All's Unfair in Love and Racing

Sea the Stars’ retirement, as disappointing as it was, should not have come as a surprise to anyone. But what compounded the disappointment, as if rubbing salt in the wound, were the comments made by trainer John Oxx and owner Christopher Tsui. All they had to say was, the horse was at the peak of his monetary value, and it was in their best interest to take advantage of it.

Instead, we got the same tired old clichés that did nothing but make the horse’s fans feel worse than they did. Like most owners and trainers, they fail to realize that people no longer buy such vacuous comments.

One moment, Oxx is saying, “It would be unfair to Sea the Stars to run him in the Breeders' Cup.” The next moment, he’s saying, “He’s been so sound, and never gave us any trouble. His durability, his toughness, and his constitution were all a large part of his talent.”

So, why was it unfair to Sea the Stars? Didn’t Oxx really mean to say, “It was unfair to Sea the Stars’ reputation to run him in the Breeders' Cup and a defeat could possibly minimize his value as a stallion and his place among the immortals?” It certainly wasn’t unfair to Sea the Stars, if he came out of the Arc in such fantastic shape, as Oxx claimed. Unfair to the horse is running him when he’s tired, injured, ill, or simply not acting like himself, none of which applied to Sea the Stars. So, basically, it was unfair to the horse’s connections to run him, not the horse. Just say it.

Anthropomorphizing horses is fine when you are taking literary license to add color to a story, and everyone knows it. But Sea the Stars is not standing in his stall saying to himself, “Geez, it’s not fair making me go all the way to America to run on a synthetic surface in 90-degree weather.” Considering how sound and competitive he is, he’d probably be saying, “California? Sunshine? Hundreds of photogaphers chasing after me? A chance to make history? Bring it on.”

Tsui, after waiting several days to share the reason for his decision with the public, came up with this:

“As a racing fan, I didn't want to see him retire either, as each race has brought me joy and excitement beyond anything I could ever dream of. I am undoubtedly his biggest fan. However, as his owner there are things to consider beyond just the joys of watching him race.”

Now, one would naturally assume those things to consider are money and more money. But, alas, that’s not the reason at all, according to Tsui, who has been described in British publications as “immeasurably wealthy.”

"My family has been breeding from Urban Sea for 15 years," Tsui said. "When she died earlier this year, me and my family were devastated and heartbroken. Now that she is gone, I feel that it is very important for her legacy to carry on, and Sea The Stars has the potential to make it happen.”

So, is he saying that if Sea the Stars raced in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and retired in November instead of October, he would not have carried on Urban Sea’s legacy? He makes it sound as if he’d be sending the horse on some dangerous mission from which he might never return?

It is time owners and trainers come to the realization that people as a whole are not stupid or gullible. Oxx is a talented, well respected trainer, and Tsui obviously has tremendous feelings for Sea the Stars. But if you’re going to retire a horse like Sea the Stars, try to resist the rhetoric and nonsensical comments and just tell it like it really is, or at least think about what you’re saying. There is only one reason to retire a perfectly sound and healthy Sea the Stars as a 3-year-old, and one reason only. So, why not admit it? Or just say you feel the horse has done enough and that there is nothing more you want to accomplish with him. People will bitch for a while and then they’ll let it go and start looking for the next superhorse to retire sound and healthy as a 3-year-old. That is the cycle of life in the Thoroughbred world and what we all have come to expect, so quit the pretensions that you want to see your horse continue racing, but can’t because you have to consider the things “beyond the joys of watching” your horse race.

When you have a horse as sound, as durable and as healthy as Sea the Stars, the only things beyond those joys are dollar signs, like a hundred million of them. Fess up; we understand. We’ve been there before and we’ll get over it.

Watch next Wednesday’s “And They’re Off” for  the top 10 “real” reasons Sea the Stars was retired.

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