Stars In Our Eyes - By Dan Liebman

(Originally published in the October 17, 2009 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.)   

Writing in The Daily Telegraph following Sea The Stars victory in the Oct. 4 Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (Fr-I), Marcus Armytage noted: “With a fair wind behind him, it would be fantastic to see him cross the pond and annihilate the Americans in the Breeders’ Cup.”

While racing fans everywhere would like to see Sea The Stars run next month in the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita, there is a much more significant reason for the winner of six consecutive group I races to come to the Americas: to stand at stud.

The conventional wisdom in today’s economy is that only one man can afford to purchase and stand Sea The Stars: Sheikh Mohammed. However, there might be another to stand him: the 3-year-old colt’s owner, Hong Kong businessman Christopher Tsui.

There is a strong attachment to the colt’s family for Tsui and his parents, David and Ling Tsui, who won the Arc in 1993 with Sea The Stars’ dam, the Miswaki mare Urban Sea. That sentimental tie is even stronger considering Urban Sea, who went on to produce seven stakes winners, three of them group I winners, died earlier this year.

Christopher Tsui would not have to keep 100% ownership of the son of Cape Cross. In this time of economic crisis within the Thoroughbred industry, Sea The Stars presents an opportunity for stallion farms to work together more closely. Imagine if Tsui kept an interest in the horse while four or five major stallion operations collectively syndicated the remainder.

At which of the farms would the horse stand? Let Tsui decide. And let the other farm owners agree to check their egos at the door in support of his decision. Or, better yet, perhaps they should establish a farm similar to the Irish National Stud. What a great horse to start with.

Bringing Sea The Stars to Kentucky could be the beginning of a trend to return U.S. stallion farms to the days of standing such horses as Nijinsky II, Riverman, Nureyev, Alleged, Sharpen Up, Blushing Groom, Lyphard, Roberto, The Minstrel...and don’t forget Miswaki, the broodmare sire of Sea The Stars.

These are the kinds of horses that made their mark on the racecourses of Europe, had good pedigrees, and were supported by leading breeders through the purchase of breeding rights, shares, or seasons; horses that attracted buyers from around the world to yearling sales at Keeneland and Fasig-Tipton; horses that improved the stud book.

As the breeding of Thoroughbreds became more commercial, and with an increased emphasis on speed, fewer and fewer horses that raced in Europe have occupied stalls in stallion barns here following their racing careers. In essence, U.S. breeders began shying away from turf sires.

Though the installation of synthetic surfaces at a few tracks in North America has given some new life to “turf sires,” it has not been a strong enough push in that direction...yet.

For years the number of European group I winners bred in North America has been declining. There are numerous reasons for this, but among them is the fact fewer pedigrees in North American sale catalogs are attractive to European buyers.

This could explain why one of the leading purchasers of yearlings, Coolmore, was absent from the Keeneland September sale in Kentucky but purchased four of the top six lots—colts by Oasis Dream, Galileo (two), and Montjeu—out of the recent Tattersalls October yearling sale in England.

There is a need for horses that are attractive to all owners and buyers, whether speedy-looking types coveted by pinhookers, or two-turn oriented youngsters sought by end-users. Sales need to offer horses that would like dirt, turf, synthetic or all of the above; some horses that might work in the U.S., others that appeal to buyers from various parts of the world. We currently have some of that, but not enough.

Sea The Stars, and if not him then others with similarly attractive qualities, could help add some much-needed balance to American pedigrees. 

33 Comments

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Julie L.

I agree wholeheartedly. I am only 51 years old but I remember the days of horses like Nijinsky II, Riverman, Sharpen Up, Blushing Groom standing here at stud. Balance is needed in American pedigrees. Is it possible that having some trainers that originally were Quaterhorse trainers come into the Thoroughbred world maybe cause this swing to breeding for speed and not distance. Or even for turf as how many turf sprints are there? We have to get back to what the Thoroughbred was originally bred for and that was to carry great speed over great distance. I miss the 1 1/2 mile races as I always found them more exciting. I never cared for Quaterhorse racing as it was over in the blink of an eye. Where is the excitement? Let's get back to the true Thoroughbred.

