The past weekend’s racing raised almost as many questions as it answered, but two were given an unqualified affirmative – yes, Sea the Stars is really that good, and yes, Summer Bird loves New York. Surprising losses both at home and abroad, however, are keeping the Breeders’ Cup picture mysteriously cloudy – and we’ll start in the losing column.
Perhaps the most unexpected loss was Goldikova’s in the Prix de la Foret. True, she had a wide trip, and it was her first shot at seven furlongs, but she seemed to be lacking her usual closing kick in her third-place finish – whether she will still fly to California to defend her Mile title is up in the air at this point. But if any horse deserves a shot at her seventh G1 win, it’s Goldikova; hopefully we’ll see her again next month (and possibly next year).
Yeats was an unlucky third as well in the Prix du Cadran – but he was not the unbeatable favorite going in. It seems he used up the last of his great good luck in his fourth Ascot Gold Cup, and his fans certainly do not hold this loss against him. He heads off to stud now at eight – that’s two lifetimes for most high-level colts these days – and one hopes he settles well into his new career; he’s earned it.
There was an unpredictable loss in New York as well; Gio Ponti came up short behind longshot Interpatation in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, but the defeat does not alter his plans – he’s still set to switch from the grass to the synthetics next month with a shot at the Classic. He’s already won over the surface there, so it’s worth watching his preparations.
Kodiak Kowboy won the Vosburgh; runner-up Fabulous Strike collected another paycheck, but he may avoid this year’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint in favor of next year’s renewal. However, the win may send Kodiak Kowboy to Santa Anita instead; it’s at least an option on the table for him which was not widely considered earlier. 3-year-old Munnings was a few lengths behind his elders, but he did figure in an interesting statistic – his trainer, Todd Pletcher, went to 0-49 in New York G1s with his loss. Munnings will likely aim for the Cigar Mile.
And so to the predicted winners on each continent – Summer Bird and Sea the Stars. The only person seriously arguing that Summer Bird can only win over a wet track seems to be losing trainer Todd Pletcher, whose Quality Road put in a fine effort despite the conditions:
“I think he’s better on a fast track,” said Todd Pletcher, who trains Quality Road for Edward P. Evans. “Summer Bird relishes this kind of surface. That’s the way it goes. Sometimes, you get lucky [and] it rains when you need it to. Sometimes, it doesn’t. “
Here’s a thought for the Toddster: perhaps Summer Bird is also better on a dry track. We may need to revive the notion that a really fine horse wins no matter the track conditions – and that’s no insult to Quality Road, who simply seems more suited to a slightly shorter race. News that the Dirt Mile is a possibility for him is most welcome.
But let’s not downplay Summer Bird’s win – he joins rare company in completing the Belmont-Travers-Jockey Club Gold Cup treble – it has not been done since Easy Goer accomplished it in 1989, and it is a fraternity that includes greats such as Man o’War and Damascus. The horse is keeping trainer Tim Ice from seeing his newborn son anytime before November (the baby will make his track debut at Santa Anita), so clearly he understands the unique position Summer Bird occupies – and it’s refreshing to hear that he is considering the Turf for the 3-year-old:
“I think we could put him on anything and he’d run, ” Ice said. “We’ll probably be in against a bunch of turf horses in the Classic anyway.”
Of course, Ice recognizes that as good as Summer Bird is proving himself to be, he’s still a good six lengths behind Rachel Alexandra for Horse of the Year – and that’s fine, too. If anything, it should make next year very interesting for both.
And so to a horse who has run out of competition on his continent – Sea the Stars (pictured, with trainer John Oxx) proved once again that he’s one for the ages in his Arc victory. Even more exciting was the fact that a trip to Santa Anita after his historic campaign could still be on the cards; The Guardian argues that there are few potential downsides (given that the breeding business certainly did not mind that his half-brother, Galileo, disappointed in the Classic) – and that, in fact, American racing needs him:
American racing is currently engaged in a slow, painful switch from dirt to artificial surfaces, which offers scope for Sea The Stars to be the first super-horse of the all-weather era. Had he emerged in 2010, when the Breeders’ Cup will return to dirt at Churchill Downs, he would be an ex-racehorse already, as Oxx would never entertain the possibility of running him on dirt. It is only the fact that Santa Anita has a Pro-Ride surface that makes a run in the Classic a possibility.
In other words, there are sporting reasons to go to America as well as commercial ones. Racing needs horses like Sea The Stars, now more than ever. It is asking too much to see a £50m horse race on at four. One more outing in a race that might have been designed with him in mind is not.
While I would argue that it’s entirely possible to run a wildly successful stallion at 4, I would not quibble with the notion that it would be wonderful to see him in the Breeders’ Cup – although we won’t hear either way for another week or two. What seems more certain is that he will most likely move to the Irish National Stud (former home of his equally-Arc-winning dam, Urban Sea); such a deal would also ensure that the public could continue to visit him.