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Sea The Stars Story

Sometimes the very best stories have the strangest origins. The Sea The Stars tale can be traced back to Epsom Oaks day 2004. If Christopher Tsui had not got himself along to the Epsom Downs that day, it is probable that Sea The Stars, odds-on favourite for this afternoon’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp, and possibly the best racehorse that this generation has seen, would never have come into being.

The story goes something like this. Tsui, a 23-year-old Economics student in London at the time, was blown away by the performance that Ouija Board put up in winning the Oaks, obliterating her rivals and coming home seven lengths clear. As it happened, the filly that finished second, the main focus of Tsui’s attention, was All Too Beautiful, a daughter of the Tsui family’s top broodmare, 1993 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Urban Sea. Any filly that could beat All Too Beautiful by seven lengths must be a special filly. Tsui noted that Ouija Board was by Cape Cross, went home to Hong Kong and discussed the performance with his mother Ling.

Rewind the story a little. Earlier that year, Urban Sea had given birth to a foal by Green Desert, the sire of Cape Cross, and was in foal again to the same stallion. Mrs Ling Tsui had also been impressed with Ouija Board, but she was also taken with some of the other results that the young stallion Cape Cross was getting. She resolved that, the following year, she would send her mare to Cape Cross, and so the Sea The Stars story began. The resultant foal was born at the Irish National Stud at 11.20pm on 6th April 2006.

John Clarke, manager of the National Stud, well remembers Sea The Stars as he made his first baby steps.

“He was a big heavy foal,” recalls Clarke, “but he was beautifully put together. He was always a very nice foal, he was trouble-free, never sick a day in his life, he was just a very easy horse in every way. He was always a very easy mover, a good walker, good temperament. He just had this quality, a little arrogance, I am superior to every other horse. He has it in spades, the look of a king. Always had it.”

The foal was never going to the sales. Early on in his life, Mrs Ling decided that she would like to keep him, that it would be good for the horse to race in Christopher’s now famous yellow silks, purple cap, yellow star on cap.

He developed into just the most unbelievably smashing yearling,” says Clarke. “Right through his yearling days, he was one of those yearlings who did well physically. Every time you saw him you thought to yourself, ‘God, that yearling has done really well.’ Of course, you don’t know how good the engine is going to be and you don’t know what their mind is going to be like, but you hope. He was with us until the first week in October. We gave him a semi-sales prep, just taught him manners, to walk, to stand, and then we sent him off to John Oxx’s.”

John Hynes was the man entrusted with grooming and looking after the youngster on a day-to-day basis at Oxx’s. That’s just the way it worked out. Sea The Stars ended up in Box 19, the same box that both Sinndar and Alamshar had occupied before him. Hynes looked after Alamshar, Hynes looked after Sea The Stars.

“I remember very early on after the horse arrived into the yard,” says John, taking up the story. “Tony Shanahan, the head man, called me over and pointed to a little bone in the horse’s forehead, like a little horn, and said: ‘You see that there? That’s supposed to be the sign of a really good horse. I haven’t seen one of those in a long long time.’ I’ll never forget it. That was long before he ever ran.”

Sea The Stars is quiet enough at home, but he is still a colt, he’s strong and he’ll push the boundaries, he’ll have a bite at you when you try to brush his head, he’s good at getting his head around difficult angles just when you think you’re safe. Even so, Hynes finds it difficult to disguise his regard, affection if you like, for this horse. It’s there in the manner in which his tone and his face softens when he talks about him, and in the apple that he confesses to sneaking in to his box every evening.

“He loves being busy,” says Hynes. “He loves working, doing his work and coming back and being looked after. You know by him in the yard if he is well or if he isn’t, and he is well now. He’s a great horse to eat, he loves his grub.”

It has been some year so far for John Hynes, Newmarket, Epsom, Sandown, York, then back to Leopardstown. He was moved by the reception that the horse received after he won at Leopardstown, and before he won at Sandown.

“Just walking round the parade ring with him at Sandown before the Eclipse,” he says, “the reception he got was unbelievable. People clapping and cheering, just when he came into the ring. It was unbelievable. I had a lump in my throat that day just walking around with him.”

The story continues at Longchamp today.

© The Sunday Times, 4th October 2009