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St Leger: the oldest classic

For various reasons my heart’s not been in the flat season this year. The truth is that I have barely watched a race since Derby Day. I’ve turned the racing on just now and absence has made the grass seem greener than ever before and the jockeys’ silks buzz out of the tv screen.

Re: bets, I’ve had a few… Then again, (this season) too few to mention.

I might have one later on Blue Bunting, or I might not. Either way I will be with her in the
St Leger. Fillies don’t win the race much, but of them all I think the drying ground won’t inconvenience her and I like her robust profile. I’ve got to finish the post now because I want to watch Born to Sea, Sea the Stars half-brother, make his debut in ten minutes at the Curragh (2.40).

Blue Bunting: unusual tail

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The trouble with form…

…is that its basic precept is founded on the notion that horses will repeat themselves performance-wise each time they hit the track, which of course is completely impossible.

The way to read a race in my view is to assess the governing factors of each race and how that may or may not permit the horse to replicate its average (not best) form. There are also other factors to take into consideration: the paddock inspection, the trainer’s recent success, the market, the jockey’s state of mind and breakfast, and the undefinable quality of whether the horse has got out of bed on the going side.

Then you have to take into account any likely improvement, or any previous decline that has resulted in a relenting from from the handicapper, or that mysterious thing of running into form with older horses. There are those out there that like to win in August only, so watch out for those fellas in the coming weeks. Exhausting innit? No wonder so many casual punters simply pick grey horses, or follow jockeys or trainers, and back the one whose name has special resonance for them.

And I suppose this why I really prefer to back in maiden races. You can put a line through much of that previous selection criteria for a start and make a judgement based on potential. These yute don’t usually have non going days yet either, not yet being wise to the older tricks of the trade. Some might throw their chance away with a slow start, or by getting too gee ed up in the parade ring, but the downside of those possibilities is far outweighed by the joy of a race where I don’t have to puzzle through mounds of form on top of everything else.

So stuff yesterday’s racing with its feature Group Ones and races all over the country all day long; today with three cards and six maidens to choose from is my idea of an easy Sunday morning. It stops just short of perfection though – that would be when the going is soft all over the land.

Bucking the trend: always the best horse in the race

Sea The Stars bows out

One man and his horse

One man and his horse

John Oxx has just announced the decision that his colt has run his last race.

My instant reaction was to cheer and huge relief.

Mr Oxx has not put a foot wrong where his superstar is concerned. He has planned everything with meticulous care and concern for his horse. We are lucky that he had Sea The Stars and I am grateful for his wise and judicious nature.

If he were here, I would give him a hug.

Thank you John Oxx, your horse is the greatest, but you aren’t half bad yourself.

More Sea The Stars

I read he is a bit tired after yesterday’s exertions.  Me too, lack of movement today has given me some nasty lactic acid in my thighs but I don’t care if I am walking like a woman with no knees.  I have seen an incredible thing.  Six incredible things.  I don’t know what amazes me most – the race records or the manner of the victories, Kinane’s coolness under pressure or John Oxx’s great measuredness, the horse’s exceptional talent or the notion that he knows nothing of the fuss he has created.

I started the year thinking it would be rare indeed to see a Guineas/Derby double and now look where we are.  My anxiety last week when it became evident he would run surprised me.  I am beginning to think it is going to take a while to sink in.  It is going to take a few Guineas, Derbys and Arcs where we unfavourably compare the new heroes of the day to Sea The Stars.  I don’t expect we will see his like again.

I am torn.  I don’t want him to leave the stage, but I don’t want his perfect record besmirched.  I genuinely don’t want him to travel to California, but if he did I would almost buy a ticket to be there.  I can see he has nothing left to prove but I wonder if he could win two Arcs!  In the jumping game you have (if you are lucky) your stars around for a few years.  In the flat business, blink and you miss them, such is the desirability of their genes.  Next year I will be looking for a new star, but will I ever enjoy it as much as this year.  I don’t know, but I hope so.  Flat racing is so very transient.  Each season I watch makes me aware of time passing and this campaign has done that in the most raw and elemental way. 