14 Oct 2009 11:23 PM
dailyimpact

this maybe a brave move but european champions are wasted on your shores. as long as your stallion farms advertise "set various track records at two" and similar feats, as long as it takes Tiznow to emerge at the top, one should keep our boys at home, where they were conceived, raced, and are truly appreciated.  

15 Oct 2009 2:05 AM
pNewmarket

There was never a realistic chance of Sea the Stars standing in the US - I can't think of many US breeders who would be interested in a Turf horse who won over 1 1/2m, particularly with the current US obsession with speed.

The US needs to frame more long distance races to encourage stamina back into the breed. A mile and a half is NOT a long distance, it is a middle distance THE Classic distance in most other racing nations.

Would US tracks consider framing a Group One race like the Ascot Gold Cup? I doubt it very much.

In an ideal world US breeders would look to bring stout German bloodlines into their stock, but there us a definite bias against using stallions that did not race in the US. This is not seen in any other breeding nation - many Europeans send mares to US stallions.

15 Oct 2009 8:07 AM
Ann in Lexington

"Sales need to offer horses that would like dirt, turf, synthetic or all of the above"

We have a potential sire of these sorts racing in the US right now but do you think he is on anybody's 'hot sires of the future' lists? I am speaking, of course, of Einstein, a son the very fast Kentucky Derby winner Spend a Buck. But since Einy didn't run at 2 or 3 in the US (he was still actually 3 when he made his debut, but the JC considered him 4) when he could display precocious speed, he hasn't gather the cachet of a Quality Road, for instance, who has significantly fewer accomplishments. Let's face it: commercial breeders don't use intelligent reasoning when they choose stallions; pedigree 'fashionableness' and 'buzz' are the major determinants. Oh for a few more Fred Hoopers, Hobeau or Tartan Farms, or George Popes, breeders who used their own judgment to breed racehorses instead of trying to game the yearling market.

15 Oct 2009 9:49 AM
Kathy

It would be wonderful to have him here. We need some outcross sires of high quality who are durable and fresh.

15 Oct 2009 10:38 AM
CB

The onl guy making a real attempt to stand stallions with an out cross  and stamina element is Frank Stronach.

Thank goodness for him.

15 Oct 2009 12:02 PM
needler in Virginia

AMEN TO DAN AND ALL!! Coming from years of showing and breeding dogs, I can only say it again.....AMEN and AMEN! Besides the obvious emphasis on two year olds running faster than they could possibly be expected to run......2 YO in training sales leap to mind, but DO NOT get me going on THEM........the American gene pool of Thoroughbreds is narrowing by the day, and the focus on "go fast, win, retire and breed" is the reason; the sires that produce that type of baby are always the flavor of the month.  We here seem to think the only REAL TB's exist in North America and that the rest of the world ONLY produces "distance horses". WHAT ON EARTH IS WRONG WITH THAT??? Read your history of the TB sometime. These animals ran FAR and fast in heats, and while that's not an ideal that anyone would return to, it DOES make a statement about the breed. The bond brokers, the partnerships, the dabblers and the newbies want a fast return on money; they do NOT breed to race....they buy to win early and then make a killing on the sale of a very fast YOUNG horse when he goes to the breeding shed. Fair enough for some, but the US breeders seem to think the only worthy animals are HERE and not THERE. Better think again, folks; the outcrosses will only help the strength of the breed as is weakens from inbreeding, which gives you an exacerbation of faults and loss of stamina and strength. DOESN'T ANYONE REMEMBER MENDEL AND THE PEAS?????????????

Do not discount the quality of foreign horses; it is there for the breeding or the buying in yearlings. And NEVER discount what Sea the Stars did this year; he has stamped himself with greatness. EGAD, I would have LOVED to see him run next year.........

Sad, sad, sad state for the breed that we all love.

Cheers and safe trips to all.

15 Oct 2009 12:30 PM
pNewmarket

Needler, how refreshing to read your thoughts!

I know not all American racefans are obsessed with speed and dirt, but it can be disheartening reading some of the comments on this site at times!

