Stars denied last chance to shine

The retirement of a champion was met with both relief and regret yesterday, writes Chris McGrath

It is just as well that the decision was vested in one of the few horsemen to command unanimous respect in a community chronically riven by opinion. Otherwise, the news yesterday that Sea The Stars has been retired to stud might have been received not just with relief – as it was, however mysteriously, in some places – or dismay – as it certainly was, in many others – but with something approaching bitterness.

The verdict of John Oxx, however, could always be accepted with equanimity. In supervising one of the outstanding careers in Turf history, his temperate and reflective nature served as the perfect foil to the flamboyance of Sea The Stars himself. At the same time, moreover, there was never anything remotely conservative about the way Oxx campaigned the colt. He ran him month by month, against anyone who cared to take him on, and Sea The Stars duly became the first horse to win the 2,000 Guineas, Derby and Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in one season. The whole world was able to see this champion, this lodestar of the breed, in all his unfettered glory.

Except not quite the whole world. Everyone was soon reconciled to the reality that Sea The Stars would not continue racing next season, with a bewildering fortune awaiting his owners in his next career. But many had clung to the hope he might embrace one last challenge. After crowning his immaculate European campaign in the Arc, 10 days ago, his only remaining option was the Breeders' Cup Classic, the most valuable prize in America, at Santa Anita next month.

Admittedly, the portents were always discouraging. Oxx conceded that Sea The Stars had absorbed his superlative performance in Paris with the same insouciance as he had five previous championship races this season. He was, in fact, in better physical shape than ever. None the less his trainer's immediate instinct was that even so supreme an athlete should not be asked to raise his game anew in November, 6,000 miles away in 90 degrees of heat, having been galloping across the dewy plain of Co Kildare in early spring.

However dispiriting, then, it was not at all surprising when Oxx announced the outcome of his discussions with Christopher Tsui, whose family own the colt. "He has had a long season and been in regular fast work from 3 March, with his final workout on 2 October," Oxx said. "He has been in intensive training for seven months, with only a three-week break after the Eclipse Stakes at the beginning of July. We feel it is unfair to keep him going any further, given his unprecedented record of achievement in the last six months."

Sea The Stars was born with many advantages, as a son of another Arc winner in Urban Sea, who had already produced a brilliant Derby winner in Galileo. But he certainly owed the fulfilment of his potential to the forbearance of his trainer, who resisted any temptation to push too many buttons during his juvenile season. In turn, Oxx felt that Sea The Stars had an uncommon sense of his own destiny. On the eve of the Arc, Oxx gave this newspaper a fascinating insight into the colt's instincts, appetite and outlook as a natural "pack leader".

The retrospective he offered yesterday, however, concentrated on his sheer athleticism. "He has tremendous cruising speed," Oxx said. "Ballydoyle and Aidan O'Brien tried their best to make it tough for him, with pacemakers, but they could never get him off the bridle. He can just travel off any pace, totally at ease, and then quicken up. I suppose he's got great heart and lungs, but he's got this beautiful balance and lovely stride. Then there is his temperament, and it is courage and temperament that bring the good horses to a different level."

If his retirement was to be received with resignation anywhere, it was surely at the yearling sales in Newmarket. On the face of it, you might imagine those doing business here to be hopeless romantics, spending so much money on goofy animals that have yet to wear a saddle, in the fond hope that they might stumble across another Sea The Stars. But they all know the odds against that, and bloodstock professionals are essentially a hard-nosed, ruthlessly pragmatic bunch. What is more, they want to see whether Sea The Stars can become the same sort of Titan, at stud, as he was on the racecourse.

Even so, plenty of experienced voices shared a hint of melancholy in reflecting on the news. "It's sad," one trainer said. "Sad for racing. And sad for the horse. He would have won, but it wouldn't have mattered to anyone if he didn't. He'll be a long time retired, and a longer time dead."

Others identified the European champion's absence as a brutal blow for the Breeders' Cup, already smarting from the defection of the outstanding American filly, Rachel Alexandra. By a cruel irony, her connections have elected to avoid Santa Anita because the traditional dirt track has been replaced by a synthetic surface, generally considered to be much safer, but also more congenial to European horses, accustomed to racing on turf.

Ted Walsh, one of the most experienced horsemen in Ireland, lives just down the road from Oxx's yard on the Curragh. "I thought he'd go," Walsh admitted. "He has worked on a very similar surface at home 100 times. It's a great shame for the Breeders' Cup. He's as good as we've seen. His acceleration was something else – like having some fella sitting behind you in traffic, and he's in some kind of souped-up car, and whoosh! He's gone. And you hardly saw him move. A lot of the good horses can lengthen, but this horse had the 0 to 60 [mph]. He could get himself out of a tight corner in a heartbeat. I'd have loved to see him at the Breeders'. Still, at least we all enjoyed him while we had him."

Chris McGrath's Nap

Charlie Delta (9.20 Kempton) Well drawn, well handicapped and has not been getting home over longer trips.

£40m per year? Sea The Stars' stud potential

Sea The Stars, measured by pedigree, physique, temperament and unprecedented racecourse achievement, is the most priceless stud prospect in history.

* Modern veterinary skills and commercial practice mean that stallions can comfortably cover as many as 200 mares in a year.

* Sadler's Wells, 14 times Europe's champion stallion, is said to have commanded £200,000 per mare in his heyday.

* If the Tsui family, who own Sea The Stars, are prepared to sell him, they can name their price. Sheikh Mohammed is unlikely to hesitate if offered the chance to make him the first stallion sold for $100m (£63m).

* Most industry professionals hope the Tsui family stand him on neutral ground. Coolmore and the Maktoum brothers do not support each other's stallions and breeders want both sides for Sea The Stars' foals.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Club legend Paul Scholes is scared United could disappear into 'the wilderness'
Life and Style
food + drink
Malky Mackay salutes the Cardiff fans after the 3-1 defeat at Liverpool on Sunday
footballFormer Cardiff boss accused of sending homophobic, racist and messages
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Amis: Taken to task over rash decisions and ill-judged statements
booksThe Zone of Interest just doesn't work, says James Runcie
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Commercial IT Solicitor - London

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: Commercial IT Solicitor - London We h...

Business Analyst / Project Manager - Financial Services

£40000 - £45000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: One of the mos...

Lead Business Analyst - Banking - London - £585

£525 - £585 per day: Orgtel: Lead Business Analyst - Investment Banking - Lond...

Service Desk Analyst- Desktop Support, Helpdesk, ITIL

£20000 - £27000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home