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.

39 Comments

Leave a Comment:

JudyLovesJohnHenry

Steve ~ Thanks for putting this on "paper". I agree with you.

17 Oct 2009 1:35 PM
Kevin

I would love to criticize the owner but the reality is there is nothing here for him to beat.  He would basically be beating horses he already beat with a few decent Americans thrown in.

If they were to race him again they would be much smarter to go to Japan or Australia anyway.  The Breeders Cup Classic is just not as big of a race as Americans make it out to be.  Two years in a row the top American horse, Rachel and Big Brown, didn't even get to the gate.

17 Oct 2009 1:36 PM
April1HorseFan

Such a waste.  Sea the Stars should be able to race if he is up to it and money be damned! Why are we fans not given more consideration?  Think what we do for horse racing.  If there is a race being held and no one shows up to watch and bet, is that sport? No wonder the sport is in trouble. We need more Curlins, Big Browns, Rachel Alandras, Hard Spun, Barbaro,Zenyettas, etc. etc.,.. Think FANS!!!

17 Oct 2009 1:37 PM
gmyad

as a horse racing fan i'm starting to think that all "super horses" should be female, that way they can race longer without the breeding implications to draw them from the track.

17 Oct 2009 1:47 PM
Draynay

I would want more proof.  He raced very well as a 3 year old but he has no real record at 2 and now will have none at 4.  I would not pay 150k or more for a horse with 6 wins at 3 and no wins at 4 regardless of the races.  I agree Steve tell the truth its all about the money to hell with the sport.

17 Oct 2009 1:47 PM
Robin Bush

You couldn't have said it better, Steve.  I'm so tired of all the brilliant three-year-olds retiring after eight or nine races I can't stand it.  I find it hard to even get excited about a colt anymore.  What's the point in getting attached to him?  I find myself rooting for geldings to become the big stars.  I'm sure Sea the Stars has little left to prove, so I don't feel as annoyed at his retirement as I do when a horse still hasn't gotten to show what he's really made of.  But I don't regret not having gotten to know him better as a racehorse, because as it is I don't feel like there'll be the feeling of loss that I've experienced after the prompt retirements of so many other talented three-year-olds I did become attached to.  But, yes, this has become the norm and I guess we just need to move on.

17 Oct 2009 1:52 PM
Bill Daly

Interesting that this horse is being retired to stud in spite of the depressed market.  I guess they figure it's still a better bet to take their chances at stud rather than the racetrack.  Hopefully, this will change some day.

17 Oct 2009 2:16 PM
seb

The horses Oxx has brought to the Breeders' Cup have been limited and, with the notable exception of Ridgewood Pearl, have been Aga Khan horses.  It may be that Oxx honestly does not really like the Breeders' Cup as a way to end the season of his top horses and only makes the journey when his owners want him to do so.

If Tsui says no, what's a trainer to do?  Go against his owner and lose all sorts of business?  If Tsui is taking the money, isn't the issue with the conditions put on the sale?  Perhaps his comments about the heartiness of Sea the Stars' condition are Oxx's version of an argument to go on with him, while understanding the limited vocabulary he can use given the owner's decisions.

Meanwhile, it seems to me that American commentators miss just how much European racing and breeding doesn't really find US racing very relevant any more.  The racing styles have always been different, but with generation on generation of drug-normalized performances, there isn't anything like the amount of trans-Atlantic bred European group winners there used to be.  Since we've decided this is all about breeding value, remind me of what way a horse (likely) destined to stand in England or Ireland would benefit as a stallion prospect from a race over one or another surface in California?  After all, the bulk of European males seen at the BC in recent years are from either Coolmore or Dubai interests, and no one's ever accused either party of not placing their stallion prospects so as to secure potential breeding revenues.  Who thought one would ever be wishing that Sea the Stars was owned by either of these groups, but had he been, perhaps his chance of showing up in California would have been greater.

Forget the Breeders' Cup, send the horse to the Hong Kong December festival.