As far as 2yo in training sales go (we call them Breeze Ups), I don't have a problem with them per se. At the Breeze Up sales in Europe the horses are not timed officially - there is nothing to stop individuals timing horses themselves. That way there is no pressure to gallop as fast as possible to achieve a high sales price.

At the Breeze Up in Newmarket in the Spring American consignor Kip Elser said he preferred bringing horses to Europe for the sales as he felt they were more on line with his preferred "slow and steady" training methods.

We have plenty of problems with our racing industry, including the fact (to my horror) that the British Horseracing Authority are talking about staging Bullet Races under 4f - arrgghhh!

15 Oct 2009 2:10 PM
Mary in VT

Can't help but think that STS's connections are aware of some kind of Achilles heel, or they would show up at the Breeder's Cup and the horse would run as a 4 yr. old rather than leave so much to speculation.

Though I appreciate the horse's body of work and pedigree, I don't buy into the best in the world stuff. For me that requires racing as a 4 yr. old, more daylight between him and the place horse in at least a few of his victories, and the capability of producing a notable and memorable burst of speed on the order of say ... Curlin.

In fact, given a choice between STS and Curlin .... it would be Curlin hands down.

15 Oct 2009 2:18 PM
RachelSatterfield

To all the people saying that we don't race at a mile and a half in the US...i would like to point out that while it is not often that it happens, one of our most notable races (one that people that don't even follow racing know about) is set at 1 1/2.  The Belmont is a classic race in all since of he word.  It is the oldest of the three Triple Crown races and a big target the first weekend of June for all the best three year olds in the country.  We do also have horses that stand here that have that kind of stamina to pass on.  I've never been a fan of speed (I particulcarly hate it when I see a horse with natural speed running in long races where they are done after a half a mile).  There's nothing wrong with speed, sprinting races are some of the most exciting to watch, but for classic distance horses in the US(which is still a mile 1/4...when it drops to a mile 1/8 then there's a big problem) pedigree balance is important.  As for Sea the Stars, he would be successful here...and he would have been even more successful here with a Breeders Cup win behind him, I think that Europe is the place for him to be.  We can always send our mares over.

15 Oct 2009 2:29 PM
pNewmarket

A few comments -

The reason Sea the Stars is so highly thought of is because of the manner of his wins. He has won easily in each race this season with no horse able to push him into an extra gear. Distance of wins is not the only indicator of a great horse. It is the manner of the win and the horses beaten that really matter.

No one is disputing that mile and a half races are run in the US. My point us that they are an exception rather than the norm. I mean come on, Breeders Cup had the gall to call a mile and a half race a "Marathon"! I know they've upped the distance to a mile and three-quarters thus year, but that is still not a real stamina test.

15 Oct 2009 4:12 PM
Greg R.

Or the jockey Club could just allow A I with certain rules as far as # of mares bred, and breeders around the world could have access.

15 Oct 2009 7:47 PM
goodwin

Who claims that fans want to see yet another 6 furlong sprint? Doesn't matter if it's maiden, claiming, or stakes. The beloved horses are usually the ones who go at least the classic distance of 10 furlongs. Blame this need for speed on the breeders and the trainers and the men who put together the condition books, NOT the fans!!!!

15 Oct 2009 10:25 PM
John T.

I think it is time to put to bed that Sea The Stars was dodging anything.No horse except him has won the 2000 guineas [Run Since 1809]Epsom Derby[Run Since 1780] And the Arc[Run Since 1920] In the same season.It does not matter if he done it in 9 races or 99 races

he has secured his place in racing

immortality.

 Your question would Sea The Stars

make quita a difference if he were to stand at stud in the Americas?

You bet it would,you would have to change the whole face of great American horses if neither the 1936

Epsom Derby winner Mahmoud or the well balanced 1942 runner-up in the Middle Park Stakes Nasrullah had never been transferred to stand at stud in America.Without

Nasrullah influence there would have been no Bold Ruler and therefore no Secretariat.

