Sea's show of strength weakens the reformers
The racing calendar has evolved haphazardly but still provides cherished test
Monday 08 June 2009
There are those who view the crossroads now facing its latest champion as itself a deficiency in the sport. But they need to get their noses out of the atlas and admire the scenery.
John Oxx, the mild, clerical figure whose inner fervour has unmistakably been vested in the brilliance and virility of the 230th Derby winner, Sea The Stars, was yesterday still contemplating a variety of possible targets for the colt's next appearance. Most obviously there is the Irish Derby but Oxx wryly notes that his home county of Kildare has not offered the dry conditions required by this colt for "two and a half years". An alternative, six days later on July 4, would be the Coral-Eclipse Stakes at Sandown. Then there all manner of options for the second half of the season.
Some misguided reformers will tell you that a programme should be contrived that leaves Oxx and his patrons little choice in the matter. That big races can be manipulated towards some kind of inexorable narrative momentum. Something, in other words, along the lines of the American Triple Crown.
But the whole point is that such an institution cannot be fabricated overnight. The Belmont Stakes, its final leg, was staged for a 141st time just a few hours after Sea The Stars passed the post on Saturday, when the only available "Triple Crown" beckoned Calvin Borel. He had ridden Mine That Bird to win the Kentucky Derby, before deserting him to take the Preakness Stakes on Rachel Alexandra. In her absence, Borel switched back to Mine That Bird but had to settle for third behind Summer Bird.
America's craving for a 12th Triple Crown winner meanwhile extends into a 32nd year. You hear sacrilegious proposals over there, too, to make the challenge less exacting. But in recent seasons a series of near-misses have reiterated its essential feasibility, and its value as an unchanging yardstick.
In becoming the first in two decades to win both the 2,000 Guineas and the Derby, Sea The Stars has performed a very similar service here. After all, while none since Nashwan had completed the double, two of the three previous Derby winners, Sir Percy and New Approach, had finished second over the mile at Newmarket.
The priorities of trainers, owners and above all commercial breeders bob flimsily up and down on the fitful tides of fashion but the lessons learned over centuries abide. The racing calendar evolved in a haphazard way, often in obedience to the peregrinations of a forgotten aristocracy, but has ended up providing tests that are both cherished and instructive.
In the old days, the prospect of a British Triple Crown would have tempted Sea The Stars towards the St Leger, which has admittedly flirted with obsolescence. But while Oxx acknowledges that another two furlongs would be "a bridge too far" for a son of Cape Cross, he insists that the time will come when even so valuable a stallion prospect will again proceed to Doncaster in September.
His logic is that stallions like Galileo have restored stamina to commercial respectability. Galileo, of course, is the half-brother to Sea The Stars who gave their dam, Urban Sea, a first Derby winner in 2001 – just one of the countless big wins that fortified the belief and composure of Michael Kinane on Saturday.
The genes of Cape Cross had caused doubt about the stamina of Sea The Stars, but none coloured Kinane's riding. True, the pace was less searching than anticipated, and certainly things might have been different had rainstorms not skirted the race. To that extent, the sport has been blessed by fate.
Above all, however, this was a day that endorsed less random influences.
Breeders persevere along a path that often seems decreed by madness, but here was vindication for their methods.
For two half-brothers to win the Derby – a deed happily preserved in the bronze presented to the winning owner, depicting Arthur Budgett with Blakeney (1969) and Morston (1973) – will only embolden Sheikh Mohammed in the fortunes he is spending on young stallions to take on Galileo.
He has just acquired another in Medaglia d'Oro, sire of Rachel Alexandra, and presumably he will be doing his utmost to get his hands on Sea The Stars himself, in time. It is intriguing that the Tsui family did not keep sending Urban Sea back to Coolmore Stud, home of the Sheikh's big rivals, after producing Galileo from a tryst with Sadler's Wells there.
The Coolmore stable, Ballydoyle, accounted for half the Derby field – including second, third, fourth and fifth. Shortly before the race, the odds against Fame And Glory were nearly halved by a gamble that seemed to end all equivocation about the principal Ballydoyle hope. But if he was unlucky to bump into a throwback, the wider industry can comfort itself with a regeneration.
The Derby: Where they finished
*3.45 Epsom, Saturday (1m 4f )
1. SEA THE STARS......... M J Kinane 11-4
2. Fame And Glory......... J A Heffernan 9-4 fav
3. Masterofthehorse......... R Hughes 16-1
Also ran: 6-1 Rip Van Winkle (4th), 7-1 Black Bear Island (10th), 8-1 Gan Amhras (11th), 20-1 Crowded House (6th), 25-1 Golden Sword (5th), 25-1 Age Of Aquarius (7th), 28-1 Kite Wood (9th), 33-1 Debussy (8th), 40-1 Montaff (12th). NR South Easter. 12 ran.
1¾l, nk, ns, shd, 6l. (J Oxx (Rep of Irl)). Tote: £3.40; £1.50, £1.50, £5.00. Exacta: £11.20. CSF: £8.80. Trifecta: £228.30.
Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes
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