning. "We'd have been disappointed not to run him," he said. "He was at the top of his form, heavier than he's ever been at any stage of his career. I wasn't so much amazed he won, but that he bothered winning by more than a length. "
Suitable going allowing, Sea The Stars will face Fame And Glory again in the Arc. "Sea The Stars is a great horse," conceded O'Brien, "but ours was coming off a break and will be back up in trip next time."
For those who prefer their champions more complex, Kieren Fallon continued his quest for the first winner of the second phase of his sometimes-glittering, often-turbulent career here at Haydock during the afternoon and the evening at Wolverhampton. He left the Lancashire venue empty-handed but notched that pressure-removing victory on Our Kes underneath West Midlands floodlights.
He said: "I had some good rides but at least now I can relax and ride proper races. It is a confidence thing – if you are not riding winners and have not done for the last couple of years, then you don't have the confidence but hopefully it will build from here."
But the furore surrounding his comeback after an 18-month ban for cocaine abuse was put in perspective in the most tragic of circumstances by the news of the death overnight in a fire of two bright young talents. Teenage jockeys Jamie Kyne, one of the apprentice finds of the season, and Jan Wilson were killed in a blaze in a block of flats near the Yorkshire racing town of Malton. Their weighing room colleagues wore black armbands yesterday.
The afternoon's feature here, the Betfred Sprint Cup, went to 14-1 shot Regal Parade, who swooped late and fast under trainer Dandy Nicholls' son Adrian to thwart 100-30 favourite by half a length.
The result of the Group One six-furlong dash served to confirm that this season's sprint division is decidedly non-vintage, even given that the winner, a five-year-old gelding, is a progressive type. He did, however, give Nicholls jr his first victory at the top level. "I've been waiting a long time for it," said the rider, "and it was great to do it for my old man."
Fleeting Spirit travelled best of all in the closing stages until her interrupted preparation told. "On better ground, and next time," said trainer Jeremy Noseda, "it may be a different story." As with Sea The Stars, her trip to Longchamp next month – in her case for the Prix de l'Abbaye – will be ground-dependent, then she, to, will be off to the Breeders' Cup.