15 Oct 2009 10:35 PM
LAZMANNICK

Newmarket

Lots of good comments.  You are obvioulsy very passionate about Euro racing, as well as racing in general I would think.  You're right about it not being feasable or worthwhile to import STS as a sire to the US.  It would be a waist of his talents given the fact that US racing is more sprint-middle distance orientated.....The truth is though, without tying to be condescending, we do not really need him.....What we need to do is keep our stallions here when they retire.  Far too many potential high quality sires leave the country as soon as their careers ar over.  It has been happening for years and is really catching up with us.

15 Oct 2009 10:48 PM
Julie L.

Rachelsatterfield - in my blog I was not saying that there are no 1 1/2 mile races. Yes I know about the Belmont Stakes as it is my favorite of the Classics and used to be called "The Test of Champions" and use to be trainers would claim that of the 3 triple crown races the one they really wanted to win was the Belmont but that was along time ago. It's just that there are not enough of these distance races left. I've even read that Wayne Lukas (ex-Quarterhorse trainer) wants the Belmont Stakes shortened to what he calls the "classic" distance of 1 1/4 miles. God forbid that enough people agree with him and that should happen if so I would lose all faith in the Thoroughbred world.

16 Oct 2009 2:15 AM
Jim P

Watching Sea The Stars run reminds me of the great Citation -- the gears, the turn of foot, the nonchalance, the poetry, the ease, and yes, THE STAMINA!! They just do what it takes.

Invasor, Yeats, Zarkava, Sea The Stars, Ouija Board, Goldikova; these are the horses that have excited me. They can run around the block and even up a hill. None were bred in the US, though there are US bloodlines.

We mock the Euros for their failure on dirt. But at least they come to run. We don't. Our precious few victories at Royal Ascot this year with relatively unknown horses was almost 1st page news.

Was Curlin really the #1 horse in the world at 4? He ran his "best" races against small, weak fields. Compare that to what Zarkava and New Approach did. Contrast Curlin's races to the EPSOM Derby and the Arc. There is no comparison. To be #1 you should run in a race not a showcase.

Why was Ouija Board so popular? She didn't win all the time; she just raced all the time, all over the world, and had the class and stamina to do it.

YES! Get Sea The Stars over here and rebuild our racing with versatile,fast, strong horses and non-medicated horses. Either that, or someone get me a job mucking Yeats' stall.

16 Oct 2009 3:11 AM
Edward

There are not that many 1 1/2 races because they are lame. How is a bunch of horses walking for the first 6 furlongs, galloping for the next three and then getting into race mode with about 3f left, a stamina test? All horse can run that far, American racing wants a horse that can do it while pushing the limits of sustained speed. Steve Prefontaine said it best, "I dion't race to see who wins, I race to see who has the most guts." And in doing so Mr. Prefontaine attempted to run every mile at his maximum speed from step one of the race. That is American horse racing. It is not inferior to the boring Euro 3f sprint races. Also, who retires horses earlier than Euros? Go check out how many Euro champions(esp F&M) raced one year and won ONE OR TWO RACES! Sea the Stars is a very good race horse but you cannot bestow all-time greatness on an animal that won 6 races in a single year against repetitive competition. If this horse and his owners want respect other than the hollow romantic gestures from the EU, then they should have raced the horse for a four year old campaign. As of now, he is just another horse who had a great season. Oh, and Euros card plenty of 2 year old races.

16 Oct 2009 5:37 PM
LD PHILLIPS

wonderfull horse i think his yearlings would bring out the japanese,arabian as well as european buyers. i really think few of them(horses) would stay here to run.some might return later after a career overseas. can you imagine what a colt out of Sea The Stars and ouija Board would bring at auction?

hell with yeats i would move to england just to rub that baby!

16 Oct 2009 7:10 PM
Lmaris

I'm old enough to remember when "the classic distance" in the USA was 12 furlongs, and not the current 10.

Not sure I understand the claim that Sea the Stars excels on all 3 surfaces when he hasn't run on 2 of them.  Would be nice to have him here, though.

