In the latest of our Horses That Made History series, we look back on the career of Sea The Stars, one of the greatest of all time.
Sea The Stars was undoubtedly one of the greatest racehorses that most of us will ever see in our liftimes. His exploits as a three-year-old, systematically reeling off a series of Group One successes with the same style, poise and substance, even when the opposition lined up in convoy to try and topple him, will be difficult to ever match. The memories are so vivid that it is hard to believe it all happened 10 years ago.
Having finished fourth on his debut in a seven-furlong maiden at the Curragh in July 2008, John Oxx’s superstar did not taste defeat thereafter.
Being by Cape Cross out of Arc de Triomphe winner Urban Sea, and a half-brother to dominant super-stallion Galileo, Sea The Stars was always going to be the subject of considerable expectation. However, it became apparent that he was on his way to living up to his pedigree when he got off the mark in style on his next start in a similar contest on unfavourably soft ground at Leopardstown.
Trainer John Oxx did not waste any time stepping up his youngster in class and after taking the Group Two Beresford Stakes back at the Curragh on his next start, he emerged as a leading player for 2000 Guineas glory for the following season.
However, it was not plain sailing during his preparation for the first Classic of the season at Newmarket as Sea The Stars suffered a setback in March.
There were concerns as to whether he would be ready in time, and bookmakers ultimately sent him off at 8-1, but he looked outstanding in the parade ring and any doubts were soon brushed aside when he showed an electric turn of foot and powered to an impressive victory under Mick Kinane.
The winning rider said afterwards: "I've had great belief in this horse ever since I sat on him in May last year. For a big, gangly colt, he was always going easy and I was always looking forward to the day when he matured.”
The success saw bookmakers promote Sea The Stars to Derby favouritism, and all roads led to the Epsom classic, but he needed to prove his stamina and ability to handle the undulating track. Oxx was not entirely confident about the former, given the speed he had shown at Newmarket and in his homework.
Not unexpectedly, Ballydoyle sent out a battalion of runners in opposition at Epsom with their leading hope being the talented Rip Van Winkle, but despite racing freeely in the early stages, Sea The Stars had their measure, leading halfway up the straight and staying on strongly to become the first horse since Nashwan in 1989 to complete the Guineas/Derby double.
The opportunity to further emulate Nashwan came next in the Eclipse Stakes. Having been forced to miss the Irish Derby due to the very soft ground, which Oxx knew his charge simply could not handle, Sea The Stars headed next to Sandown.
It was a re-match with Rip Van Winkle that asked a different question. Run at a frantic pace, Sea The Stars found himself in front fully two furlongs from home with his Ballydoyle rival poised to challenge. However, the outcome was the same as Kinane's mount found more to score by a length.
York's Juddmonte International Stakes came next with Ballydoyle throwing a different rival up against Sea The Stars in Mastercraftsman, who had won two Group Ones since finishing just out of the placings in the 2000 Guineas.
It was another thrilling contest as Kinane bravely cut between two fading pacemakers just as the doors were starting to close. But like a scene from Indiana Jones, it was our hero who prevailed as he successfully managed to negotiate the obstacle and get the better of the stiff challenge of Mastercraftsman to win in a course-record time.
Oxx was keen to run his superstar in Ireland again if ground conditions allowed, but it was touch and go as to whether he would be allowed to line up in the Irish Champion Stakes, with rain arriving in the build-up to the contest.
On the day, it was officially 'Good to Yielding', but with Leopardstown officials moving Heaven and Earth, and some running rails, to create the best possible surface, the decision was taken to let him take his chance.
This time, along with Mastercraftsman, O'Brien pitched Fame And Glory into the mix. Second to Sea The Stars at Epsom, he had since ran out a hugely-impressive five-length winner of the Irish Derby and the betting market respected his chances as a strong 9-4 second-favourite.
Fame And Glory hit the front over a furlong out, Johnny Murtagh setting out to make the most of his mount's proven stamina. But Kinane had the leader in his sights throughout and the pair produced a devastatingly-impressive performance as the swept past.
"Sea The Stars ranging up on the near side," called commentator Dessie Scahill. "They've come to see a star. And it's Sea The Stars who hits the front for Michael Kinane and John Oxx. Racing up towards the finish, the undisputed champion, Sea The Stars is running away, he's going to score by two and a half lengths, wins his fifth Group One."
After that succcess, there was only challenge left for Sea The Stars in Europe, the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp.
Against Sea The Stars were 18 rivals and the possible effects of what, by now, had been quite an arduous campaign. No mid-season break for him. Indeed, he got unusually warm before the race, suggesting to some onlookers that those midsummer victories might be starting to tell.
Again, Kinane briefly struggled to persuade his mount to settle in the early stages and he had to drop him right back into the pack in order to get the necessary cover to persuade Sea The Stars to drop his head. Inevitably, that meant the risk of meeting traffic problems once reaching top gear in the straight, but Kinane was wiser than some of his rivals and secured the perfect split against the far rail when it mattered for his mount.
Bursting through the pack to lead just over a furlong out, he put good Group One winners effortlessly in their place, the likes of Conduit, Dar Re Mi, Cavalryman, Fame And Glory and the rest all being left toiling in his wake.
Sea The Stars had it all. A true history-maker, he was the first horse to ever do the Guineas/Derby/Arc treble. Not only did he have supreme talent though, but he also had a pedigree to die for and the dashing good looks to go with it. One of a kind.
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