The last flight from Birmingham to Dublin on the Wednesday of the Cheltenham Festival had already cleared the M1 and crossed the airport perimeter fence. Suddenly, just as rubber was about to meet runway, the pilot did whatever it is that pilots do to make an airplane go back up.
Before anybody had time to work out what exactly had happened, 200 were circling Co Meath, the warm recent memories of time spent with Moscow Flyer, Kauto Star, Denman and Brave Inca now ice cold and distant.
Then the gallows humour started, most of it coming from what seemed to be a group of brothers in row 25.
“Hughie,” said one of them, channelling his inner Private Ryan. “If Ma could send Tom Hanks up here to get just one of us off this jet now, who do you think she’d ask him to save?”
That’s the reach of the Irish Mammy. From air travel crises to the Curragh racecourse this evening, their influence pervasive and their presence guaranteed. And although thousands of the human version will be in attendance at the Curragh day, the dominant female will be a particular Irish mother who will go unnoticed by all except those who dig anorak deep into the pedigree book.
In truth, the great Urban Sea is probably more CJ Stander than Paul O’Connell, formed abroad, blossomed here. What is inarguable is that the influence of her Irish born foals on the global bloodstock industry makes her one of the most influential mares in the history of thoroughbred racing.
The quality of her offspring and their second order impact as stallions and brood mares has been monumental and if Urban Sea had to choose which one of her offspring to save from disaster her choice would be just as arduous as the hypothetical one faced by Hughie’s mother.
Foaled in Kentucky 1989, Urban Sea was bought as a yearling by the wealthy Hong Kong Tsui family at the Deauville Sales for $50,000 (€45,000). Most of her racing form was rock solid but just below top level until she surprised everybody when winning a soft ground Arc at 40/1 in 1993.
However, a fetlock injury ended her track adventures the following season and she was retired to stud and to a parental career.
Her first two foals were Group winners, which in itself is impressive, but it was number three that changed both the scope and scale of her impact. Galileo, foaled in 1998 and, trained by Aidan O’Brien, became the leading middle distance three-year-old of his generation, winning the English and Irish Derby before retiring to stud at the end of his classic season.
After Galileo, Urban Sea continued to produce exceptional Group One performers such as Black Sam Bellamy, My Typhoon, All Too Beautiful and Born to Sea, but it was Sea the Stars, foaled in 2006, which will ultimately consolidate her breeding legacy.
As with his brother Galileo, Sea The Stars became the champion three-year-old colt of his generation, and his achievement in winning six Group One contests in 2009 placed him in the top 10 horses ever to be awarded a Timeform rating, just a few pounds below the likes of Frankel, Sea Bird and Brigadier Gerard.
With the added bonus of his mother’s DNA cascading through his system, expectations for his stud career were elevated. Early indications suggest that expectations may not have been elevated nearly enough.
Perhaps the best illustration of the genetic depth of Urban Sea’s hoof-print lies in the comparative histories. Only 10 brood mares in more than 200 years have produced siblings to win the Epsom Derby, the last being Windmill Girl whose sons Blakeney and Morston won in 1969 and 1973 respectively.
Urban Sea has already emulated this through Galileo and Sea the Stars. The last mare to produce stallions that sired the winners of the Derby and Oaks in the same year was Pocahontas in 1866. Urban Sea did it this year with Harzand and Minding.
Galileo has been champion sire in Britain and Ireland for seven of the last eight seasons and has already produced three Epsom Derby winners with New Approach, Ruler Of The World and Australia.
In his first crop of runners Sea The Stars immediately produced two classic winners in Taghrooda and Sea The Moon. Probably the most indicative statistic to prove her growing dominance is that 12 of the 16 starters in this year’s Derby, including the first three home, were powered by Urban Sea genes.
Today it dives even deeper: seven of nine runners in the Irish Derby (5.20) carry the priceless DNA of Urban Sea.
Disappointingly, the early favourite US Army Ranger was withdrawn earlier in the week which should give his Epsom conqueror, Harzand a much easier task in doubling up today.
Godolphin spent many years avoiding investment in Coolmore bloodlines due to a commercial dispute and consequently, Moonlight Magic, their big hope today is not by a Coolmore stallion.
By Cape Cross out of the classic placed mare, Melikah, he disappointed at Epsom having been quietly fancied after a good winning trial in the Derrinstown at Leopardstown.
However, before deciding to oppose the Urban Sea lineage with this one, take a closer look at the heritage. Melikah is a half-sister to Galileo and Sea the Stars, which means that Urban Sea is Moonlight Magic’s granny too.
Sadly, Urban Sea died when foaling Born to Sea in 2009. Her last son was slightly disappointing — he only came second in the Irish Derby.
However, he has joined his big brother, Sea the Stars at Gilltown stud and his early foals are described as well-made and precocious.
The great mother may well have mined another seam of breeding gold.
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