Al Kazeem. Climbing.
Monday 08 July 2013
The first I heard of Al Kazeem was when he upturned the Camelot apple cart. That was the end of May this year, when only four horses took to post for the Tattersall’s Gold Cup at the Curragh. It should have been a soft win for Camelot, but he was put on his backside inside two furlongs. Al Kazeem was all sprint that day in a victory that surprised almost everyone. It’s the middle of July now, and the Welsh horse is four for four, undefeated this fair season.
After the Coral-Eclipse last weekend, I pulled up his record. The horse is a five-year-old now, a plain bay by Dubawi out of a Darshaan mare. But his record is pretty exceptional. After an unplaced first start in 2010, Al Kazeem has never, yes never, been out of the first two placings. He has raced 12 times all up, eight times in group status, for seven wins. His last five starts (all wins) read like this: Gr2, Gr3, Gr1, Gr1, Gr1. He has bounced through Camelot (twice), Mukhadram (twice), The Fugue, Mars and Declaration Of War, Thomas Chippendale (god rest him) and Sea Moon. And while these names might not wither superlatives like a Frankel or Shergar or Nijinsky, the name ‘Al Kazeem’ may yet. He is blazing down a path strangely familiar to race fans, one cut and trod by Sea The Stars.
Now hold up a second...
Not for a moment has Al Kazeem proved his measure like Sea The Stars. That horse was only three when he steered Mick Kinane through a fantastical 2009 season, a campaign that would have levelled any older horse – the 2000 Guineas, English Derby, Coral-Eclipse, Juddmonte, Irish Champion Stakes and, ah, the Arc. Will we ever see it again? It was an agenda that was as ridiculous as it was ambitious, yet it was no match for Sea The Stars. That year, I was waiting for terrible defeat and, delightfully, it didn’t come. But what has this to do with Al Kazeem?
Well, the Dubawi bay might surge on undefeated this season. We know his team are eyeing the Arc as a finale, as did Sea The Stars, and the route they take to reach it could be soft and safe, or it could be cold and courageous. With the King George probably out, that leaves a possible start for Al Kazeem in the Juddmonte in late August or the Irish Champion in early September. If he wins either, it will be trumpets all the way to Intello in early October. And should he win the Arc, and personally I think he is brilliant enough, he’ll be six for six this season, as was Sea The Stars in 2009. Like Sea The Stars, it might be six victories in six months in three countries, even if it won’t be six Gr1s (you can’t have everything).
Of course, that’s assuming Al Kazeem can win the Arc. Since the Eclipse, much cyber-column has been devoted to this very question. There are the sceptics that feel the horse is a grinding, one-paced sort of fellow without the stamina to stick a mile-and-a-half. There are others that kneel at the church of Intello. What do I think?
Well, I see a little of Sea The Stars in Al Kazeem. He wins economically, usually by little more than a length, sometimes two. When things get dirty inside the final two, he puts his head down, his ears back, and digs into reserves that only really good horses own. And there’s nothing tardy about him. His time in last weekend’s Coral-Eclipse was 2:04:35, just under a second off the race’s record held by, you guessed it, Sea The Stars. And Al Kazeem, if he wins next out, will head to Paris with a record far more upstanding than many of the Arc’s previous winners. He’s already streets ahead of many of them in the ratings, and he has tactile ability on soft (a la the Jockey Club Stakes) and the quick (Coral-Eclipse). In a normal year, with or without Intello, I’d say Al Kazeem was a good thing for Longchamps.
But that’s racing for you, a game full of predictions and retrospect. And sometimes all we are left with is a truly lovely horse, which is what Al Kazeem is. He is not flashy or colourful, much as Sea The Stars wasn’t. Nor is he dazzling dominance like Frankel. He is a plain bay entire with predictably good breeding, a high-set tail in running and a record that makes you wonder where the hell he came from. But who cares? It’s dazzling just to have him around.
A Private Audience With Sea The Stars
Wednesday 22 August 2012
When you drive into the Aga Khan’s Gilltown Stud, a few winding miles outside of Kilcullen, you notice the heightened security. Not that there are armed patrols or fidgety cameras following your every move. It’s more the little things... the gate doesn’t open automatically, the office is businesslike. Even now, some 30 years after it happened, you wonder if the horrific disappearance of Shergar left a lasting stain on the operation.
