09/24/2009 11:00PM

Hard to look past Sea the Stars

Email
Edward Whitaker/Racing Post
Sea the Stars (left) comes into the Arc de Triomphe as a five-time Group 1 winner and handles a variety of turf conditions.

NEW YORK - Fair skies have been forecast for the Paris region through Monday with generally fine weather and only a chance of showers expected in the last few days before the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe on Sunday, Oct. 4. This is good news for the connections of Sea the Stars as they prepare their five-time Group 1 winner for the biggest test of his career.

For although Sea the Stars has won on soft ground, trainer John Oxx does not want to risk him on that type of going in a race as competitive as the Arc, in which he will be meeting a number of soft-ground specialists. Even if the ground comes up good to soft at Longchamp next Sunday, Sea the Stars will line up for the $5.8 million, 1 1/2-mile race that is the pinnacle of the European racing season.

Sea the Stars won his maiden on soft to heavy ground at Leopardstown last August, then won the Group 2 Beresford Stakes on a yielding surface at the Curragh six weeks later. His first four Group 1 triumphs this year were on good or good to firm between a mile and 1 1/2 miles. His most recent victory came on Sept. 5 in the Irish Champion Stakes at 1 1/4 miles on ground termed good to yielding, so it is difficult to fathom why Oxx is so concerned about the ground. Sea the Stars does everything asked of him - and in the highest style - regardless of distance or going. If he runs his usual race in the Arc, they are all in the race for second place.

Keep in mind that his dam, Urban Sea, won the Arc in 1993 coming out of a win in the 1 1/4-mile Prix Gontaut-Biron, an unprepossessing Group 3 at Deauville restricted to 4-year-olds and up. A Kentucky-bred, she was ridden by Cash Asmussen that day, but it was Eric Saint-Martin, the son of the greatest of all French jockeys, Yves Saint-Martin, who rode her in the Arc as Asmussen stuck with his French Derby winner Hernando, who finished 16th.

Oxx and Sea the Stars owner Christopher Tsui, the son of Urban Sea's owner David Tsui, are contemplating a trip to Santa Anita for their 3-year-old son of Cape Cross. It is not the Breeders' Cup Turf they have in mind, however, but the Classic.

A number of scenarios could get Sea the Stars into that race. One is a facile win in the Arc from which he recovers quickly. Another would be missing the Arc should a deluge fall upon Paris on the eve of the race. Longchamp does not dry out quickly at this time of year, especially since it lies just a few hundred yards from the River Seine.

In the event of soft ground, Youmzain, the Arc runner-up the last two years behind Dylan Thomas and Zarkava, might move up. Michael Channon will equip the 6-year-old Youmzain with first-time blinkers in an effort to help him overcome a lingering case of seconditis. Fame and Glory, second to Sea the Stars in both the Epsom Derby and the Irish Champion, won his first two starts on heavy ground, including the Group 1 Criterium de Saint-Cloud. The undefeated French Oaks winner Stacelita has won twice on heavy and once on soft, while Sariska slogged her way to victory in a swampy Irish Oaks.

Conduit goes on any ground. His Breeders' Cup Turf victory last year came on firm, his King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes on July 25 on good, his 2008 St. Leger on soft. More important than the ground for Conduit will be the 71-day absence he has endured since the King George. The only horse to win the Arc off such a long layoff was Lammtarra in 1995. Could it be that Conduit's trainer, Michael Stoute, is using the Arc as an unconventional prep for the BC Turf? Stoute has a number of other Arc, Canadian International, and BC Turf possibles in Spanish Moon, Ask, and Doctor Fremantle, but none of them is in the same league as Conduit, who like Fame and Glory is already earmarked for the BC Turf.

In 25 runnings the BC Turf has yet to be captured by an Arc winner. Trempolino came closest with his Turf second to Theatrical in 1987. High Chaparral, the Arc third in 2002 and 2003, won the Turf both those years, while Pilsudski, the Arc second in 1996, took the Turf that same year.

Sea the Stars has always bounced right back after all of his races. If the Arc does not take too much out of him, his presence at Santa Anita would more than make up for the absence of Rachel Alexandra, but is family history working against him? His half-brother Galileo, who did not run in the Arc, managed only sixth behind Tiznow in the 2001 BC Classic. But then, that was on Belmont's Big Sandy. This year's Classic will be run on a synthetic track, one that plays to the strengths of European turf performers, as last year's Classic evidently revealed.