Donn's Articles » Sea The Stars v Fame And Glory

Sea The Stars v Fame And Glory

Will victory for Federer on Centre Court today be diminished any for the fact that Nadal didn’t go to post? In years to come, will we even remember that Nadal wasn’t in the race? What if Federer’s performance today is so flawless so as to make it obvious that Nadal would probably have struggled against him anyway? What if Nadal then goes out and blitzes his rivals in the US Open, and with how much more enthusiasm will their next meeting be anticipated as a result?

There was plenty of talk about the absence of yesterday’s Eclipse hero Sea The Stars from last Sunday’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby. If you had measured the number of column inches devoted to the John Oxx’s colt’s absence, and compared it with the number devoted to Fame And Glory’s presence, it would have been a close run thing. There is no doubt that there was an air of Hamlet without the Prince about the Irish Derby beforehand, the World Cup without Brazil. However, pre-race dismay at the apparent leading player’s absence was replaced by post-race appreciation for the winner of the race, such was the authority with which the Ballydoyle colt swatted his rivals. Conjecture on what might have been followed.

The reason for Sea The Stars’s absence last Sunday has been well documented. All week John Oxx told us that he wouldn’t run his Epsom Derby winner if the ground was too soft for him. They watered at The Curragh during the week and they had a deluge on Friday, twice as much rain as was forecast, with the result that the erstwhile favourite was scratched on Saturday morning.

So how would Sea The Stars have fared if he had run at The Curragh? Impossible to know. The Irish Derby was a totally different race to the Epsom Derby. It was a test of stamina, not speed. The ground was softer at The Curragh than it was at Epsom, the track was stiffer and the pace was stronger. Mick Kinane would almost certainly have ridden the Derby winner in such a way as to maximise his most potent weapon, his pace, but he probably wouldn’t have had him too far back, he wouldn’t have wanted to have allowed Fame And Glory too much leeway. As the race turned out, nothing got into it from behind. The winner, the second and the third occupied three of the first five places throughout.

You never know for certain how a race is going to pan out – that’s why trainers employ jockeys – but this one played out pretty much as expected, and Kinane and Oxx would have had a fair idea of the Ballydoyle game plan beforehand, they would have been able to plan their attack accordingly. Kinane would probably have tracked Murtagh on Fame And Glory, tried to follow him for as long as he could before unleashing Sea The Stars’s turn of foot about a furlong and a half out. However, such was the attritional manner in which the race was run that a turn of foot may never have come into it.

In the Epsom Derby, they went slowly through the first part of the race. They reached the top of the hill, about five and a half furlongs after the start, in a time that was five seconds slower than the time in which the fillies reached the same point on the track in the Oaks, run over the same course and distance the previous day. From there, it is all downhill until about a half a furlong from the finish. The standard time for Epsom’s mile and a half is five seconds quicker than the standard time for a mile and a half at The Curragh, so all of this played into the hands of a horse with a turn of foot, Sea The Stars. By contrast, the way that the Irish Derby was run – flat out from the gate – favoured a horse with stamina, and Fame And Glory has buckets of that.

So which is the better horse? It’s hard to know. The manner and the time of Sea The Stars’s win in the Eclipse yesterday against his elders marks him down as a potential superstar. But the question and the argument is more relevant than the answer for now. Great rivalries make great debates and great sporting occasions. Ali/Frazier, Coe/Ovett, Borg/McEnroe. In racing, the very best races, the memorable ones, have been when the pre-race debate about the respective qualities of the protagonists has been at its most heated. Arkle/Mill House, Monksfield/Sea Pigeon, Denman/Kauto Star over jumps; on the flat Grundy/Bustino, Mill Reef/Brigadier Gerard, Galileo/Fantastic Light. It is unusual that, like Sea The Stars and Fame And Glory, the duellists are of the same vintage. On the flat in particular, the broader debate usually centres on the respective merits of each generation.

There are parallels to be drawn with the St Jovite/Dr Devious rivalry of 1992. They were both three-year-olds, they won a Derby each, St Jovite reversing Epsom placings at The Curragh, and St Jovite won the King George before Dr Devious nutted the Jim Bolger colt in the Irish Champion Stakes. And it may be in that Leopardstown contest in September that the re-match between Sea The Stars and Fame And Glory takes place.

It was interesting that, despite his resolution and his obvious abundant stamina, both Johnny Murtagh and Aidan O’Brien said after the Irish Derby that Fame And Glory would have no problem dropping back down to 10 furlongs. You hope that it isn’t just stallion-speak – an Irish Derby winner who has the pace to win a top class race over 10 furlongs is a hugely valuable commodity – but the chances are that it isn’t. Murtagh, in particular, seemed to be keen to have another crack at Sea The Stars at Leopardstown, even over the shorter distance.

It was also interesting that, despite the reservations expressed by John Oxx before the Epsom Derby – 50-50 to stay, the trainer had said – Mick Kinane, in his quiet under-stated way, didn’t appear to have any. Kinane had won the Derby twice before, the last time on Sea The Stars’s brother, Galileo. There is probably no other person in the world whose opinion on Sea The Stars’s stamina is more relevant.

That said, given their respective qualities, you have to think that Sea The Stars would be favoured by a contest over 10 furlongs, whereas Fame And Glory would be favoured by more of a stamina test, in the Arc de Triomphe, say, or in the Breeders’ Cup Turf over a mile and a half. Coral’s senior odds compiler put up notional prices in the Racing Post on Wednesday. If they were to meet in the Irish Champion Stakes, Coral would bet 8/11 Sea The Stars, even money Fame And Glory. If they were to meet in the Arc, the betting would be reversed, 4/6 Fame And Glory, 11/10 Sea The Stars.

Wherever and whenever the re-match happens is incidental for now. The main thing is that it does happen. For these rivalries to grow and flourish, you need competition. The most likely scenario is that it will take place on Sea The Stars’s terms, in the Irish Champion Stakes, over 10 furlongs, not 12, simply because Team Ballydoyle seem to be keen to have a go. As well as the obvious benefits that victory for Fame And Glory would bring, they almost certainly recognise the benefit that racing would glean from the competition, regardless of the result. On top of that, they are surely keen to even the score.

At the moment, it is still Sea The Stars’s serve. Fifteen love.

© The Sunday Times, 5th July 2009