10/14/2009 2:41AM

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.

J Neptune More than 1 year ago
Very funny article, Jay. Thanx. The other thing is, do us Sea the Stars fans really want Mick ("Yeah, I lost on Rock of Gibraltar") Kinane riding this magnificent beast against a field of American jocks who actually understand pace in the american context? I think not. I'm sad not to see him, but glad Mick's chance to flub again was removed.
vicstu More than 1 year ago
Slew, Excellent post. I agree with the historical angle completely. That said, I will still watch the BC. Not sure how many races I will wager on...too many unknown and first time angles make it like throwing darts (well, it can be handicapped, but you are guessing if certain horses will rise or fall on the Pro-Ride). BTW, Two of the best dirt 3 year olds are already committed to running as 4 year olds (along with Mine That Bird, a gelding). A big reason for that is that Rachel and Musket Man have trainers who want to run them on dirt, and hope they make it to next year's Breeder's Cup, which is run on good old fashioned dirt. SA offers a unique euro angle, and perhaps inadvertently pushed some better 3 year olds into running at 4 (also Big Drama). The list of talented horses sitting out this year's BC is growing.
Michael Thomas More than 1 year ago
Mr. Jackson made his fortune coaxing very good wine (beyond "very good" I cannot say) from the earth. That would be dirt. He has two goals: race winners and praise the ground that made him wealthy and justifiably satisfied. Cheers!
MSComeonNow More than 1 year ago
Jess Jackson cares about one thing, himself. His ranting about track surface has been way overboard. To not come because you are worried about losing is one thing, but to saw its unsafe for his horse is absurd. He was'nt too worried about running on the rock hard sealed track at Monmouth that had breakdowns earlier in the day and numerous late scratches.
C More than 1 year ago
"In so doing, he is all but calling those owners who choose to run in the Breeders' Cup cruel and reckless for subjecting their horses to the Santa Anita surface." What? Were Baffert and Zayat suggesting the same when they (rather publicly) pulled their stock from Del Mar a few years back? It's an individual decision and I think you're reading too much into it. Now, was Jackson using the situation to make a point for his side? Sure he was... but I'm not sure why that's a problem. Is nobody allowed to voice a negative opinion about synthetic surfaces? The pro-synthetic side has already won the major battles thus far. No polls were taken, no major discussion took place until after the fact. Synthetic surfaces were forced on all of us, as were the recent decisions made by the Breeders Cup. I don't understand why it has to be a taboo subject only when the anti-synthetic crowd has something to say.
Jay H More than 1 year ago
t lambro -- Well, dang, I don't really know. But I never really jumped on Jess for not taking Rachel to the Cup. A man can do whatever he wants with his horse, then it's up to the rest of us to decide where to put that horse in history. No, it was the reasons he has given for not going that bothered me. If he had just held off saying squat until after the Woodward, and then just announced that Rachel was tired and see ya next year, who could have argued? Here's your Horse of the Year trophy and thanks for the memories. Instead, Jackson figured he had a sympathetic chorus out there that was virulently anti-synthetic, and he tapped into them shamelessly. In so doing, he is all but calling those owners who choose to run in the Breeders' Cup cruel and reckless for subjecting their horses to the Santa Anita surface. Is that a nice thing to do?
John More than 1 year ago
I am glad he is not coming. I saw two horses break down in Santa Anita recently. He needs to avoid that fate. On the other hand, the idea that he does not have anything left to prove seems mistaken. The simple fact is, he never raced in Dubai nor the Breeder's Cup. So what you say?....yeah, true, but...it still raises the question of "What if..." Unfortunately, because he has never had a 15-length win, nor amassed lots of track records, people cannot say, "He would have won if he came." The best we can say is "Maybe".
Graham Cunningham More than 1 year ago
It's a shame that STS won't be on show for the BC and the argument that he has seen Group 1 action every month since May rings a little hollow when you recall that Raven's Pass did exactly the same before his Classic win twelve months ago. It's hard to knock Oxx and company for their decision, but it's illogical to reveal that STS came out of the Arc as well as every other race and then say it would be "unfair" to take him to Santa Anita. Two final points: First, I suspect the burning desire not to give the last, loudest laugh to Coolmore and Rip Van Winkle played a significant role in the decision not to go. And second, Mick Kinane's eyebrow stylist doesn't seem to be getting the job done, does he?
t lambro More than 1 year ago
Jay, you were all over Jackson and Assumssen for passing the BC, yet yoiu give Sea the Stars a pass? Why?
Medlocke More than 1 year ago
I would've liked to have watched Sea The Stars run in the B.C. Classic, but I don't blame his connections for retiring him at the top of his game. What a stud fee this horse is going to bring. Remember Big Brown, how high his stud fee was going to be until Kent Desormeax eased him up in the Belmont. After that, Big Brown's stud fee plummeted. Maybe they're making sure the same thing doesn't happen to Sea The Stars. Retiring him with 6 straight Group 1 wins and fit and healthy.