17 Oct 2009 2:16 PM
Gunfighter

I can say that if I had a horse like Sea the Stars I too would concider it unfair to the horse to run in So.Cal. There is nothing to prove or gain by running there.

Had it been the Dubai World Cup being conciderd it would be another matter. But running a super star like Sea the Stars at SA is to much off a risk, who knows what the track crew will do to the track (they are known for trying to have as fast a track as possible, no matter what).

I think the owner and trainer made the right thing by not going for the BCC.

17 Oct 2009 2:27 PM
helsbelles

Love the way your mind works Steve.  You could write an article on wet-paint drying, and it would still be entertaining.  I agree with you, they should just give it to us straight.  The fabricated excuses smack of condescension.

Let the search commence for the next equine superstar, who will most certainly also be retired as a 3yo -- love the sarcastic humor!

17 Oct 2009 2:42 PM
Windy City

It's BIG BS.....and one of the major reasons horseracing is having a hard time getting new fans. Last year I got two of my friends cought up with racing, just before the TC races. They were excited, but after few months, when it was announced that Big Brown was retired (among other high profile horses) my friends just stoped watching. This year they said that they don't even want to watch TC races because the horse they'll "fall in love with" will be retired after few months anyway.... It's soo sad, why retire a happy, healthy horse?? I would preffer to see them not that ofthen during the year, but enjoy them for few more years.

My husband was right on the money this year when he saw me getting so excited in front of TV watching the Arc, he simply asked me "do you really hope STS wins?? If he will, they'll retire him rightaway..." I was so mad at him, he doesn't even watch races! Unfortunatelly he was right :-(

That's the reason I love Einstain, Kip Devile! They don't have to be at the wire first every time, they are great for just being around for so long. I just hope that Mine That Bird will stay healthy snd we will see this brave little horse for few more years. The "after-taste" after STS announcement is so bitter, at this point I'm more thankfull for MTB than STS...At least he will race few more races!

17 Oct 2009 2:42 PM
BrittNCSU

I find his retirement very disappointing.  While it would be wonderful to see him race in the Breeder's Cup, I could care less if they chose to skip it.  It's a long trip so I understand not making it and I am not so ignorant to think that American racing is all that important to the rest of the world, but to retire him after one good season is unfair to the horse.  He proved he was a great 3 year old but truly great horses come back and do battle again.  He obviously has nothing left to prove this year but let him come back next year and reward his fans.  Most fans will never see a favorite again after he retires and if he is a flop at stud they won't even get the joy of cheering on an offspring.  This sport needs horses that come back and race; not horses that shine brilliantly for a short time and are hustled off to the breeding shed.  This is why everyone remembers the old campaigners so fondly.  The ones that you could see again and again.  They accepted defeat with grace, came back with determination, and took on anyone willing to step on the track with them.  That is a legend.  Sea the Stars may very well be made of the stuff of legends, but he won't get the chance to prove it.  Not that I want to belittle his accomplishments this year.  He is an impressive horse with an impressive resume, but he could have the chance to be something truly great and lasting.  There is nothing greater than seeing a Thoroughbred that loves his job doing what he was born to do.  It gives me goosebumps.  Sea the Starts loves to run.  What's more unjust, resting the horse and bringing him to do what he loves or putting him into the much more restrictive role of a breeding stallion?

17 Oct 2009 3:06 PM
Steve Haskin

My comments were not about whether Sea the Stars should have been retired or had anything more to prove. That premise has been done to death. My comments were about leveling with the public and ceasing the meaningless and contradictory comments about why the horse was retired. They are an insult to our intelligence.

17 Oct 2009 3:28 PM
flyinhome

Steve, i totally agree with you 100%. STS also reminds me of a few Euro's that came over here in the BC, and LOST to horses from the US. Giants Causway, George Washington, and the Latest, Dylan Thomas. Who won the Arc just as impressively. They have no respect for our intelligence, they think we are dumb and will fall for there comments.  

Also, i don't think people have room to compare the two types of racing. not one is really better than the other, both methods work. Different tracks, speed, and breeding. Some good Euros do good over here, a lot of them flop. Euro's always say that their second rate horses always beat our top.... Wrong. horses race differently on different tracks.

17 Oct 2009 3:58 PM
Terry

Horse racing used to be about seeing fine horses run, not about big bucks at the breeding shed. Today's horses are, on the one hand, coddled like fine porcelain and, on the other hand, drugged to perform, whether it's anti-inflammatories or painkillers or steroids. The only drug I think a horse should run on is Lasix, and that only because so many tracks are located near heavy industry, airports or major highways where the air quality is poor.

There was a time when top stakes horses made dozens of starts every year. At least if one retired at 3, there was a full season of racing which would allow one to assess the horse's quality.

I often wonder why Standardbreds race once a week and are often turned out into paddocks for some R&R between their races, while Thoroughbreds spend their time training instead of racing.

I have also wondered why some Standardbreds and most jumper stallions will be used for both breeding and competition without being retired for breeding, while Thoroughbreds have to do one or the other. Makes no sense to me!

17 Oct 2009 4:02 PM
Selbs

I completely agree.  I think the reaction would have been much different if the response was to put him away for the year and bring him back next year in Dubai and give him a 4yo season.  I know he's going to be a valuable stud prospect, but the industry needs the press if owners expect their "super star" colts to demand top stud fees.  More press = more money in the industry through advertising, betting, investing in partnerships, etc.  

What a shame, as it seems he'd grow into an even more powerful older competitor.  

17 Oct 2009 4:09 PM
anna

if both the owner and trainer had came straight out and stated that it would be unfair for sea the stars to keep racing after all of his brillant runs and unprecented wins this yr and that there isn't anything left for him to do besides going to the breeding shed or they don't want to risk injury by running him anymore. that would have been a lot better than them saying 'oh it's unfair to keep him going to hell with what everyone else thinks including the fans the fans doesn't matter.'

that is what john oxx basically said in his statement about sea the stars being retired.

17 Oct 2009 4:20 PM
peter mallett

no one seems to think that        great aomplishements without the advantage(?) of NA elixers is important but maybe this guy was was special...i don't know i haven't seen him and the arc tv was as useess as always  but he did run the fasestr final 1/4 of any arc winner i have clocked in more than 15 year- retire him..of course .. thats how the futures game is played

17 Oct 2009 4:32 PM
Edward

Thanks, Steve. It was my first and only thought. Why make up BS and insult us, the fans?

As for the Dubal WOrld Cup being more important than the Breeders Cup, you must be kidding. The competition is a cut below and when there is a great horse its only because of the purse. Its not quite a must win race for legacy.

17 Oct 2009 4:47 PM
Davids

You wouldn’t want to become too cynical would you but lets imagine if STS was immediately tested as a stallion prospect and, for whatever reason, was found to be totally ‘unsuitable’ wouldn’t STS’s next adventure be a trip to Los Angeles in a few weeks time? Imagine the back flip of excuses on why STS has to run in the BC.  

17 Oct 2009 4:48 PM
txhorsefan

Once again, as always, you have nailed it, Steve.  I read many articles asking for transparency and honesty in communication and yes, that is what this is all about.  We are grown ups, we understand that money talks and sure, we would have loved to see this wonderful horse prove himself as a four year old, but don't try to shove under the rug the reasons he was retired.  We may be Americans and not the so-called elite of Europe, but we're not stupid, so don't treat us like children.  Thank you for saying it all so well.  

I am disappointed and will give Sea The Stars his due as being a terrific three year old who completed an arduous campaign, but I cannot justify saying he is one of the all time greats simply because we will never know after less than ten races.  Yes, I understand Secretariat retired at three, and it was about the money needed to help the family cover estate taxes, etc., but he certainly was competitive for at least a solid two year campaign, more than a few races.  We were not led to believe anything about it being in the horse's best interests, so totally different scenario.

