Sea The Stars, who made his mark in history when he was victorious in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp on 4 October 2009, has been retired from racing nine days later.
It had been speculated that the three-year-old might travel to Santa Anita, USA to compete in the ‘world championships’ of racing, the Breeders’ Cup on 7 November, but owner Christopher Tsui decided that with an already record-breaking career, the horse had nothing more to prove.
Who is Sea The Stars?
Sea The Stars is the son of Cape Cross – winner of the 1998 Group One Lockinge Stakes, sire of top filly Ouija Board and a descendent of the famous Northern Dancer (the most successful sire of the 20th century) – and Urban Sea – who won the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in 1993 and is one of the top brood mares of her generation. He is owned by Hong Kong nightclub owner Christopher Tsui, trained by John Oxx in Kildare, Ireland and ridden by expert jockey Mick Kinane (who turned 50 this year).
Why is he famous?
He has an amazing racing record. Out of nine races in two years he has only ever lost one, which was his debut race at The Curragh, where he finished fourth (still not bad!). Since then he has been winning all the way and his prize money amounts to nearly £4.5 million.
His last six (consecutive) victories have all been at Group One level – the top level of horseracing in the world – and he has won them in six successive months. For a horse to keep winning at top level over such a long period of time is a rare and record-breaking achievement, as usually horses cannot sustain their peak performance for so long without becoming tired (slower) or being injured. To prepare for racing in May, he went into regular fast work at the beginning of March, so he’s been in intensive training for seven months with only a three-week break after the Eclipse Stakes in July.
In winning those races, Sea The Stars completed a combination of victories never before achieved by a single horse: the 2,000 Guineas, The Derby and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. The first two of these are ‘Classics’ which means they can only be contested by three-year-old horses, so a horse has a once-in-a-lifetime chance to win one of them – – let alone both! That double victory alone had not been accomplished by any horse since Nashwan 20 years ago (and like Nashwan, Sea The Stars went on to win the Eclipse Stakes – a treble that by definition has also not been achieved for 20 years).
The Arc is Europe’s premier middle-distance race, contested by three-year-olds and older, so Sea The Stars beat some of his more mature and experienced rivals to clinch that one too and write his name in the history books. The Arc is commonly targeted and won by three-year-olds, as it is seen as an ‘alternative’ final leg of the Triple Crown to the St Leger at Doncaster, being preferred for its shorter distance. In other words, Sea The Stars completed the modern equivalent of a Triple Crown victory. The ‘true’ English Triple Crown is a feat that has not been completed by a horse since Nijinsky in 1970 and as already stated, Sea The Stars is the only horse to have ever completed this particular combination of races.
So, an amazing race record, and one that is record-breaking too: by winning so many top-ranking races, Sea The Stars has accrued a remarkable 272 points in the Cartier Racing Awards standings, which has set a new record, being more points than any other horse in the history of the Awards.
The Cartier Racing Awards recognise excellence in horseracing and are the sport’s equivalent of the Oscars.
Having won the 2,000 Guineas, The Derby, the Arc, the Eclipse Stakes, International Stakes (where he broke the track record at York by 0.8 seconds) and Irish Champion Stakes in the same season, Sea The Stars now holds a seemingly unassailable advantage in both the Cartier Horse of The Year and Cartier Three-Year-Old Colt categories.
Why has he been retired when he is doing so well?
With every race a horse trains for and competes in, it runs a risk of (potentially terminal) injury. And being trained and raced at such a high level increases the risk level.
If Sea The Stars had been kept in training the next big option for him would be to compete in the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita, USA. So added to the risks inherent in training and competing, would those raised by a transatlantic journey, a change in climate (Santa Anita in California still has high temperatures while Sea The Stars is now starting to grow his winter coat) and a change in track surface (from turf to all-weather). Plus of course, the risk of defeat.
As a record-breaking and history-making horse, Sea The Stars can already stand as a stallion commanding top stud fees so potentially the risks of maintaining his training regimen and undertaking a long and arduous journey after an already extensive and intensive season probably far outweigh any benefits gained by the extra race. And currently he is at the pinnacle of his career with so many consecutive wins – a defeat would somewhat tarnish this. The same reasoning would apply to keeping him in training for another racing season next year: as his connections say, he has nothing more to prove.
What will happen to him now?
It is expected that Sea The Stars will stand as a stallion in Ireland, where he was born in 2006, though this is yet to be confirmed. His stud value has already been estimated by some at a possible £100 million (i.e. money he could earn through stud fees).
Is he the best racehorse ever?
There is no doubt that Sea The Stars has broken records, equalled other records and made history. But in the context of racing history how does he rate? How would he compare with the likes of Shergar or Mill Reef for example?
The official assessors of racehorses’ achievements is Timeform, which has been rating horses for over 60 years. Timeform analyses each and every performance by a horse within the context of its racing records. Under that system, Sea The Stars’ ultimate rating was 140 which is equal to that of Shergar, Dancing Brave and Dubai Millennium. However, there are four horses who have historically been more highly rated: Sea Bird II (145), Brigadier Gerard (144), Ribot (142) and Mill Reef (141).
This suggests that Sea The Stars is certainly up amongst the greats, however, the rating is not quite the full picture, as part of the assessment was based on the fact that Sea The Stars had not won any of his races by any great distance ahead of his rivals.
Therefore it has been suggested by Timeform officials that his racing style of being held back before making a push towards the end of the race, to clinch it by a short distance, has affected his chances of a higher rating. Also it is said that Sea The Stars had not yet (and now never) found an opponent to stretch him to his limit, so we have never seen him at his ultimate best. Hence the ratings reflect a horse that – incredibly – never actually reached its peak. In this context Timeform officials believe it is ‘probable’ that Sea The Stars could have been capable of achieving a rating level with Sea Bird II…The debate continues!
What we can say is that if you have watched any of his races this year, you have witnessed history in the making. This is truly an amazing horse, and certainly one of the greatest racehorses of all time.
Photographs: Sara Waterson