10/16/2009 12:00AM

Sea the Stars a standout even among royalty


In closing the book on the racing career of Sea the Stars, owner David Tsui has left the Thoroughbred world with an empty feeling, at least that part of it that is concerned with horses who run. Not only will Americans be deprived of seeing the great son of Cape Cross and Urban Sea in the Breeders' Cup Classic, a race that had been strongly suggested, but the whole world will be unable to see what he might have achieved as a 4-year-old.

Not since Montjeu in 1999 has a 3-year-old Arc winner of Sea the Stars' caliber run as a 4-year-old. The only other Arc winner to rate as highly as those two in the last 20 years, 1997 winner Peintre Celebre, was trained at 4 but failed to run, as he suffered an injury while preparing for his seasonal debut in the Prix Ganay.

Those are the three best Arc winners this observer has witnessed in two decades of Arc-watching. Sea the Stars rates as the best of them, the explosion of power he produced to take the lead at the eighth pole the most electrifying move one could hope to see on a racecourse. Montjeu's Arc is the runner-up performance. He was the only horse in the world who could have caught the runaway Japanese pacesetter, El Condor Pasa, whose bold front-running effort would have won the Arc in almost any other year. Peintre Celebre's Arc triumph was the most impressive visually, as he trounced the highly accomplished Pilsudski by five lengths.

What impressed most about Sea the Stars throughout his brief career was his businesslike manner. In the paddock before the Arc, he let nothing bother him as nearly 3,000 people jammed the terraced viewing area to get a look at the 21st century's best racehorse. He paraded around the ring with his mind set firmly on the task at hand, went out and did the business, and resembled nothing so much as a medieval warrior returning from battle when led back into a frenzied Longchamp paddock that also serves as the winners' circle.

Amidst all of the shouting in the stands and within the crowded paddock itself, Sea the Stars, his body sweating, his light winter coat unkempt, kept his eyes fixed firmly in front of him. Nothing fazed him, as he is possessed of a temperament that must always bring out the best in a horse, regardless of his talent.

And Sea the Stars is innately talented. His dam, Urban Sea, had won the Arc in 1993. His Arc was the conclusion of a six-race Group 1 winning streak accomplished the hard way, winning the 2000 Guineas at a mile, stepping up to 1 1/2 miles for the Epsom Derby, then dropping back to 1 1/4 miles to win the Eclipse Stakes in his first start against older horses.

Two more victories at or about 10 furlongs in the Juddmonte International and Irish Champion Stakes preceded his grand finale as he became the first horse in history to pull of the Guineas-Derby-Arc triple. Can the worth of this superb racehorse be measured in the $6,796,994 he earned on the track? Not in the eyes of those who saw him run.

The thunderous public adventures of Sea the Stars are now things of the past as he takes up stud duty next year, most likely at the Irish National Stud.

Juvenile victor has big shoes to fill

As we look to a future without Sea the Stars, it is heartening to note that the race he won to conclude his juvenile season, the Curragh's one-mile, Group 2 Beresford Stakes, was won on Sept. 27 by St Nicholas Abbey, an Aidan O'Brien-trained son of Montjeu who was immediately installed as the 8-1 favorite for next year's Epsom Derby.

Named for a 17th Century mansion in Barbados, St Nicholas Abbey is the latest in an illustrious list of Beresford winners that includes not only Sea the Stars but Nijinsky, arguably the greatest Thoroughbred of the 20th Century; Assert, the first horse to win both the French and Irish derbies; the great stallion Sadler's Wells; the outstanding Irish-bred American-based stallion El Prado; and Septimus, William Hill's current 4-1 favorite for the Breeders' Cup Marathon.

St Nicholas Abbey is out of an unraced Sure Blade mare who is a half sister to three notable horses. The first is Starborough, the winner of the one-mile, Group 1 St. James's Palace Stakes and the sire of the sensational Hungarian sprinter Overdose. Ballingarry was the juvenile winner of the 1 1/4-mile, Group 1 Criterium de Saint-Cloud as well as the Canadian International, while Aristotle won the one-mile, Group 1 Racing Post Trophy at 2.

Coolmore has big plans for St Nicholas Abbey, who may run in the Racing Post Trophy himself next Saturday at Doncaster, but is more likely to be put away for the winter with the highest hopes for 2010.