I had come to visit Sea The Stars, and it was a monumental appointment. Everyone in racing has their ultimate, and for me, this fellow is it. The famous son of Urban Sea flipped greatness on its ear in 2009, clattering through six individual Gr1 victories in three different nations in six months. A mile to a mile-and-a-half, no problem. It was racing in its highest guise, no excuses needed. I was in love forever.
The horse is exquisite, and not in that way that every horse lover means (because a horse lover like myself finds every horse beautiful). I mean, actually exquisite. He is so clean in the skin, so refined and smooth that I was stunned staring at him. Simply stunned. The Arc, the Derby, the 2000 Guineas... they hadn’t left a mark on him. Sea The Stars is the finest-looking athlete I think I have ever seen.
He is turned out beautifully for me, buffed and brushed and painted feet. His coat is a caramel bay, his black legs so dark that you notice immediately the complete lack of white markings. And he is toned, so magnificently fit that he looks ready to step back on to the track. He is just a natural athlete, says his groom, Ray Moore. Ray tells me that when Sea The Stars arrived at Gilltown in 2009, he stood 16.1hh. Today, he is 16.3.
It is a fitting week to meet him. His first yearlings were turned over at Arqana this week, a colt son topping part I of the sale at €1.2 million. And Sea The Stars promises so many things. His outstanding race record and his priceless pedigree have encouraged top-shelf patronage: in his first season of covering, he saw 97 black-type winners, and 98 dams of black-type winners. Not a shabby start for a first-season sire.
The thing with this horse is the substance in his story. It goes all the way to the beginning, to the pedigree. Out of Urban Sea, Sea The Stars is the half-brother to sensational Galileo, so there is potential there for stallion greatness. And there’s not just Galileo. Here’s what else you get if you pore through the Sea The Stars damline... Black Sam Bellamy, Wonder Of Wonders (via All Too Beautiful), My Typhoon, Born To Sea.
I was at the Irish National Stud in 2009, only a month or so after Urban Sea had died. You could feel the loss around the stud, a certain energy had been extinguished. For the Tsui family, you’d have to say that Sea The Stars has patched up some of that loss. It will be a fantastic journey watching their stallion blaze his trail, and if pedigree stands for anything, or indeed a gilt-edged racing record, Sea The Stars may well be peerless.
Is Roger Federer Like Sea The Stars?!
Tuesday 10 July 2012
Think about it for a moment. The men’s final of the 2012 Wimbledon tournament was like a horse race. There was Andy Murray, snatching an early lead with the first set. As the field settled in running, the seasoned, older horse began to close. Roger Federer drew alongside the front-runner in the second set, drawing away in the third. By the fourth and final set he had kicked clear of Murray, disposing of his rival without too much sweat, his stamina and class prevailing in this elite, Gr1 championship.
It was the witching hour in Sydney when all this was going on, well into 3am on a Monday morning. There I was, pretending tennis was like horse racing, the Twitter community feeding me a constant stream of opinions. I decided to contribute. ‘If Roger Federer was a racehorse, he’d be Sea The Stars.’
A river of retweets and replies arrived on my timeline, the strange analogy gathering fans. Dan H (@bonoman7628) responded that Murray needed the tongue tie next up to stop him from choking, that he needed blinkers to block out his steely, straight-faced dam up in the grandstand. To me, however, Andy Murray was Juddmonte sprinter Bated Breath, perennial bridesmaid of the Gr1 class (though in appearance and attitude he was more like a Shetland pony). Murray was always thereabouts, but like Bated Breath he just couldn’t get his nose in front at the winning post.
Federer, on the other hand, was the perfect racehorse, the Sea The Stars of tennis. Seasoned now, he was a 17-times Gr1 (Grand Slam) winner, rated highest on Timeform (world tennis rankings) yet again. Like Sea The Stars, he was neat and graceful, ability simply spilling from his action. He wasn’t flashy or arrogant, just got the job done nicely. And, just as Sea The Stars had been, Federer was famously sound.
The comparison got me thinking about the rest of the tennis battalion.
If Federer was Sea The Stars, Nadal had to be Frankel. Undefeated record aside (it was just foolish to think a tennis player could go unbeaten), Frankel and Nadal were both bullish and flashy. They had action that could stop traffic, and there was little that could go with them when they were traveling at their top. Yes, Nadal had to be Frankel. Even in looks, they were sort of similar.
