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

Nap

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
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
News
Elton John and David Furnish will marry on 21 December 2014
people
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
News
Stacey Dooley was the only woman to be nominated in last month’s Grierson awards
mediaClare Balding and Davina McCall among those overlooked for Grierson awards
Voices
Joseph Kynaston Reeves arguing with Russell Brand outside the RBS’s London offices on Friday
voicesDJ Taylor: The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a worker's rant to Russell Brand
News
Twitchers see things differently, depending on their gender
scienceNew study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
News
i100
News
Xander van der Burgt, at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
scienceA Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
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
and  

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY - An outstanding high level opportunity...

Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - London

Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NICHE CITY FIRM - We are making a disc...

Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - London

Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NICHE CITY FIRM - We are making a disc...

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick