Thursday, April 15, 2010

Timeform Sees the Stars

Regular readers of The Pedigree Curmudgeon will remember the lively discussion that ensued last October after this post and this follow up post about the victory of Sea The Stars in the 2009 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. Some readers, particularly our good friend Sid Fernando, disagreed somewhat with my rating of Sea The Stars at about 140 on the Timeform scale, believing he should be rated higher.

At the time my personal Timeform-scale ratings of the Arc principals plus Rip Van Winkle, the second best horse in Europe last year, read like this (some of these ratings were explicitly mentioned in the discussion, some not):

Sea The Stars 140
Rip Van Winkle 134
Fame And Glory 132
Youmzain 132
Conduit 130
Dar Re Mi 128

With Timeform's Racehorses of 2009 arriving this week, I thought it would be interesting to post their final ratings on those same horses, so here they are:

Sea The Stars 140
Rip Van Winkle 134
Fame And Glory 133
Youmzain 130
Conduit 130
Dar Re Mi 124

Obviously I'm pleased that my own ratings are so close to Timeform's, but then I possess the considerable advantage of owning every Timeform annual since 1943 in my library. I have read them all cover to cover (some biographies many times over) so I have a pretty good idea of how they go about compiling their ratings.

As I suspected, Timeform does not consider Sea The Stars's Arc performance to be his best. Correctly, in my view, they rate his length score over Rip Van Winkle in the Eclipse Stakes and his 2 1/2 length demolition of Fame And Glory in the Irish Champion as his two best performances. Here's the key paragraph from their 16-page writeup:

"What established Sea The Stars as a great horse was not just the fact of his winning six Group 1 races in a row, but rather his performances in some of those races. His Eclipse performance was that of a true champion, but his performance at Leopardstown was even better, probably the best on turf in Europe since Dancing Brave in the 1986 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe."

Timeform notes that Sea The Stars's superiority could not be measured simply by his margins of victory, "...his racing style and general demeanour often contributing to his winning with something in reserve, while he wasn't usually made to race right through to the end and demonstate his superiority to the full."

Timeform's comments on the Arc are equally apt and revealing: "The prestige of the Arc and the attention focused on Sea The Stars--who was cheered when he came into the paddock--led to the victory being lauded as the finest of his career though, judged solely on the quality of performance, it wasn't on a par with his Eclipse and Irish Champion efforts. ...The impression that Sea The Stars had plenty left was confirmed when Sea The Stars took off again as Stacelita came alongside after the leaders had crossed the line."

That last comment, of course, alludes to something that no one watching on television would have seen. It also makes me, at least, a little sad that trainer John Oxx adamantly resisted pressure to attempt to complete the Triple Crown with Sea The Stars because he was convinced the horse would not stay the almost 1 7/8 mile trip of the St. Leger. Obviously, Oxx knew his horse better than anyone and his opinion must be respected, but I strongly suspect that, like Nijinsky II before him, Sea The Stars was simply so superior to his contemporaries that he would have beaten any of them at any distance.

But of course if he had run in the Leger, we almost certainly would not have seen Sea The Stars burst from the pack at Longchamp, and that was something not to be missed.


  1. Good job on your time form ratings, and I agree on the wish that Oxx had taken a shot at the Triple Crown. I do believe STS could have done anything asked of him.

  2. While I don't own the complete set, I have been using Timeform for well over 25 years, and have long found it to be an indispensable resource. Your predictions were excellent, and given Dar Re Mi's impressive win in Dubai, I'm not convinced that Timeform's final number was more accurate than yours!

    I was lucky enough to be at Newmarket for Sea the Stars Guineas, and what a treat it was. I was completely unaware of his potential at the time, beyond the basic information available. He stood out in the paddock as a superb specimen, so much so, in fact, that I bet him on that basis. And while he didn't defeat a memorable group of horses, he did so in fine style.

    I consider him to be one of three best European runners that I have had pleasure of viewing in person, along with Dancing Brave and Sagace.

  3. I too was fortunate enough to be at Newmarket for Sea the Stars' Guineas. He first appeared unidentified in the pre-parade ring walking among older horses contesting the race before the Guineas and he stood out like a Caravaggio on a wall of Watteaus. That he raced up to his looks that day -- and for the rest of the season -- is an answered prayer for our sport and a perfect coda for the careers of Kinane and Oxx.