In the meantime, I am determined to enjoy every moment left of his public life, so see some lovely pictures of him returning as Arc hero and looking as laid back as ever he did here:

http://gallery.sportinglife.com/Gallery_Detail/0,17732,13262_5609618,00.html

Back in the real world

I am shocked to see and hear that Sea The Stars’ marvellous exploits do not appear to warrant wall-to-wall coverage.  This comes as a shock to me – you mean the entire universe is not quite as obsessed as me?

Indeed the radio only mentioned him @ 8.30 (notice the break from usual rigid routine – that’s how earth-shattering events have been) in a brief sentence, after a long Lee Dixon ramble about the amazing new ball that they are playing with in The Premiership.  Apparently this may account for the goal-infested matches there have been lately.  If Mr Dixon is to be believed the ball can go any which way you wish to kick it…  Either that, he said, or no-one knows how to conduct a back four any more. 

Anyway, I don’t want the pantomime that is The Premiership intruding on my Sea The Stars aftermath, even if the media aren’t producing the lengthy paeans of praise I am after.  I expect a purchase of Racing Post will fix that later.  Please, please let Alistair Down write something I like for once.

I have been reading a lot about Sea The Stars and his victory and the Breeders’ Cup.  I am with Pat Eddery – he should do no more, there is nothing left to prove.  Yet, some correspondents are after more.  They suspect we have not yet found the bottom of the horse.  Why, I ask, would we want to?  Are we so greedy for more that we would pack him off to California, a long flight after a long, long season and then ask him to compete on polytrack, albeit in the most spectacular of settings.  If we demand that, he will either win or lose, or worse.  None of the possible outcomes could enhance his fame any more.  Mick Kinane said yesterday his coat has gone, he is becoming woolly.  This is a sure sign that it is time for us to let him go.  John Oxx has always said he will let the horse tell him where the next place to go will be.  I am sure he will be listening carefully over the next few weeks.

Urban Sea 1989-2009, (courtesy of Irish National Stud)

Urban Sea 1989-2009, (courtesy of Irish National Stud)

A Great

There were more Arc “signs” this morning.  I ran the Southend 10K (I use the term ran loosely, although I can assure you I never broke into the gait known as a walk) and my number started with 6.  Aside from the confirmation signs of what I already believed to be true, there were three strong signs Chelsea would prevail at Stamford Bridge, which I took to heart after the Black Cats stuck it to Man U yesterday.

I am not a very good runner but I stick to my guns and get home.  I am not good at switching off during a race, I don’t train properly and I am no judge of pace.  It is therefore necessary to talk myself round and out of various mindsets I get into over the course of an hour.  On the homeward run my mind became a little querulous, so I came up with one of my mad mantras to avoid excessive focus on any incipient aches and pains.  The mantra went

“Sea The Stars, (Supaseus), easy, easy, easy.”

Let me state quite clearly here and now, I am not actually mad.  I do not pretend to be a horse galloping along the seafront!  I just enjoyed the imagery and rhythm of the mantra and it stopped my mind from stopping my legs.  Now I have the image of Sea The Stars actual run today at Longchamp burned in to my brain, hopefully for replay many times in my life.

We had to head back to London to collect the children after the run, anxious as I was to be somewhere and not on the road at 3.15.  It was cut a bit fine in the end (thanks once again M25 junctions 28-27).  To distract myself from getting too worked up about the race, I got exceedingly worked up about the scoreline in the Arsenal game (when it was 3-2) and said some rude things about their defence to the driver.  Of course, I retract partially since they went on to score 3 more, but still there is always a price to be paid for expansive and beautiful football.  I expect Viera will sort it all out on his return.

So racing past the Olympic village with my stomach lurching like I was on a roller coaster with nerves, we made it to a television in time.  I couldn’t bear to watch a minute’s preamble and only went near enough the set to be considered a televisual participant once the runners were  loaded.  Prowling round in the hall, with my stomach on a rollercoaster whilst being tied in knots by an enthusiastic sailor I swore I would be contained…

I was contained when they broke and the pacemaker eventually shot off, I was still so when Sea The Stars started fighting for his head to go in pursuit.  I was contained in my despair shortly afterwards whilst Sea The Stars had got buried deep for cover but agonisingly shuffled back to boot.  Then he seemed to muscle his way into a debatable gap and my nose was nearly on the screen.  Just before he shot out from the pack I was screaming.