Helsbelles - I loved what you said about Steve's writing about wet - paint  - LOL!  I'm sure I'd love to read that article, too!  :)

17 Oct 2009 5:19 PM
wilson

Maybe the Breeder's Cup needs to add money to the Breeder's Cup Turf Purse if it wants to draw these horses year in and year out.

17 Oct 2009 5:23 PM
MikeM

Call it what u will.Unless you are Jess Jackson or the Arabs, this is a no brainer. The horse is to valuable as a stallion to race him at four. He has proven himself to be a great racehorse. 99.999% of the owners in the same situation(if they were lucky enough), would do the same exact thing.

17 Oct 2009 5:25 PM
Cindi

Windy City I could not agree more.  I would much rather really be able to follow horses for a couple years.  The same thing will happen to Summer Bird, especially if he manages to win the classic.  He didn't even race as a two year old, races 6 or 7 races as a three year old and then gone.  I'll just stop there because I don't to get started on just how far the overbreeding/greed thing degrades the sport as a whole.

17 Oct 2009 5:42 PM
Shiori

No one could've said it better, Steve.

17 Oct 2009 5:43 PM
Shawn P

Maybe the comments weren't as contradictory as we think.

Maybe it was just an attempt at tactfully saying they don't want to bring a horse over to a track which has been having so many breakdowns and they don't feel he has anything left to prove in Europe?

So terrific to see Champs Elysees win for Mr. Frankel!

17 Oct 2009 5:49 PM
LEXC

Steve,

You said it all! What's unfair is  cheating his legion of fans of a last chance to see this healthy, sound, possibly best horse in decades, of one last heartpounding race in the championship! Would he have won? Who knows ... but I'd chance to say it would have been another race for the ages ... but Happy retirement Big Guy! Now maybe we can get the Big Mare .. Zenyatta ... to run and show her stuff!

17 Oct 2009 6:16 PM
Freetex

Yes, Steve, its like we are all just a bunch of fools.

WE GET IT!  Money, money, money, makes the world extra sunny.  

On the low end of the totem pole, (in racing, that would be the fans), it is all quite clear.

17 Oct 2009 6:18 PM
Serena

Thanks again Steve for a marvelous piece. As usual you summed it up right: nobody likes being lied to and that's what this boils down to.  The day one of these people says that they're doing 'whatever' for the money....they'd get more respect for being honest.  I wonder how lickety-split Sea The Stars would return to racing and maybe win more money should he test sterile!! Because I certainly don't see him becoming a stable pony or someone's riding horse.....

17 Oct 2009 6:18 PM
Paula Higgins

ITA, this was funny and well stated. But truthfully Steve, the larger issue to me is that they are retiring these superstars  too soon and consequently the sport is on life support in this country. I also think watching horses race on turf all bunched up like they do in Britain is a snore (yes, just call me Draynay). Our racing is much more exciting. So let the Brits and Euros do what they want. We can change the sport from a U.S. perspective and keep our superstars going at age 4. Kudos to all the owners who understand the concept of sportsmanship. I am proud of people like the Moss's and Jacksons. They are connections you want to root for, not the flash in the pans who are gone in 60 seconds.

17 Oct 2009 6:19 PM
Tiznowbaby

I know I'm in the minute minority, but the comments didn't bother me. Why take issue now? Why are they the ones that are supposed to be truthful?

I don't think it would be in racing's best interests for the owner to say, I love this horse, he's special to my family, and I'm scared to death every race that he'll take a bad step and end his life. That wouldn't play well with the masses and with PETA; they would want to know what he's racing the horse at all. I don't know if Mr. Tsui has had those thoughts, but it's conceivable considering how superstitious he was during the colt's season.

