11/12/2007 12:00AM

Some perspective on English Channel

EmailNEW YORK - While it only seems that every horse who was retired since the Breeders' Cup retired prematurely and left a lot of major racing on the table, it should be noted that this was not entirely the case. One notable exception was The Little Warrior, English Channel.

English Channel had a full and complete career. He raced four seasons, through the age of 5, and made a total of 23 career starts. That is a lot these days, even if he was a specialist on turf, which is a more forgiving surface than dirt. For purposes of comparison, English Channel's career start total was higher than that of seven of the last eight Horses of the Year.

English Channel raced at nine different tracks in this country (he also made one start in Dubai), and he won at eight of those nine different tracks. He made 15 starts at the Grade or Group 1 level, and won six of them. And English Channel earned more than $5 million - even in an era when seven-figure purses are common, that is still a lot of dough.

But an interesting thing has happened since English Channel was retired a couple of weeks ago. Perhaps because he was a throwback to when good horses didn't have the constitution of peanut brittle, or perhaps because he went out on top with a championship-clinching romp in the Breeders' Cup Turf, some people are now labeling English Channel the best turf horse we've seen in years.

Well, he certainly was the best turf horse of this year. No doubt about that. But the best in years?

There can't be much debate that Daylami, 1999's champion turf male, was a superior horse to English Channel. Daylami was sensational winning the 1999 Breeders' Cup Turf, and the Beyer Speed Figure of 118 that Daylami earned in that race remains the highest published Beyer in the Turf. Using Daylami as a line of demarcation, how does English Channel compare to the male turf champions we have had since?

Kalanisi (2000): He earned the title on the strength of winning the Breeders' Cup Turf, his only start in this country. But, the Turf he won was not the strongest renewal. Very close to Kalanisi at the wire was Quiet Resolve, a 41-1 shot; the 9-year-old John's Call; and Mutamam, a 37-1 shot. And Kalanisi's only other Grade or Group 1 win in an 11-race career came in the Champion Stakes three weeks before the Breeders' Cup, when he beat a past-his-prime Montjeu. The verdict: English Channel was better than Kalanisi.

Fantastic Light (2001): Like Kalanisi, he earned the championship off a victory in the Breeders' Cup Turf in his only U.S. start, although Fantastic Light did win the Grade 1 Man o' War Stakes during a three-race campaign in this country in 2000. Unlike Kalanisi, Fantastic Light's Turf was strong. The Beyer Figure of 117 he earned falls just behind Daylami's high mark for the event. And unlike English Channel, Fantastic Light won Grade or Group 1 races in four countries: the U.S., Ireland, England, and Hong Kong. The verdict: English Channel wasn't as good as Fantastic Light.

High Chaparral (2002 and 2003): Before High Chaparral ever set foot in this country, he won the Epsom Derby and Irish Derby. He became the first and is still the only horse to win back-to-back Breeders' Cup Turfs, and he also won back-to-back championships. Not much doubt here. High Chaparral was the better horse.

Kitten's Joy (2004): For the second half of his 3-year-old season in 2004, Kitten's Joy really looked like the best turf horse we had seen in years, but then he finished second in that year's Breeders' Cup Turf as the odds-on favorite, and his career ended after an abbreviated campaign at 4. Kitten's Joy at his best probably would have handled English Channel at his best. But on the strength of total records, English Channel gets the nod.

Leroidesanimaux (2005): Leroidesanimaux was a miler, and English Channel was a distance performer, making this an apples-to-oranges comparison. Also clouding the issue is the fact that Leroidesanimaux was not right physically when he was a narrowly beaten second in the 2005 BC Mile.

Leroidesanimaux earned higher Beyers than English Channel ever did on three occasions. But Leroidesanimaux's Grade 1 wins in the Citation, Kilroe Mile, and Atto Mile don't resonate in a championship way like English Channel's Grade 1 wins in the Breeders' Cup Turf, two Joe Hirsch Turf Classics, two United Nations, and Woodford Reserve Turf Classic. English Channel was the better horse.

Miesque's Approval (2006): Miesque's Approval raced three more seasons than English Channel did, and made 18 more starts. He was an admirable horse, too. But in the middle portion of his career, Miesque's Approval ran for a claiming price three times, losing all three. And he was 24-1 when he won last year's BC Mile, his career Grade 1 win, which was still enough to propel him to a title in a year when there were no satisfying championship candidates. English Channel was better.