As he emerged to hit the front, I grabbed the youngest (at 5 still a grabbable size) and commanded her to look at the “best we have ever seen”.  Repeatedly and quite a lot loudly too.  My family are used to this from time to time so no permanent psychological damage was done (I hope!).  The seconds where Sea The Stars was clear in front and it was evident nothing was coming to him were some of the best seconds I have known in my life.  Not because I had the house on him (I didn’t), but because he was bringing home an incomparable first in flat racing.  He was delivering on a dream.  It’s my belief, in that moment, he let us beggars ride with him.

The peerless Sea The Stars in front in the Arc

The peerless Sea The Stars in front in the Arc

10 and 6 make 16

I’ll get to the maths in a moment. I’ve been slightly hysterical, I think it’s the Arc effect.  Nonetheless I pulled myself together and battled high winds across the badlands of East Anglia to get to the Rowley Mile – two races late.

I arrived for the third, the Group 1 Sun Chariot and got to see the runners go down.

Ghanaati looking good

Ghanaati looking good

I slapped a bet on Ghanaati to win and Spacious each way as me and her go back a while now. Ghanaati looked like she might come to win around the Dip, but was in the end vanquished (somewhat cruelly as far as my pocket spoke on the matter). Things then looked up. I thought Spacious was 4th, but she was actually racing in the Cheveley Park 2nd string colours, and as she was 3rd  I did not lose on the race after all. This confusion was a result of my having not looked at a card at all and not being able to buy one either as I was so late. This unfortunate state of affairs continued throughout proceedings, despite my companion being an employee of the Racing Post and my trawling the bar for abandoned cards, ultimately lacking the balls to just swipe one from a silly drunk.

So it was paddock picks for me all the way in the Cambridgeshire. I hate big handicaps – did I say that? My companion and I had a conversation along the lines of:

Me “I like number 9, which horse is it?”
Him (who had been on time) “Supaseus. Actually my stalker, Hughie Morrison, is here (Supaseus’s trainer).”
“Is that a good sign?”
“I can’t remember”
“I thought the horse preferred some cut”
“Maybe, he may have been aimed at this and the ground is usually a bit softer”
“Hmmm. Remind me again which side had the advantage in the farcical race that I missed”
Him, still seething about the result “High”

So I backed 9, aged 6 and drawn 26 at an SP of 16/1, and it only went and won. Supaseus hit the front early, very early, more or less from the stalls. My mate pulled a face. I told him not to worry (not that he’d backed it) it can win over 10f – I don’t even know if this is true, but at the time I felt it to be incontrovertibly so. Woohoo. Well in front now, which was just as well as the lack of a racecard started to take its toll on me in the last few races.

A bad quality shot of a quality winner

A bad quality shot of a quality winner

So now the numbers bit. Tomorrow Sea the Stars is miles ahead on any ratings known to man, woman or child. I have been through every possible negative I can think of and none are remotely credible. Ballydoyle are running three, two in the tag team before (they hope) Fame and Glory sweeps through. I am not convinced these tactics are going to work in such a big field. If they do by some chance, I am going to cry. Conduit has been aimed at this race but even with 2 more furlongs than they had in the Eclipse to get there (in front of StS) I don’t think he will. I could carry on trawling through the field with vague musings…

Youmzain. I am a big fan of his trainer Mick Channon, although I wouldn’t send any 2yo his way, and with Kieren Fallon on board (who we saw today) I am mindful of foxes and henhouses; but even with the visor and Mr Fox, Sea the Stars is no hen.

Cavalryman. Fabre trained. Respect, nuff said. and so it would go on. I don’t actually care too much who fills places. I don’t care about the race as a punting proposition; I only care that Sea The Stars and fate meet in perfect harmony.