Anyway, everyone knows the geldings and fillies are where it's at ;)

17 Oct 2009 6:38 PM
LAZMANNICK

I think it's time to get real.  As much as we don't like it, and believe me as a fan I think it absolutely stinks, THIS IS THE BUSINESS SIDE OF HORSE RACING…..The horse could probably race just as affectively at four, but why waste a year making maybe 4 or 5 mill, taking a chance on injury and paying high insurance premiums when they can probably at least double that amount in one year in the breeding shed. And with the current economic times, he could duplicate this season again and it isn’t going to increase the value of his stud fee because the money just isn’t there.

Another thing, why take a chance of tarnishing his record?  It's a fact that of the 11 different Arc winners that have raced in the BC, including Dancing Brave and eventual US HOY All Along.....NONE OF THEM HAVE EVER WON a BC race on dirt or turf.

As for Sea The Stars, as much as some diehards don’t want to admit it, the horse is a treasure and virtually has nothing more to prove……And his retirement just isn’t a European thing……As I stated before on another blog, If Big Brown would have won the Belmont, he would probably have been retired the next day as an undefeated Triple Crown winner.

17 Oct 2009 6:44 PM
Rita

You are exactly right Steve why lie when everyone already knew the reason why he was retiring. All the greedy money hungary people in this sport are the ones that are killing it.What are they going to do when there are no more fans?Seems to me everyone is tired of the same old song and dance story. With horses are with any other product, don't you have to get it out to the public? I don't see to many doing a very good job of it.Retiring at 3 healthy and sound, pity.        

17 Oct 2009 7:07 PM
Justine

Oh my god, THANK YOU! While I would have been ecstatic to see Sea The Stars race on next year - Dubai, Japan, Hong Kong, Australia, the US - I was not surprised to learn he was retiring. Okay, I was less surprised and more angry, but then I read the comments by Oxx and Tsui and it was such a bruising punch in the gut. For the love of god, why did they say that? We're not stupid, we're not dumb, we've been watching the trends and the evolution of the sport. We know what to expect of such high class 3YOs (which, as I recall, are still growing and filling out) but for them to talk about how wonderfully strong and sound he is, and how *they* think it's unfair to him to keep racing him? Why NOT just turn him out for a few months, refresh himself, and then race him again? There are so many other worlds to conquer, after all.

17 Oct 2009 7:12 PM
seb

@flyinhome:  my point exactly.  European and American racing are increasingly like ships passing in the night.  Whether or not that's a shame depends on how you look at it.

17 Oct 2009 7:36 PM
Gail

Right on Steve!!!! I would much rather they had been honest. Money drives this industry, if not, there would be more horses racing at 4&5, fans would have much more fun and might go to the tracks more often. What's another purse if you can syndicate for multi-millions.Breeders and owners just don't get it, without the fans they would be out of business.

17 Oct 2009 7:40 PM
Brigitte

I'm another one in the minority. Tsui's claim that the death of Urban Sea had something to do with retiring her son makes sense to me. There will be no more Urban Sea colts. Her son Galileo is doing well at stud but he doesn't belong to Tsui and Sea the Stars had a more spectacular championship year. So why send him to the USA to race for money rather than glory? (What glory in beating horses he beat in Europe plus American dirt horses that might not run to their best form?) Nothing much to win, much more to lose if Sea the Stars got beat.

17 Oct 2009 7:43 PM
Greg R.

The horse has everything to lose and really nothing to gain. The owners would have far to great a risk to transport him over to the states. For a horse that will stand in Europe? Good call on the owners part!

17 Oct 2009 8:37 PM
Steve Haskin

While most everyone understood what this column is about, let me reiterate for those who didn't. I never criticized Tsui for retiring the horse, only the reasons he gave and his failure to simply say there was too much at stake from a financial standpoint to keep running him. I criticized Oxx for his contradictory comments about the horse, which only made people more upset. So, please, if you wish to defend the decision to retire the horse, even though that is not what the column is about, go right ahead, just don't address those comments to me specifically, because, once again, I never said he should not have been retired.

17 Oct 2009 8:41 PM

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