Monday, October 5, 2009

More Stars

Thanks to Sid Fernando for pointing out that video of the 2009 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe was already up on Youtube yesterday....I added a link to my original post on the victory of Sea The Stars, but I also went back and looked at the race again. The Youtube version is actually far better than the live feed on HRTV.

Looking at the race again did not change my opinion of Sea The Stars at all, but it did let me see some aspects of the race I had not been able to see on HRTV, aspects which confirmed my previous opinion in a couple of different ways. The first thing I noticed is what a truly rare feat Sea The Stars performed about 250 meters from the finish. Mick Kinane has maneuvered Sea The Stars off the rail and he is rallying between Stacelita and Dar Re Mi. He is moving fastest of the three, but visually only very slightly faster than Dar Re Mi. If he had maintained that pace, he would likely have finished perhaps a length ahead of Dar Re Mi...which would mean he would have been in a photo finish with the placed horses.

At that point, however, Dar Re Mi, who is drifting in, bumps Sea The Stars slightly, and actually pushes him slightly off balance. His response is dramatic and electrifying. As Kinane throws a cross at him, Sea The Stars visibly throws in an extra effort, an emphatic jump to the right and forward, and he accelerates a second time, and within five strides is three lengths in front. You can see for yourself here during the live action at about the 2:15 minute mark. The best view, however, is the close-up, head-on view at about the 6:50 mark.

This is not the first time, Sea The Stars has accelerated a second time to win a race. Watch what he has to do to beat Rip Van Winkle, the best horse he has faced, in the Eclipse Stakes in July. At about the 3:50 mark, Sea The Stars has already accelerated once to take the lead. Rip Van Winkle, coming from a couple of lengths behind, closes to within a neck or half-length at the furlong pole, but Sea The Stars accelerates again to win by a little more than a length.

That ability to accelerate twice is very rare, and, for me, confirms Sea The Stars's place in the 140 Timeform class.

The other thing I wanted to see in the Youtube replay was exactly what happened to Youmzain and Conduit, the second and fourth. In truth, both overcame trips that were actually worse, in terms of position and route, than that of Sea The Stars. Conduit is the horse in the white silks who is alongside Sea The Stars on his outside for most of the trip. Youmzain is the horse in blue and white who is directly behind Sea The Stars for most of the race. At the top of the stretch, however, Sea The Stars gets through on the inside, Conduit goes widest of all, and Youmzain splits one horse inside of Conduit.

Basically Sea The Stars turned into the stretch alongside Conduit and about two lengths in front of Youmzain. He accelerated more quickly and took the shorter route home, but ended up about the same distance in front of Youmzain as he had been 2 1/2 furlongs earlier.

In terms of absolute form, you simply can't get away from this fact. Look back at the 2008 Arc when Zarkava beat Youmzain by two lengths. Zarkava's run is nowhere near as visually impressive as Sea The Stars, but notice how Youmzain, who enters the stretch several lengths in front of her, gets trapped on the rail and has to come around fading horses late. He should have finished closer, but would never have beaten Zarkava.

I am in no way implying that Zarkava was as good as Sea The Stars. Her 133 Timeform rating, (equivalent of 136 for a colt) fully reflects her ability relative to Youmzain, who is an extremely reliable yardstick. But my point remains. If Zarkava only ran to a 136 equivalent beating Youmzain last year, why is Sea The Stars victory over the same horse worth more this year?

Well, in my book, it IS worth more, mostly because of the way Sea The Stars pulled for the first half mile, but don't tell me he had a harder trip than Youmzain or Conduit, because he didn't. I'd still rank him at 140.

And by the way, Tony C....I always thought Dancing Brave was slightly overrated. Equal to Vaguely Noble who beat Sir Ivor by three lengths in the 1968 Arc? Two pounds better than Nijinsky II? I don't think so!


Here's an interesting viewpoint on the subject of Sea The Stars's place in history from Sam Walker of the Racing Post.


  1. John,

    Likewise, always have considered Dancing Brave a bit flattered at 140, but this colt is probably every bit that good.

    Would have been ever so game if Kinane had given Sea the Stars a bit more rope and allowed him to stride along in a better position earlier. It would certainly have given everyone a sterner test at the finish.

    Despite the hares in front, none of the real runners were paying them any mind. The trainer-jockey are so afraid Sea the Stars doesn't stay that I'm amazed. Here's a colt who finished beautifully on rising ground at Newmarket for the Guineas and at Epsom for the Derby.

    He has no shortage of stamina, and his speed is a bonus that corrects a lot of errors.

    Now if breeders will try not to load his book with too many Oaks fillies and such, he ought to make a very usable stallion.


