10/19/2009 8:40AM

U.S. Won't See the Star


As Europeans once again shower a racehorse with superlatives, London's The Guardian had a fascinating article that dared to seek contrarian viewpoints about the legacy of Sea the Stars.

This quote from former champion jockey Joe Mercer: "I remember when Galileo won the King George (in 2001), they were raving about him being the best they'd ever seen.  You can't have a best horse you've ever seen every other year. Half the people who are saying he's the best they've ever seen aren't old enough to have seen the best horses."

    Geoff Greetham, publishing editor of England's esteemed Timeform publication, whose horse ratings are quoted worldwide, said Sea the Stars will not wind up rated as highly as legendary Euro greats Mill Reef and Brigadier Gerard.  "It is a shame he won't go to the Breeders' Cup," Greetham was quoted as saying. "I didn't subscribe to the view that he had nothing left to prove. I would like to have seen him in America."

British senior handicapper Phil Smith said he probably will rate Sea the Stars well behind some other English racing greats, but pointed out that although Sea the Stars has been running against "good horses but not great horses," he tended to win his races by short margins and thus "we may not be giving him the full credit he deserves."  Smith could raise his rating of Sea the Stars depending on the performance in the Breeders' Cup Classic of Rip Van Winkle, who Sea the Stars defeated three times.

    Finally, English Channel 4 analyst John McGrath, while praising the ability of Sea the Stars, was quoted as adding, "I couldn't put my hand on my heart and say he's better than Mill Reef and Brigadier Gerard. He's set a wonderful standard and he's a fantastic racehorse but I don't think he's done quite enough."

    On both sides of the pond, we've become inured to the sight of superstar racehorses - or potential superstars, at least - being retired prematurely due to the economic imbalance between racing purses and breeding riches. Even in breeding's current economic slump, Sea the Stars could easily stand for a $75,000 fee and be bred to 150 horses - possibly a conservative estimate - for a net of $11.25 million. Curlin made $10.5 million during his entire racing career.

How do we change that imbalance?  One way is to grow purses to stratospheric levels. In the present form of racing in this country, good luck with that.

    Following back-to-back-to-back early retirements of Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex and Bernardini, I wrote in 2006 about another way to keep our stars on the racetrack longer. It might be just as much of a longshot, with potential ramifications of its own, but here goes: 

Suppose Jockey Clubs in all major racing countries around the world rewrite their rules to require that in order for a thoroughbred to be registered to race, its sire and dam must have been at least 5 years of age at time of conception.  No exceptions would be made for injuries, regardless of severity. Clearly, the change would have to be worldwide, or top 4-year-old horses in the U.S., for example, could be sent to Ireland or France to stud for a year before returning to this country.

    Interesting food for thought, isn't it?