17 Oct 2009 11:28 AM
Rhonda from Saskatchewan

While I can mostly agree with Mr. Liebman's opinions about what has been happening to the Thoroughbred in terms of versatility, stamina, longevity and soundness, I do have a bit of a problem with his supposition that bringing horses like Sea The Stars alone will improve the Thoroughbred of today.

After all, the bloodlines of Danzig (Northern Dancer) and Mr. Prospector run rampant through Sea the Stars. While I am Canadian and justly proud of Northern Dancer, I have to honestly say that he is responsible for a great deal of the unsoundness of today's Thoroughbreds and, probably, the major genetic factor in the number of "bleeders" we see in the breed.

The Mr. Prospector bloodline is also responsible for a great deal of the lack of stamina and unsoundness.

I believe the great Thoroughbred would be much better served by perhaps looking at bloodlines removed from Northern Dancer/Mr. Prospector to improve the inbred traits that have done so much to bring down such a truly magnificent breed. Maybe we have to sacrifice some speed to gain stamina and soundness once again. We have made them in the image we see today and it is our responsibility to correct our mistakes and make them back into what they once were. Not just elegant, regal, fierce, competitive and brave, as they still are, but sound of wind, body and leg. It's the right thing to do.

17 Oct 2009 2:43 PM
LAZMANNICK

Ronda:

I don't know where you get your facts from, but whatever reference book it is, throw it away.....The Arc is acknowledged by many as the world's toughest race (a race where there is no place for unsoundness).  Of all the winners since 2000, only the 2003 winner Dalkhani did not have Northern Dancer blood.....Every other winner has the Dancer's blood, either through the sir of the dam and in several cases, both.  That says a lot for soundness....By the way, how's the racing up in Marquis Downs

17 Oct 2009 7:32 PM
Julie L.

Edward - 1 1/2 miles boring! I suggest you watch the 1978 Belmont Stakes which has been called the greatest race ever! It's Affirmed vs Alydar and those two horses did not start, walk, run alittle, walk again and then sprint, they were at each other stride for stride from the get go. After you check out that one then go into some horseracing video history and you will find even more exciting 12 furlong races!

18 Oct 2009 1:42 AM
POINTGIVENFAN

Edward great points you make there. I agree totally. I also see where the other statements are coming from as far as 12f races and stamina. Bottom line is we all have our own opinions on whats great for horse racing, but in the end we all love it because of the animals themselves. Yes STS was a great raceehorse for a season but lets enjoy the ones we still have racing now.

18 Oct 2009 9:25 AM
CRob87

Newmarket:  

Good point on the B.C. Marathon.   I always thought (and still do) think it should've been at least a flat 2 Miles.

Edward:

Loved the Steve Prefontaine reference.   Still a fan of the movie "Without Limits".

Personally though, I've always thought that we should've been Importing more Stallions like decades ago when Claiborne did with Nasrullah and Princequillo.   And as John Galbreath did with Ribot, instead of Exporting them to Japan like we did with Sunday Silence.

I also think that somebody should try a "Stallion Exchange" program of sorts.   We send them one of our best for just a "Single Season" and they send us one of theirs.

Like a Dynaformer (America's Premier Turf sire) for the likes of a Galileo, Montjeu or whoever (Hopefully Outcrossed) Sire of the same level.

Just for a "Single Season" once every 5 years or so, so that we can hopefully slow down the amount of Inbreeding within our Breed.   And to give American Breeders a once in a lifetime shot at a premier European Sire.

18 Oct 2009 4:48 PM
klc1975

All good comments.  For all true horse racing purists, we know the Calumet greats, Claiborne greats were ancestors of european thoroughbreds.  So why wouldn't that be a good idea now?  U.S. racing is all sprinting! 6-9 furlongs are sprints! STS is better than any colt we have had here in America since Easy Goer/Sunday Silence.

18 Oct 2009 9:23 PM
LACS70

Rob Wright, the Racing editor of the London Times, ranked Sea the Stars #1 out of other great champions of the English scene.

www.timesonline.co.uk/.../article6861376.ece

19 Oct 2009 10:38 AM
charlie

Why on earth would Sea the Stars come to America either to race or breed???  the racing product in America is in serious decline as pointed out that Coolmore chose Newmarket to make the majority of their purchases.  Only Americans think their racing is best, rest of globe perceives it nowadays as a drug riddled nightmare.

