Sea The Stars was typically brilliant in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe today, but it might be interesting to evaluate his performance strictly on form lines once again. The question is what is the form worth on paper and how much credit should he get for the considerable difficulty—partly created by his own behavior—of his trip.
Sea The Stars won by two lengths, with Youmzain, Cavalryman, and Conduit heads apart in second, third, and fourth. Dar Re Mi finished fifth, about 3 ½ lengths behind the winner, a length in front of Fame and Glory in sixth.
It was the third straight year that the 6-year-old Youmzain has finished second in the Arc. Last year he was rated 131 by Timeform, his highest career rating, and there is no reason to believe that he should be rated any higher this year. The Arc was his fifth start of the year, and, though he has run consistently well, he has not won a race in 2009.
Cavalryman won the Juddmonte Grand Prix de Paris in June and the principal French Arc prep, the Prix Niel, three weeks ago. I do not have a current copy of Timeform's weekly “black book” ratings, but it is impossible to imagine him being rated any higher than 130 on his previous performances.
Conduit has repeatedly proven his class, winning the St. Leger and Breeders' Cup Turf last year and the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes this year. Timeform rated him at 130 last year, and it is likely he might be rated a couple of pounds higher this year, but no more.
Dar Re Mi was rated only 119 last year, but has clearly improved at four, enough to be rated around 128, while Fame And Glory's previous performances would have earned him a rating around 130-132.
So, Sea The Stars beat three horses rated in the 130-132 range by two lengths, with two others also close to that range a bit further behind at one-length intervals. As with his previous best performances, on paper, that should equate to a maximum rating of around 135 to 136.
Two factors, however, lead one to believe that he should be rated several pounds higher. Ballydoyle's two pacemakers went off at a cracking pace, trying to sap Sea The Stars's stamina and set the race up for Fame And Glory. The riders on the good horses, however, ignored them, as indeed they should have, meaning that French Oaks winner Stacelita (who would have preferred softer ground) was the nominal leader, just ahead of the rest of the pack. The modest pace Stacelita set, however, meant that Sea The Stars was running over horses for the first half mile of the race, fighting jockey Mick Kinane and throwing his head about, trying to adjust his exceptionally high cruising speed to what amounted to a fairly slow pace for a race of this caliber.
Fighting the jockey for a half mile would sap the finishing speed of a normal high-class horse. Sea The Stars is not a normal high-class horse. At Longchamp, the field almost always fans out when the horses turn into the final straight about 2 ½ furlongs from home. Still, Kinane was extremely lucky that the race played out in this typical manner, and he easily found a seam for Sea The Stars.
Sea The Stars has repeatedly proven he can run a quarter mile in under 23 seconds at any stage of a race, and that is simply faster than any other European horse in training. He went about two lengths up with a furlong remaining, and basically cruised the rest of the way.
There is no doubt at all that Sea The Stars could have won by a wider margin if Kinane had driven him out to the post, but the question for form readers—and indeed for history—is how much wider? A length? Two lengths? Three? It is impossible to know, so one has to guess. For me, I could not go any higher than 140, and even that is a bit of a stretch.
Take a look at the race here and decide for yourself
The most recent European-trained horse rated that highly is Dancing Brave, who earned a 140 rating in 1986, and, indeed, their records are very similar. Dancing Brave defeated the previously unbeaten Bering (who finished the race with a cracked knee) by two lengths (officially 1 ½, but clearly more than that) in that Arc. Like Sea The Stars, he had lost only once previously, when his jockey Greville Starkey, who did not believe Dancing Brave would stay 1 ½ miles, anchored him at the back of the field in the Epsom Derby and his brilliant finishing speed could not quite catch Shahrastani.
Dancing Brave beat Shahrastani (130) in the 1 1/2-mile King George when ridden more intelligently by Pat Eddery, and Shahrastani finished fourth in the Arc, beaten 4 lengths. Bering was rated 136, and Triptych, who finished third in the Arc, 132.
Sea The Stars is the best horse trained in Europe since Dancing Brave, and, as such, probably is worth of a rating around 140. That is considerably higher than one can rate any horse who has run in America this year, including Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta. The one American performance that might arguably be in the same category is Rachel Alexandra's six-length defeat of Summer Bird in the Haskell, but the Monmouth track so consistently favors front runners that one has to take that margin with a large rock of salt.
Trainer John Oxx has always talked cautiously of running Sea The Stars in the Breeders' Cup Classic. If he does run, and if he handles the synthetic track at Santa Anita, he would not have to be at his very best to beat his American foes. Only Rip Van Winkle, who gave Sea The Stars his only real scare this year in the Eclipse Stakes, looks like a worthy opponent.
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