Stars outshines his ranking

Dominant Irish colt pays for conservative nature and extravagance of old system

An astronomer can quantify the distance between stars, or their relative angles, but he should not be expected to write a sonnet about them as well. That is not to say he will be immune to wonder. Sure enough, a panel of official handicappers yesterday urged "a more panoramic perspective" on the constellation that illuminated 2009 like few years in Turf history.

The World Thoroughbred Rankings give Sea The Stars a formal rating of 136, 6lbs ahead of Goldikova, the dual Breeders' Cup Mile winner. Rip Van Winkle and Fame And Glory, beaten repeatedly by Sea The Stars but Group One winners in their own right, are 129 and 128 respectively. Then come Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra, the outcome of whose duel for US Horse of the Year may or may not be anticipated by the verdict of those charged with assessing their form – who favour Zenyatta by 1lb.

In "a year of exceptional racehorses", the clear water dividing Sea The Stars from the rest might seem ample, but the international handicappers seemed reconciled to dissent. For no fewer than eight other champions have had a higher rating since the original International Classification in 1977. Nor has it always been marginal: Dancing Brave was rated fully 5lbs his superior in 1986; and Shergar finished on 140 in 1981. And yet plenty of people have been acclaiming Sea The Stars as the paragon of all time.

In an exculpatory "statement of handicapping practice", the panel fought back on two fronts. First, they distanced themselves from the early classifications, as limited in both rigour and range. Second, they reiterated that horses like Sea The Stars and Zenyatta make things harder by their habit of keeping something in reserve.

Sea The Stars could only warrant a higher rating with more extravagant winning margins, like Shergar; or by finding competition good enough to force him higher, like Dancing Brave. As it was, there were times when the Irish handicapper, Garry O'Gorman, found himself on the verge of panic.

"After Sea The Stars became the first horse in 20 years to win both the 2,000 Guineas and the Derby, I think his Epsom rating was only sixth best in the last 10 runnings," O'Gorman said. "I did say at the time that I found it very hard to see him being beaten again. But I was worried that there were no horses around to bring out of Sea The Stars how much he had in hand. We're relieved to have got him to 136."

O'Gorman doubts whether Dancing Brave would be rated 141 nowadays. Though he admittedly won a vintage Arc, he was generously allowed 7lbs for a length and a half. "Sea The Stars is rated on what he actually achieved," O'Gorman explained. "Now if Zarkava had stayed in training, or if Sea The Stars had gone to the Breeders' Cup and met Zenyatta, that would have been illuminating. You'd be taking them out of their shells that way. As it was, they were playing within themselves, not showing their full hand. And that is frustrating for us."

Nobody, then, can infer that Sea The Stars would necessarily have given Zenyatta an 8lbs hiding at Santa Anita. "We're not saying these ratings are a finite expression of their ability," O'Gorman said. "There's no way of knowing in real terms how they would have fared against each other. There has been a lot of discussion about how Sea The Stars compares with champions of yesteryear. But when it can be so difficult to compare horses even of the same generation, it puts that task into context."

Suffice to say, it was a vintage year – not least for fillies, who account for three of the top six on the planet. And at 124 the champion juvenile, St Nicholas Abbey is eclipsed only by New Approach, Johannesburg, Fasliyev and Xaar during the 14 years Matthew Tester has patrolled the division. "Authorized, Motivator and High Chaparral were rated either 116 or 117 after their wins in the Racing Post Trophy," Tester noted. "And all went on to win the Derby. In fact, with the exception of Teofilo, who did not race again, the last four champion juveniles all went on to win a Classic. So you have to think that St Nicholas Abbey is odds-on to do the same."

On the other hand, this time last year Sea The Stars was still bubbling under on 112. Regardless, on a day when jumps trainers find sanctuary in an all-bumper card at Southwell, it is certainly a prospect to warm the cockles.

2009 vintage: How they scored

2009 world rankings:

136 Sea The Stars

130 Goldikova

129 Rip Van Winkle

128 Fame And Glory

128 Zenyatta

127 Rachel Alexandra

125 Cavalryman

125 Conduit

125 Gio Ponti

125 Gladiatorus

125 Youmzain

Last 10 champions:

2009 Sea The Stars 136

2008 New Approach/Curlin 131

2007 Manduro 129

2006 Invasor 129

2005 Hurricane Run 130

2004 Ghostzapper 130

2003 Hawk Wing 133

2002 Rock Of Gibraltar 128

2001 Sakhee 133

2000 Dubai Millennium 134

2009 top juveniles:

124 St Nicholas Abbey

120 Passion For Gold

119 Jan Vermeer

118 Arcano

118 Canford Cliffs

118 Siyouni

118 Vale Of York

117 Awzaan

117 Beethoven

117 Pounced

117 Special Duty

Turf account: Chris McGrath


Novikov (3.35 Lingfield) Immediate improvement over jumps since joining his in-form trainer, notably in a handicap at Leicester last time, and returns to the Flat 3lbs lower than his last winning mark.

Next best

Borasco (2.25 Lingfield) Confirmed herself on a feasible rating nowadays when stepped up to this trip at Southwell last week, and might see things out better still on this sharper track.

One to watch

Silken Promise (W R Swinburn) has improved since being ridden positively in cheekpieces, second three times running, but the tactics were probably overdone on a tiring surface at Southwell last week.

Where the money's going

Punjabi, whose trainer admits himself desperate to find a new target following the abandonment of the Welsh Champion Hurdle, is 8-1 from 10-1 with Coral to defend his Cheltenham crown in March.

Suggested Topics
The sun rises over St Andrews golf course, but will it be a new dawn for the Royal and Ancient Golf Club?
sportAnd it's Yes to women (at the R&A)
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
tvSeries celebrates 20th anniversary
Yaya Touré (left) and Bayern Munich’s Spanish defender Juan Bernat
footballToure's lack of defensive work is big problem for City
voicesApple continually kill off smaller app developers, and that's no good for anyone
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

Wembley Stadium
footballNews follows deal with Germany
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Life and Style

ScienceGallery: Otherwise known as 'the best damn photos of space you'll see till 2015'
Life and Style

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

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

Volunteer your expertise as Trustee for The Society of Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Promising volunteer Trustee op...

Email Designer

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Psychology Teacher

£110 - £130 per hour: Randstad Education Reading: Psychology Teacher needed fo...

Food Technology Teacher

£85 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Randstad Education are curren...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week