So I have looked at the numbers and they all add up. Mick Kinane wins the Arc every 10 years – 1989, 1999… Sea The Stars on his 6th race of the campaign races from stall 6. His dam, Urban Sea, who died this year aged 20, won the Arc herself 16 years ago. Victory is written in the stars and I hope the heavens are reading the script.

In, Out, In, Out, etc.

Actually it’s the Arc, not the hokey cokey (and what’s that all about anyway?).  Runners are coming out today at the 5 day stage and tomorrow runners will be coming in as the supplementary stage opens.

Out goes Yeats (the battalions of Ballydoyle were having a bubble barf with that one), stalls-shy Spanish Moon (who was my ante-post ew bet) and three others.  In, for the fee of 100,000 euros, will likely come Stacelita, Cavalryman and maybe Sariska (but I am not sure about her as there has not yet been the rain they are after).  We have light rain forecast for the days preceding Sunday’s race but at the moment it is not believed to be enough to hinder the wonder horse’s participation.

The Arc and I have an uneasy autumnal sort of relationship.  My flat racing season tends to follow the same pattern every year.  Wild abandon when the Guineas comes round at the thought of all the exciting prospects, a glutted reverie in the mid-summer (after the Eclipse) when the calendar is full to bursting and week long festivals seem to be happening every fortnight, and then a sad sort of realisation about now that it is coming to an end.  Now is the time reputations are cemented, or shattered for good at Longchamp and then at the Breeders’ Cup.  I find that the enjoyable exercise of  trying to read a race in advance, now becomes clouded by sentiment and my hopes for individual horses.  Now I know Sea the Stars doesn’t give a toss if he wins on Sunday (although they do say a horse’s heart can be broken) but I really, really do.

The last time I gave this much of a shit was when I was convinced Deep Impact would win the Arc a few years back.  For those of you that didn’t see that showdown, Deep was 3rd and subsequently disqualified for having had a blast of Vicks a few days before the big one.  I felt ill before, during and after the unsatisfactory race and although I always enjoy the Arc I can’t quite bring myself to engage with it fully.  This year I have no choice.

It is tricky to preview a race without the line-up and the going.  Kieren Fallon is not to be deterred though in the “Weekender”, asserting that it is no done deal for StS given his packed dancecard and that Youmzain (his mount) may, finally and in blinkers, get in the Group 1 winning groove.  Well he might.

I have read others who are sweet on Conduit’s chances, yet others who insist he is a one-paced gallop merchant who will not have the requisite toe from the turn-in.

I find myself entirely unable to analyse this race.

I want Sea the Stars to win, trot into the history books and share his genes with us for a long, long time.

Deep on a going day

Deep on a going day

 

That said, I will organise my thoughts, exorcise the sentiment and evaluate the field’s chances on Sunday.

Sea the Stars – Irish Champion

I didn’t preview our pin-up’s chances yesterday.  It was hardly worth saying really – if he runs he wins.  Which he did, and better than in other races. This is likely due to him, in his trainer’s words, being a heavier specimen than he has been before i.e. he is still maturing and almost remarkably improving!

Now we can continue the somewhat will-he-won’t he tortuous dance to the Arc, or the Champion Stakes at Newmarket, or the Breeder’s Cup at Santa Anita.  Wherever he goes, whatever he does it will all very much be for posterity and I for one would not fancy that responsibility – I therefore wish John Oxx and the Tsuis all the luck in the world with their magnificent charge and hope to catch him somewhere (I hope over 10f!)soon.

 This blog post is very sadly dedicated to the memory of two young apprentices, Jan Wilson and Jamie Kyne, who needlessly lost their young lives in a fire in Malton on Saturday.

Van Gogh

Van Gogh

 

.

The Eclipse

On June the 7th, the day after the Derby I wrote:

“Enough about my endeavours of endurance, what about Sea the Stars, the big star of racing, – where next? Obvious choice the Irish Derby which is annoyingly close to the Eclipse. The Irish Derby sometimes comes up claggy so I guess Mr Oxx will turn up at Sandown instead if that’s the case. It would also be a perfect opportunity to show his charge’s ability over 10f. 3/1 for the Eclipse is a cracking bet, except for the fact that the horse is far more likely to stay at home!”

