Donn's Articles » Sea The Stars

Sea The Stars

Just because you are a top class player, it does not automatically follow that you will be a successful manager. Just because you are a top class racehorse, it does not mean that you are going to make it as a stallion. Same principle: different disciplines, different skills required.

That said, if ever there was a thoroughbred horse born who had the attributes required to be a successful progenitor, it was Sea The Stars.

He had the pedigree for starters, a son of Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Urban Sea by Cape Cross, a brother to top class racehorse and champion sire Galileo.

He had the conformation. John Oxx always thought he was a fantastic-looking horse. Michael Kinane loved him from the moment that he saw him, even before he got up on his back. When Nick Nugent from Goffs went to look at the Irish National Stud’s yearlings in advance of the 2007 Orby Sale, he reported back that the half-brother to Galileo by Cape Cross was the outstanding yearling of the year.

“He was always a great-looking horse,” says Pat Downes, manager of the Aga Khan’s Gilltown Stud, where Sea The Stars now stands as a stallion. “He was very well made, a lovely horse, well put together. I remember watching him doing a piece of work with one of ours that we regarded highly, Arazan, and asking John (Oxx) what the other horse was. ‘Oh that’s just a Cape Cross brother to Galileo,’ John said.”

Then there was his remarkable racing career. He got beaten on his racecourse debut at The Curragh in July 2008, but he raced eight times after that, and he was never beaten again. A maiden and the Group 2 Beresford Stakes as a juvenile, and those six races, six Group 1s, in six months as a three-year-old in 2009, under the expert guidance of John Oxx and in the expert hands of Michael Kinane.

The 2000 Guineas in May, the Derby in June, the Eclipse in July, the Juddmonte International in August, the Irish Champion Stakes in September, and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in October. It was an extraordinary season, made all the more extraordinary by the fact that the horse appeared to improve with each run, and that he left the impression that he still had more left to give at the end of it all.

“Top class horses just aren’t asked to do what he did that year,” says Downes. “To win those six races in six months, without an appreciable break between any of his races, was astonishing. It wasn’t for us to decide when to retire him, and it must have been a difficult decision for his owner Mrs Tsui to retire him at the end of his three-year-old season, but I’m sure that she felt he had nothing left to prove.”

It was also a difficult decision for his owner to decide where to stand him as a stallion. However, given the strong connection between John Oxx and the Aga Khan, Gilltown was an obvious choice.

“We knew after he won the Juddmonte, and before he won the Irish Champion Stakes, that he was coming to us,” says Downes. “So when he won that race, and then went on and won the Arc, it was fantastic. Actually, on the weekend that he won the Arc at Longchamp, we had five Group 1 winners and two Group 2 winners. It was the best weekend that we have ever had.”

There are several pressure points for a new stallion. There is the initial interest in him after the announcement of his retirement, followed quickly by the quality of the mares that he gets, followed by how he takes to his new role. The first exposure that he gets to the marketplace is when his pregnant mares go to the breeding stock sales the following autumn. Then there are his foals, then his yearlings, then his first two-year-old runners. A stallion’s career can stand or fall at any or all of those points.

“Sea The Stars was great from the start,” says Pat. “He was extremely fertile, he took to his new role really well, and he breezed through his first season. There wasn’t really a lot of marketing on him, it was more a case of choosing his mares. Mrs Tsui decided that he would cover 140 mares, so it was a case of choosing the most suitable 140.”

A couple of pregnant mares were sold in the States, but only 10 of his foals went to the foal sales the following year, and they were in huge demand.

“They were seen as prized assets,” says Downes. “We saw a slight dip in demand for him in his second year, but once his foals hit the ground and went to the sales, that gave him huge momentum into year three, which can be a tricky year for a stallion.”

There was a huge sense of anticipation surrounding Sea The Stars’ first two-year-olds on the racetrack last season, but there was also a general realisation that his progeny would not necessarily be precocious, that they would be more of a slow burn. My Titania won the Group 3 CL Weld Park Stakes last September, his first Group winner, but there were several performances from juveniles at the back-end of last season that promised far more for 2014.

Taghrooda was one of those who promised, and delivered. The John Gosden-trained filly won her maiden on her racecourse debut last September, then proceeded this season to win the Pretty Polly Stakes and the Epsom Oaks.

Sea The Moon did not even race last year as a juvenile. The Markus Klug-trained colt won a Group 3 race at Frankfurt on his debut this term, followed up by winning a Group 2 race at Cologne, then danced in in the German Derby at Hamburg last Sunday.

“Sea The Moon’s win in the German Derby was really impressive,” says Downes. “And Taghrooda’s win in the Oaks was massive. People almost expected it. They expected Sea The Stars to get on the Group 1 ladder, so it was great that he did it. It would be great if she could come over to The Curragh now next Saturday and win the Irish Oaks as well.”

His eldest progeny now just three, Sea The Stars has already produced two Classic winners. It may have been half-expected, but it is a phenomenal start from a champion racehorse who could go on now to be a champion stallion.

“I’m delighted for the horse,” says Pat Downes. “Now that he has had these winners, it should ensure that the winners keep coming. But if Sea The Stars isn’t going to make it as a stallion, then this breeding game really is a lottery.”

Looks like his numbers have come up.

© The Sunday Times, 13th July 2014