'Sea The Stars had no flaws. Mentally or physically, he had none'

There is still, for many of us, something irresistibly attractive about the champion who lets his deeds do the talking.
'Sea The Stars had no flaws. Mentally or physically, he had none'

Irish jockey Mickael Kinane (L) competes on "Sea the Stars" along with other jockeys during the 88th edition of the Arc de Triomphe prize, at the Longchamp racecourse, in Paris, on October 4, 2009. Sea the Stars won ahead of British Youmzain and French Cavalryman. (Photo credit should read BORIS HORVAT/AFP via Getty Images)

Becomingly, the Irish still put modesty high on the list of qualities they value in a hero. There is still, for many of us, something irresistibly attractive about the champion who lets his deeds do the talking.

That, certainly, was Sea The Stars' way. In size, shape, and temperament, he had neither Frankel's flamboyance nor Montjeu's swagger.

His jockey, Mick Kinane, possesses similar traits. Out of the saddle his words are softly spoken, considered, peppered with modesty and humour. Once aboard, through his gentle, steely fingers flowed the one thing a rider gives a horse above all else — a confidence to mask any shortcomings.

Kinane won the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe three times, the first in 1989 with Carroll House, who was unquestionably an average winner at best.

He also partnered two of the finest Arc winners of any generation, yet any comparisons between Montjeu and Sea The Stars, other than each boasting a respective brilliance, could not be made with any assuredness.

"Montjeu was a very proud horse — he had a love affair with himself. He was a really good-looking horse.

"I gave him a bad ride in the Arc," Kinane said, with an unerring matter-of-factness. "A very good horse nearly got away."

The 1999 renewal, run on deep ground, was a fair one, with 14 runners that included Daylami, who had won the Coronation Cup, King George, and Irish Champion Stakes, multiple Group 1 winners Croco Rouge, Tiger Hill, and Borgia, and Japanese challenger El Condor Pasa, who set solid fractions under Masayoshi Ebina and stole a march on the field.

Kinane almost found himself boxed in behind a hard-ridden and tiring Greek Dance with three furlongs to race, before finding a gap and switching to the outside.

With one, long, graceful sweep, like a scythe through long grass, the John Hammond-trained Montjeu ran down El Condor Pasa in the last 100 yards to score by half a length.

When you remember the records of his opponents, the charge which brushed them aside like autumn leaves must rank among the finest Arc victories.

It was a further six lengths back to Croco Rouge and another five back to the remainder.

"El Condor Pasa was very good and it took an exceptional horse to pick him up," added Kinane. "Montjeu liked being reined back. At his best he was a very, very good horse.

"The next year in the Ballymoss (Tattersalls Gold Cup) and in the King George he was sensational.

"He went wrong after that and that was why he was never quite the same horse in the Arc the following year (when beaten seven lengths into fourth by Sinndar)."

Being trained in France, it is fair to believe the Michael Tabor-owned Montjeu never received the credit he deserved, until thereafter he became a sire of sires.

Yet Kinane felt the ultimate Arc winner came a decade later.

"The last one of the three had no quirks. He had no weakness. That was his huge forte. With most thoroughbreds you are always minding them, minding their flaws — Sea The Stars had none," he explained.

"Montjeu loved to travel. He loved to be taken back. That was the nature of the horse.

"Sea The Stars had no flaws. Mentally or physically, he had none."

Sea The Stars, sire of the unbeaten Baaeed, who is set to have his swansong in the Qipco Champion Stakes at Ascot on October 15, was beaten only once — by a length on his debut at two.

An extraordinary three-year-old campaign went unblemished, winning the 2000 Guineas, Derby, Eclipse, Juddmonte International, Irish Champion Stakes, and the Arc.

The French were infected by their visitors' enthusiasm to such an extent that Sea The Stars, expertly handled by John Oxx, was sent off odds-on favourite — for a fourth consecutive time — at Longchamp.

Fame And Glory, the Irish Derby winner, had already played second fiddle to Sea The Stars at Epsom and again in the Irish Champion, and bookmakers considered him to be the best of the other 17 runners in the 88th running of the Arc, which included unbeaten multiple Group 1 winner Stacelita.

Coming as it does towards the end of a long season when horses busy throughout the summer are apt to be past their peak, the Arc is, especially, a 'trainer's race' — and that year's result merely seemed to confirm that Oxx had few equals and no superiors in his difficult profession.

"Sea The Stars was an aggressive horse. We had to keep him going. He was a very fresh horse. He needed lots of exercise and that's why we raced him so much. He was a horse you couldn't give a break to," said Kinane.

"John was fantastic with him — he knew the horse inside out.

"It was a bit of a messy race," he recounted of the colt's final run of a career that saw him win eight of his nine races, six of them at the highest level.

"The pacemaker, (Grand Ducal, ridden by the late) Pat Smullen, God rest him, missed the start and I started really well, and Pat came winging by me after about three furlongs. My fella wanted to go with him.

"He got a bit aggressive and I had to take him back and settle.

"Then Christophe Soumillon (aboard Stacelita) got in front and he parked the bus. It was a good ride by him, but not for the rest of us.

"Sea The Stars loved loads of pace. It was only when he went a mile and half that he thought they were going too slowly for him!"

As in nearly all his races, the Christopher Tsui-owned Sea The Stars was never flashy, only just doing enough, yet always providing a fifth gear before racing majestically clear.

Kinane's ride was textbook. Having taken a keen hold, Sea The Stars was dropped out and, having made good progress to two furlongs out, led over a furlong from home and quickened clear impressively to score by two lengths from Youmzain.

Wide-margin victories were never his forte. "Sea The Stars didn't see the point," added Kinane. "He always just did enough.

"All he wanted to do was beat the other horses around him.

"But I'll tell you something," Kinane concluded, "I would put him above Montjeu. Day to day, every day he was the same. He was so consistent."

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