Djokovich stumped me. Here was a brilliant racehorse that was very forgettable, perhaps a Duke Of Marmalade, a magificent five-time Gr1 winner but not a Frankel or a Sea The Stars. Serena Williams, was she Black Caviar, all that song and story in the rear-end, the motor that took up entire camera shots? And Lleyton Hewitt, surely he was Australian old-timer Mustard, still on the circuit without rhythm or reason.
The Federer-Murray final was dashing enough, but it was even more dashing when my imagination turned it into a match race. The Twitter response to the concept was fascinating, begging the question: what racehorses do you think are kicking around the tennis world? Are we obsessed, us racing boffins? Can we not get enough of our sport without morphing it into another one? Then again, what fun is a blog if you can’t propose the ridiculous.
Sea The Stars - A Star By Name
Monday 02 July 2012
I remember him well. A solid bay, not a splash of white on him anywhere. He had clean black legs and broad shoulders, a plain face that was probably forgettable. But his action, that was unforgettable. In the final three furlongs of his races he was a greyhound, ears pinched and pressed flat against his neck, nostrils wider than the Irish Sea. He was sharp on his feet, acceleration like a Modena 360, and he had more pedigree than the halls of Kensington Palace. He was, of course, Sea The Stars.
His name has sprung up countlessly this season because of Frankel. In 2009, when Sea The Stars bowed out on the grandest stage of them all (the Arc de Triomphe), we thought, professed even, that we would never see his like again. In nine starts, he won eight straight, his sole loss coming in his debut run. He won the Guineas, the Derby, the Coral-Eclipse, the Juddmonte, the Irish Champion Stakes and the Arc. His yellow and purple colours became a trademark in the 2008-2009 racing seasons. You just had to look for them on Mick Kinane’s crouched, clever torso and there he was, Sea The Stars cleaning up the field with neat, Nos-like gears.
Last year I sat on my laurels about claiming Frankel the greatest I’d seen because I couldn’t get past Sea The Stars. Between August 2008 and October 2009, the solid bay had won every time he had set foot on turf. He was unbeatable. Fame And Glory, Mastercraftsman, Rip Van Winkle, Youmzain... each of them had fallen at the Sea The Stars altar. He had won the elite races of the game, and he had won the Derby. But then Frankel won the Queen Anne by 11 withering lengths and I thought, okay then. That will do it.
The Sea The Stars package wasn’t just about wins on the board, though they were deep and meaningful (he was one of only two horses since Nijinsky to win the Guineas-Derby double). The bay colt was a son of Urban Sea, the 1993 Arc winner. It made him a half-brother to the impossibly brilliant Galileo, the Gr1 winner Black Sam Bellamy, along with US Gr1 winner My Typhoon and Listed winner Wonder Of Wonders. Urban Sea was made of purple stuff, a broodmare who is chalked in the same list as Fall Aspen, Eight Carat, Somethingroyal. Whenever Sea The Stars raced, it was impossible to forget his pedigree. He just had it all.
With Frankel, Sea The Stars has fallen into a background as the current beau rapes all and sunder around him. It’s almost a shame because Frankel is outstanding, more outstanding than anything we’ve ever seen, but he has skipped over two of the great European tests - the Derby and the Arc. Were there distance concerns there, or attempts to protect his unbeaten record? Both? In any case, there were no such cries with Sea The Stars. He was a classic horse who devoured the classic contests, and it was unique to witness.
Comparisons are all we have in horse racing sometimes, the tools of measurement when it comes to past greats and current greats. Probably, Frankel would defeat Sea The Stars over 10f (I am convinced that only Secretariat, on level terms, would demolish Frankel). But the imposing, rubbery Frankel would find it hard to shake Sea The Stars who was fast, efficient and lethal in a race finish. Certainly, I can’t think of any horse in my lifetime that could give Frankel a hard time... other than this fellow.
He was a horse of a lifetime, a horse of a generation as race caller Jim McGrath called him (it just happened that another one came along not two years later). Sea The Stars was like the kid at school that had everything - blueblood pedigree, wealthy owner, devastating ability on the race track. He was exactly what John Oxx said he was, ‘the point to which thoroughbred breeding, after 300 years, [had] arrived’. He still is.