  2. "Equal to Vaguely Noble who beat Sir Ivor by three lengths in the 1968 Arc? Two pounds better than Nijinsky II? I don't think so!"

    I agree, John, and suspect that DB's rating was due in large part to the (apparently) strong temptation to emphasize the contemporary runner at the expense of those whose accomplishments are not nearly as vivid in the mind.

    We see that dynamic regularly these days, as horses like Curlin are hyped far beyond all reasonable historical context.

    I always resist that temptation, but Seas The Stars is a hell of a horse...

  3. I agree wholeheartedly. Good horse that he was, Curlin could not possibly be rated in the 140 category on form. I'd personally put him in the 134-135 range. I try hard to balance the tendency to overrate recent performances against my curmudgeonly tendency to stubbornly refuse to acknowledge that a contemporary horse could be as good as good as the heroes of my youth like *Ribot (and yes, I've always thought *Sea-Bird a bit overrated as well!).

    Rachel Alexandra currently presents a huge problem in those terms. One performance, the Haskell, on paper says she might be worth something in the upper 130s, but at the moment, we don't really know how good Summer Bird is, and he's the key horse. Has he just been beating moderate horses, or is he a genuine 132 horse as his record says he might be? If he is, then, even allowing for the Monmouth track bias, Rachel deserves a really high rating. And unfortunately, the BC Classic may not tell us much, since the American older horses offer few real links to the form of Curlin or Big Brown, for example.

    It's a puzzle, but yes, Sea The Stars is a hell of a horse.

  4. Actually, I'd argue that RA's key performance from a rating standpoint was the Woodward. Those older runners are well-exposed, reliable yardsticks.

    Summer Bird could hardly have been at his best forcing the pace at a distance too sharp for him, so I don't consider RA's Haskell performance to be particularly meaningful.

    She's certainly outstanding, but I am ambivalent for two reasons. First, she hasn't beaten anything exceptional. At the same time, though, I imagine that she would take some beating over a flat mile – a distance which she'd have relatively few chances to try on the dirt here in the U.S.

    That's yet another reason why I prefer European racing – true milers have plenty of opportunities to show their best.

  5. For me there are several problems with using the Woodward as a measure for Rachel Alexandra, one of which you allude to. First problem is that she was clearly past her best, a tired horse. Asmussen and Jackson were very wise to call it a year, because the Woodward got right to the bottom of her, and it will take a long rest for her to come back to her best.

    As for Summer Bird, just because he won the Belmont, doesn't mean he's not pretty good at nine furlongs. He had Quality Road beaten at nine in the Travers, and Quality Road is pretty high class horse at 9. I agree Summer Bird is best at 10+, but he's pretty darned good at nine. The track bias, though, definitely played against him....but how much?

    It's impossible to rate Macho Again any higher than, say, 125, and that's pushing it. He's a good second class horse, and that's it.

    I agree that Rachel is basically a miler. Perhaps the Met Mile next spring will tell us more about her. She was at the end of her tether, stamina-wise, in the Preakness, and I wouldn't bet on her to beat anything of quality at 10 furlongs. Of course she'd beat moderate horses over any distance.

  6. John,

    I'm glad the curmudgeon in you could still see fit to eke out the comment that maybe Sea-Bird was a tad overrated!

    But what a horse, huh?!

  7. No doubt Sea-Bird was one of the greats...but for me, perhaps he did not race enough to prove himself better than Ribot. His rating is based on his margin over Reliance in the Arc (officially 6, actually 5, but value for more because he swerved to the middle of the track). But how good was Reliance? Again, didn't race enough to have a solid yardstick. The other basis is collateral form through Diatome, who was third and then won the DC international....But Diatome didn't exactly dominate anyone the following year, now did he?

    At best, we're arguing over a pound or two here or there. I mean it's possible to say Ribot beat nothing, after all....16 straight times.

  8. Hey, John, loved your blog and sent it to the Paulick Report where it got posted. I'm just getting to read comments now.

    I've always thought Ribot could have been named Horse of the Century. If I remember, they misjudged his margin of victory in one of his Arcs. Margin of victory doesn't necessarily tell the story anyhow.

    I thought Curlin was overrated last year. His highest ratings came in races with small fields, ideal conditions, and lesser horses. I would have put New Approach and Zarkava ahead of Curlin.

    Sea The Stars laid down a fantastic campaign and showed heart and class -- I like the International the best. He certainly has the gears. I'm not convinced he could not have jogged his way through the St. Leger.

    Did Zarkava have gears? I'd argue she did pretty well manuevering through that field and she just went "poof" when she got the opportunity. I'd rate her the best of 08. I think she's got as good of skills as Stars. Youmzain has been right there with Dylan Thomas, Zarkava, and Stars every year. It's the campaign that separates Sea the Stars to me.