Super Sea The Stars sails home in Derby
Dual Classic winner 'found it all so easy, almost too good,' says Kinane
Sunday 07 June 2009
There have lately been two approaches to the greatest prize on turf. Both have, apparently, been equally successful. John Oxx and Aidan O'Brien, two of the pre- eminent Irish trainers of the modern era, have now each won the Derby twice. But perhaps proportional representation should be taken into account – Oxx has saddled three runners in total, his countryman 41.
In yesterday's 230th edition of the great race, it was Sea The Stars who gave Oxx, who obviously takes precision aim through his sights when targeting such a prize, his second success, after Sinndar's nine years ago. With splendid juxtaposition, the colt was followed in by four of O'Brien's scattergun bullets, in order Fame And Glory, Masterofthehorse, Rip Van Winkle and Golden Sword.
Sea The Stars, an 11-4 chance, put several notches in the record books, most notably as the first 2,000 Guineas winner to succeed here since Nashwan 20 years ago. The two tests – the first over a straight mile, yesterday's over a switchback mile and a half – ask markedly different questions and although Sea The Stars' class was not in doubt after his performance on the Rowley Mile, his stamina for an extra four furlongs was.
The handsome bay refuted his doubters – who had, by his own frequent admission, included Oxx – in resounding style. Always close to the pace and galloping with nonchalant ease, he took the lead under canny veteran Mick Kinane a furlong from the line and powered home a length and three-quarters in front of Fame And Glory, who had displaced him as favourite during the morning.
It was a third Derby, after Commander In Chief and Galileo, and a 10th English Classic for Kinane. "He just found it all so easy," said the Irishman. "It was almost too good, almost as if he was in slow motion. He has serious pace and so much class, and the combination carries him through."
Sea The Stars' life has been charmed almost from the start. He is beautifully-bred; his sire Cape Cross was a top-class miler and his dam Urban Sea not only won an Arc in her racing days, but also produced the 2001 Derby hero Galileo. Even as a young horse his manners were perfect, a trait he continued to display in the preliminaries here. On an occasion when several of his rivals became restive and nervously sweaty despite the grey chill of the afternoon he maintained his aplomb and composure.
"He was a beautiful yearling," said Oxx. "He just did everything right from the word go. Some horses look good and then start to let you down, but he never has, in any aspect of his job. And now he's taken us to the top of the ladder. I wasn't actually anxious at any time during the race because I could see he was going so well. He just cruised down the hill, and I could see Mick was waiting to pounce at any time that suited him."
Sea The Stars, who earned £709,625 here, was never worse than fourth during the race, as the O'Brien pair Golden Sword and Age Of Aquarius took the field along and, in the early stages, was galloping almost too exuberantly. "He hit the gate running," said Kinane, "and over-raced a bit at first; they just weren't going quick enough for him.
"I knew I wasn't going to get any dead wood coming back at me, as those were good horses in front, and I didn't want them getting away from me, so I was happy to sit close to the pace. I was always ideally placed and able to ride my own race, which was to not worry about what was happening behind and to put his head in front at the furlong marker. I knew nothing would beat me for pace from there."
Such is the tendency in this sport to flick immediately from the present to the future that almost as soon as Sea The Stars, who runs in the colours of the Hong Kong-based Tsui family, passed the post in his imperious triumph, thoughts turned to Doncaster in September, and the St Leger.
Oxx, 58, is of a generation who would appreciate a tilt at the Triple Crown, last won by Nijinsky in 1970, but also enough of a businessman to realise the negative effect of the longest and oldest Classic on a potential stallion's CV. "I think the St Leger might be a bridge too far for this fellow," he said. "After all, we were worried about his stamina coming here. He'll go for the Irish Derby, but I feel 10 furlongs may be his optimum trip."
Kinane, who turns 50 in a fortnight, was having his 21st ride in the Derby, having finished second on Carlingford Castle at his first attempt 26 years ago. His win on Galileo came for O'Brien, before that particular relationship broke up.
In Oxx, he has found a perfect late-career foil. "I'm probably running out of chances now," he said, "but this horse has given me a new lease of life. And it's easy to stay sharp if the horses around you are."
The O'Brien quartet who came in second, third, fourth and fifth finished virtually in line abreast, with a neck, a nose and a short-head between them. "Mine went very well, and kept going very well," said Seamus Heffernan, on 9-4 favourite Fame And Glory. "But the winner quickened, and mine didn't."
The Derby, sponsored by Investec for the first time, was seven minutes late off, hardly a positive image. The delay was largely due to the late arrival in the parade ring of the Ballydoyle contingent. O'Brien was fined a paltry £140 per horse for the transgression.
With six lengths back to the first of the home-trained runners, the Brian Meehan-trained Crowded House, it was only the fourth clean sweep for foreign raiders (who made up all bar four of the field of 12) and the first since Nijinsky led home Gyr and Stintino.
Yesterday's result, with the first two favourites in the first two places, did perhaps not take much prognostication, but could be counted a triumph for mystics of any persuasion. It is not too hard to see a star in the year of the Oxx.
The first four
1. Sea The Stars (11-4) ridden by Mick Kinane, trained by John Oxx
2. Fame And Glory (9-4 fav) Seamus Heffernan, Aidan O'Brien
3. Masterofthehorse (16-1) Richard Hughes, Aidan O'Brien
4. Rip Van Winkle (6-1) Johnny Murtagh, Aidan O'Brien
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