Pity I didn’t snaffle that price then, this morning our champion 3yo colt is a best-priced 8/13 (ok I only looked in one place, but I don’t think there’s any value left now!).  Of course this test is over 10f (probably perfect in pedigree terms) but the finish at Sandown is a little stiff and he will be taking on his elders, if not his betters at 3.15 but with an 11lb pull at the weights for the 3yo contenders, Sea the Stars is a more than worthy favourite.

I love Sandown and I love the Eclipse, the first Group race in the calendar where the 3yos can take on the older horses.  The sun usually shines and the sloping lawn outside the trainers and owners bar offers a great view of the track.  Added to that, the chance to stand right by the horses as they go onto the track (at eye-level with the jockey’s boots if you are about 5’6 – Christophe Soumillon favours croc patent leather n’est pas) and have a good look at the horses and the rider’s faces it is all just about perfect.  I wish I could go, but I am on cycling duty this weekend and hoping to maybe make the July Cup on Friday if some miracle occurs! 

Mr Oxx says that he thinks Sea the Stars has improved from the Derby.  I really hope he has.  The supreme effort of winning the Derby has wrecked recent winners’ subsequent careers, but today we have the opportunity to see an outstanding horse, that has so far at least done everything with consumate ease, cement his reputation as possibly one of the outstanding horses of recent years.  If he wins today, he would be following in the white-socked hoofprint of Nashwan, who in 1989 won the Guineas, the Derby, then started a short-priced favourite and duly obliged in the Eclipse, before having the first battle of his life at Ascot in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes, still prevailing and making a record of 6/6.

Nashwan by N.W. Brunyee
Nashwan by N.W. Brunyee

Of the other contenders I can’t find a serious threat.  Sir Michael runs a pacemaker for Conduit, who has failed over the 10 at Sandown before.  On breeding he just wants a good bit further and possibly slightly softer ground.  I would be surprised if he were able to win, but I respect his and his trainer/jockey’s chances.  If you can remember Notnowcato ploughing his own furrow  by the hedges a few years ago to win, you will understand what I am talking about! 

I really like the Henry Cecil colt Twice Over, despite his leaving a mental scar in the Craven when beating Raven’s Pass last year.  By Observatory, I think he has the opposite problem to Conduit and the pacemaker is not going to help him.  Cima de Triomphe has a course and distance win to his name and will be an each way price and it would be nice to see Rip Van Winkle run up to his hype over a more suitable trip. 

I can’t really split the also-rans so I think my bet for today will be a CTC (I think that’s a dog racing term?) – Sea the Stars, Cima de Triomphe & Conduit or Rip Van Winkle – two bets with the latter two interchanged – ok?
I have had a bit of a crisis this week over the morality of summer-jumping.  I don’t bet much on jumps anyway and I really try to steer clear of the firm ground in the heat.  News that  this week’s heatwave had meant that horses were coming off transport lathered in sweat and that the temperatures in the stables (and jockey’s room) were in the 90s was clearly not acceptable.  I wonder this – if punters stop punting on the daytime summer jumping calendar (although this does not address the firm ground issue) would the fixture list be amended?  No-one can argue with the facts, summer jumping causes more injuries than the winter season and I personally think we would be better off without it.  Water jumps need to be consigned to the scrap heap too, I am afraid.  A spectacle they may be, but they are one I would rather live without, given that sometimes the spectacle is too awful to behold, such as Mistanoora “plunging around in agony” to quote Brough Scott, at Stratford this week after breaking a leg.
I love racing, but I cannot accept that we need to run horses over extreme distances in extreme heat after travelling them in un-airconditioned boxes and that we are so desperate for punting opportunities that we cannot forgo the chance to back horses who are risking their limbs jumping onto hard ground in the middle of summer.  The horses are the things we admire and cherish in this sport and to do anything less than honour their efforts and rigorously protect their welfare makes us unworthy participants in the sport.