10/12/2009 11:00PM

Sea the Stars sure looks like the real deal


PHILADELPHIA - Nobody seems to like the fact that the Breeders' Cup main-track races will be on the Pro-Ride surface for the second consecutive year. Obviously, nobody is complaining about Santa Anita. Is there a more perfect setting for a sporting event in the world?

The Pro-Ride has cost the Cup the superstar filly Rachel Alexandra. But, if the trade-off is that Sea the Stars comes to California, that seems like a push. And you know there would be no talk of Sea the Stars if the Classic were on dirt this year.

A few weeks ago, Michael Dickinson told me Sea the Stars is the best European horse since Nijinsky. When I looked it up, I discovered that Nijinsky won the English Triple Crown in 1970. That covers a lot of serious horses.

The English Triple Crown is so hard that no horse even tries to win it anymore. Nijinsky was the last to win it. For the uninitiated, the English Triple Crown consists of the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket, the Epsom Derby at Epsom, and the St. Leger Stakes (one mile, six furlongs, 132 yards or 2,937 meters, huh?) at Doncaster. The races are in May, June, and September. No five weeks for these people.

Nijinsky was the first winner since 1935. And we think 25 years and then 31 years are impossible droughts.

Since Nijinsky, only Nashwan (1989) and Sea the Stars have even won both the Guineas and the Epsom Derby.

Vincent O'Brien, Dickinson's idol, trained Nijinsky. The horse was ridden by English legend Lester Piggott. Can't imagine a bigger exacta with one horse.

Sea the Stars is trained by John Oxx and ridden by Mick Kinane. I don't know enough about European racing to know what that means.

I do know what six wins in six Group 1 races at six different courses and $6,658,672 in 2009 means. Newmarket, Epsom, Sandown, York, Leopardstown, and Longchamp. A mile, 1 1/2 miles, 1 1/4 miles, 1 5/16 miles, 1 1/4 miles again, and, finally, 1 1/2 miles again in last Sunday's Arc de Triomphe.

I was here a few weeks ago extolling Rachel's 2009 in the context of the modern American Thoroughbred, which can't stand much training and whose handlers avoid challenges.

So, even if they end up not coming, the idea that the Sea the Stars people are considering a trip across an ocean and a country is a testament to their willingness to accept a challenge and take a chance.

Remember when that actually mattered in horse racing. This sport is not supposed to be preordained. It is, at times, supposed to be a leap into the unknown.

And, if Sea the Stars does come for the Classic, it will be a leap into the unknown. Just because Euros ran one-two in the 2008 Classic does not mean it has to happen again.

In fact, it would violate one of my basic racetrack rules. Once the general wagering public has assumed something, it is time to look elsewhere.

Having said that, maybe Sea the Stars is just that good. With all due respect to Summer Bird (that colt has really gotten good and Tim Ice has done a perfect job of developing him) or Zenyatta (if the decision is to go after the Classic), there really isn't an American dirt horse that should be scaring anybody from Europe.

I have watched Sea the Stars race several times. I am not quite sure his last-move style fits the American way of running, but it may not matter.

Some of these artificial surfaces have a tendency to keep even inferior horses in races. It almost dumbs the races down. And if Sea the Stars is in the race in the stretch, the colt is going to win. Nobody is going to be able to run with him in the final 200 yards.

Brilliance isn't rewarded. Speed often does not matter. Late acceleration is amplified.

Which is why all the connections of these Euro grass horses are more interested in the Classic than the Turf.

I want to see Sea the Stars in person with the San Gabriels in the background. I want to hang down near the stretch and see if he goes as fast in person as he seems to go on the screen or the computer.

My good friend Bill Finley is ready to take a stand against Sea the Stars. He brings up Dancing Brave, who won the 1986 Arc and was 1-2 in the BC Turf at Santa Anita. He was hyped as the greatest horse since Nijinsky or maybe even before Nijinsky. I can't remember.

Dancing Brave staggered home fourth as the great Manila overcame a very tough trip to run down Theatrical and Estapade.

I don't know if Dancing Brave was overhyped, but I do know he was in very tough in that Turf.

I don't see this Classic in those terms. It should be a really good race, but I don't see any all time greats, other than perhaps Sea the Stars.

The last time Michael Dickinson was this sure about anything, he touted me on Da Hoss in the 1998 BC Mile. We all know how that turned out. I am thinking single.