10/14/2009 1:41AM

Star Struck


Here is a partial list of those who were not surprised to hear that the European superhorse Sea the Stars was retired instead of running one more time in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita:

--Anyone who bet on Dancing Brave in the 1986 Breeders' Cup Turf.

--The doorman at Christopher Tsui's Miusik Member's Club in Hong Kong.

--Anyone who bet on any Arc de Triomphe winner at the Breeders' Cup.

--The stylist who does Mick Kinane's eyebrows.

--Ireland. England. France.

Just when American racing was starting to get a little cocky about getting the cream of the European runners to stretch themselves thin by running in the Breeders' Cup, along comes John Oxx, the quiet Irishman, to take a bite out of that bubble. See the Stars Make no mistake, it had become heady stuff, especially in the last decade, watching the likes of Sakhee, Giant's Causeway, Rock of Gibraltar, Ouija Board, Goldikova, Dylan Thomas, High Chaparral, Falbrav, Montjeu, Fantastic Light, Six Perfections, George Washington, Galileo and Yesterday extend their seasons with a Breeders' Cup appearance. And in many cases, just watching them go to the post was more than half the fun for appreciative Yanks, as it was waaaay back in 1975 when Allez France made the final, fruitless start of her brilliant career in a pre-Breeders' Cup, Santa Anita/Oak Tree confection called the National Thoroughbred Championship (a special prize for anyone who can name the winner!).

But now comes a cold dose of reality. The Sea the Stars camp gave the California Breeders' Cup about as much thought as it takes to order out. There was nothing the colt could have done in America that he hadn't done before, with the possible exception of appearing on ESPN. Could it be that winning the Arc de Triomphe brings with it more prestige and professional satisfaction than the chance to be ignored by SportsCenter?

"When you are at the Arc, most of the horse owners are in a special area called the Tribune," said Barry Irwin, whose Team Valor partnerships have competed in the French classic as well as Breeders' Cup events. "So you're spending the day surrounded by your peers, and when you win that race, with all those people nearby, you bring your horse back into the winner's enclosure and get to spend about as much time as you want enjoying the moment. That's as big as it gets over there, other than the Epsom Derby."

By contrast, Irwin noted, the experience of winning a Breeders' Cup race can be about as collegial as speed dating. The winning connections are subjected to TV time constraints and the pressures of the multi-race program, whisked from one media moshpit to the next and then shunted aside to make way for the next event on the program. By the time the Breeders' Cup Classic ends the day, participants are exhausted and heading for the exits.

"For Europeans, compared to the Arc the Breeders' Cup is just a shot at a big purse," Irwin added.

Irwin is not necessarily heart-broken that Sea the Stars is staying home, now that Team Valor and Gary Barber's Gitano Hernando swooped into L.A., direct from Newmarket, to win the Goodwood Stakes last Saturday and enter the picture for the Classic. The colt gets high marks for scorning the effects of jet lag, time change and culture shock to beat a field that included Colonel John, Richard's Kid and Mine That Bird, although he had been turning left. His week leading up to the Goodwood was spent on a horse van, a ferry, a horse van, an airplane, a horse van, a quarantine, and, finally, another horse van that brought him at last to Santa Anita. As of Tuesday, Gitano Hernando was still at Santa Anita and probably wondering, where's the van?

I was caught up earlier in the season with the delusion that Sea the Stars might end up in California. But then, as his achievements mounted, it became clear that his reputation as the greatest horse to grace the Eurasian land mass since Alexander the Great's Bucephalus could never be risked in the quest of such a mundane prize as a Breeders' Cup. Maybe if it had been in New York. Oh well.