19 Oct 2009 4:45 PM
Rhonda from Saskatchewan

Hi Lazmannick

Just a short comment about your short comment.

Soundness to me is more than running in the Arc.

Soundness is not having to be retired or euthanised because of injury at a young age (seems 3 to 5 is about it for most Thoroughbreds). Soundness is not having to run with the aid of Lasix or any of the plethora of pharmaceuticals still allowed in racing.

One race is not a testament to the soundness of the Thoroughbred. The fact that they race, sound or not, is not their decision.

Even the denizens of the sport acknowledge that the Thoroughbred is not the creature he once was.

Who am I to argue with them?

19 Oct 2009 5:30 PM
Somethingroyal

Edward:

12f lame?? When was the last time you've watched a replay of Secretariat's 31 length Belmont romp? Thoroughbreds were bred for distant racing, not 350 yard Quarter Horse sprints. My goodness, how many know that early racing involved 2-3 mile heats? Sometimes racing twice in one day?

20 Oct 2009 8:32 AM
s lee

The Breeder's Cup "Marathon" (please....) is a step in the right direction.  But somebody somewhere needs to pony up the funds for a 2 mile race in the States that means something.  And here that means money.

Belmont Park.

2 miles.

dirt or turf

fall meet, 1 month before the Breeders' Cup

3 years old and up

weight for age

and make the purse REALLY significant - over $1,000,000

And guarantee the race and purse for, say, the next 10 years.  The Europeans will take the first, oh, 3 races, then Americans will have time to dive into the gene pool and come up with something.

Call it the American Eclipse Memorial.  Because Somethingroyal is right - there was a time when horses ran multiple races of multiple miles in a day, so let's celebrate that part of the history (and of the gene pool).

20 Oct 2009 12:28 PM
LAZMANNICK

Hi Rhonda:

Hope you're having a god day now that it has warmed up a bit out there....I have two sons up in Cold Lake so I relate to the good old cold Canadian weather.

I agree with you about soundness, but I don't quite see how you relate it to Northern Dancer.  Every sire, no matter what part of the globe they are in, is going to have some unsound offspring.  But to say that Northern Dancer is genetically responsible for a great deal of the unsound horses and a large percentage of the bleeders is news to me.  It sure would be nice to know where you got the data to come to this conclusion.

I know that the Arc is one race, and I know that it is not a testimony to the soundness of thoroughbreds, but if you go back only to the year 2000 and look at the breeding lines of both the dam and the sire, you will see that Northern Dancer is more influential than any other line in the Arc winners.  I’m only using the Arc as an example.  Genetic problems seem to be much more prevalent in N/A due to drugs, etc., than in Europe, and yet the Dancer’s line is probably more prevalent there than over here.

20 Oct 2009 9:14 PM
LAZMANNICK

Sea The Stars had a tough campaign, but saying that he was tired night be a little much when comparing him to some of the greats of the past and their work ethics.  Compare his campaign to Count Fleet’s 1943 Triple Crown campaign starting with the Derby and ending with the Belmont:

• May 1   -  Kentucky Derby 1-1/4M (1st by 3-L)

• May 8   -  Preakness 1-3/16M (1st by 8-L)

• May 22 – Withers 1-M (1st by 5-L)

• May 31 – W/O 3-F  34.4B

• June  1 -  W/O  1-M 1:36.3B

• June 4  -   W/O 3-F 35B

• June 5 –  Belmont 1-1/2M (1st by 25-L)

I don’t know if Count Fleet worked between the Derby and the Preakness, or between the Preakness and the Withers, but in the space of five weeks he had four route races and the three works between the Withers and the Belmont (one of them at a mile).  THAT’S A TOUGH CAMPAIGN AND THOSE ARE TOUGH DISTANCES.

To say that STS is the best ever, (some Euro journalists and racing personnel state that), could be stretching it, just a little.

20 Oct 2009 9:43 PM

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