In the latest of our Horses That Made History series, we look back on the career of Sea-Bird who was Timeform’s highest-rated horse on the Flat until the mighty Frankel took over the top spot. This article was first published in the autumn of 2019.
There have been many superstars in the world of Flat racing since 1965, but only one thoroughbred has surpassed the Timeform rating of 145 given to Sea-Bird since then, none other than Frankel who achieved a Timeform rating of 147 in 2012.
Unlike Frankel, Sea-Bird was not expected to turn out to be one of the greats given his pedigree.
His sire was Dan Cupid whose career highlight was finishing runner-up in the French Derby and was a son of promising juvenile Native Dancer who was placed in a couple of Group Ones.
Sea-Bird’s dam was a daughter of Sickle by Phalaris and a granddaughter of the talented Gallant Fox which suggested there may have been some potential for Sea-Bird, but no one could have predicted his incredible achievements.
There were no great expectations for Dan Cupid’s stud career judged by his performances on the track, either - not until Sea-Bird came along, that is.
Sea-Bird, who was bred and owned by Jean Ternynck who tasted Classic glory with Cameree in the 1950 1,000 Guineas, was a bright chestnut who stood out from the crowd with his two hind stockings and white blaze on his face.
He was trained by Dan Cupid’s handler, Etienne Pollet, who had recorded four Classic victories before Sea-Bird joined his team and never had more than 50 horses in his stable.
Sea-Bird began his career in 1964 with a narrow victory in the Prix de Balison at Chantilly by a short neck before following up that win in the Criterium de Maisons-Laffitte by the same distance.
His final race as a two-year-old came in the Grand Critérium where he finished runner-up to stablemate Grey Dawn, the only defeat during his eight-race career.
Sea-Bird had started slowly on his first two starts and did so again in the Grand Critérium which arguably cost him the race as he was left with plenty to do under Maurice Larraun who never rode Sea-Bird again.
It remained to be seen which Classic connections were going to target the following year. Sea-Bird began his season with a victory in the Prix Greffulhe over ten and a half furlongs at Longchamp in April by three lengths before he was set a tough task in the Prix Lupin six weeks later.
However, he began to be billed as a superstar when scoring impressively by six lengths defeating the unbeaten Diatome, the winner of the Prix Noailles, and Cambremont, who had defeated Grey Dawn in the Poule d’Essai de Poulins on his previous start.
Pollet announced the Derby at Epsom was the plan for Sea-Bird afterwards and bundles of money came for the potential superstar which forced bookmakers to shorten him into favouritism for the 1m4f Classic.
22 runners lined up the Derby in 1965 and Sea-Bird, who was sent off the 7-4 favourite, found himself caught wide and in last place shortly after the start before working his way into contention.
I Say kicked on at the three-furlong pole whilst Sea-Bird cruised into contention before he was nudged clear by Pat Glennon, an Australian jockey who had moved from Ireland to France to work for Pollet.
Sea-Bird ended up winning by two lengths on the bridle with runner-up Meadow Court, who was ridden by Lestor Piggott and went on to win the Irish Derby and King George VI at Ascot, flattered by the diminishing margin.
The Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe was nominated as Sea-Bird’s end of season target and the superstar warmed up for that contest in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud where he defeated older rivals with ease before he was given a break.
The 1965 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe was shaping up to be a high-quality contest and was set to be his toughest challenge.
Because Sea-Bird had been given a break, he looked noticeably bigger and stronger than he did prior to the Derby and had clearly thrived from his time away from a racecourse.
His rivals included Americas leading three-year-old and Preakness winner, Tom Rolfe, and the unbeaten Reliance, winner of the Prix du Jockey Club, the Grand Prix de Paris and the Prix-Royal Oak, as well as Russian Champion Anilin and his old foe Meadow Court.
What racegoers at Longchamp witnessed Sea-Bird do to his rivals was nothing short of incredible as he stormed to victory leaving his 19 rivals for dead.
Reliance drew clear from the remainder up the home straight but could not go with Sea-Bird who annihilated his opposition by six lengths, with a further five lengths back to the third-placed Diatome.
After Sea-Bird produced the most impressive performance of his career, he was then retired to stud and, ahead of the Arc, an American syndicate agreed to lease Sea-Bird at a cost of £95,000 a year over a five-year period, although the deal was extended until 1972.
He began his career in the breeding sheds at the famous Darby Dan Stud in Kentucky and produced some high-quality progeny including Allez France, winner of the 1974 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, Gyr, who finished runner-up to Nijinsky in the 1970 derby, and 1974 Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes winner, Little Current.
However, his career ended on a sad note as he was returned to France in late 1972 before he was diagnosed with Colitis and passed away in March, 1973.
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