Monday, October 12, 2009

Poll: STS over Rachel, 2-1

The votes are in, and my readers, at least, heavily side with Sea The Stars over Rachel Alexandra as the "best horse you won't see" at this year's Breeders' Cup.

Truth be told, Sea The Stars isn't definitely out of the Breeders' Cup. Owner Christopher Tsui says it's 50-50 whether the Irish-bred Cape Cross colt will run for the first time on an all-weather surface in trying to win the Breeders' Cup Classic at Oak Tree at Santa Anita in November.

But I figure he won't be there.

Sea The Stars is riding a seven-race win streak, five of them in Group 1 stakes. It's an historically unprecedented season, as well. He was not only the first horse since Nashwan in 1989 to win the English Derby and Two Thousand Guineas "double," but surpassed that feat by becoming the very first to go on and win the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. He should be hands-down European champion and has little or nothing to prove by winning the Breeders' Cup Classic among a field that is likely to include among its favorites a pair of horses he's beaten several times before: Rip Van Winkle and Mastercraftsman.

Of course, Rachel has had quite the historic 3-year-old campaign of her own. From record-setting romps in the Kentucky Oaks and the Mother Goose Stakes, to beating colts in the Preakness Stakes (first filly to win since Nellie Morse in 1924) and Haskell Invitational, to becoming the first female ever to win the Woodward Stakes against older males, Rachel is easily the Eclipse 3-year-old filly champion on this side of the pond, and the leader in the clubhouse for Horse of the Year.

She's definitely not running in the Breeders' Cup. Principal owner Jess Jackson has made that clear for months, and recently confirmed that her Woodward win would be her last race in 2009.

But at least Jackson says we'll see Rachel on the track in 2010. Sea The Stars is destined for stud duty in Ireland without running at age 4.

Both horses staged historic campaigns. Both were clearly the best of their age and gender -- Rachel perhaps best of both genders -- on their respective continents. And since a majority of my readers are Stateside, I figured a poll between Sea The Stars and Rachel would have relatively close results.

I was wrong. It appears that even American fans are beginning to realize what racing and bloodstock experts have noted for some weeks now -- Sea The Stars is one of the best Europe has seen in ages. He garnered 37 of the 56 votes cast, for 66 percent. Rachel had 18 votes for 32 percent. (One vote was cast for Some Other Horse, namely Caribbean standout Sicotico.)

Of course, the some of the same superlatives used for Sea The Stars can be said of Rachel Alexandra. There have been some great 3-year-old fillies over the past 20 years -- Ashado, Silverbulletday, Go For Wand and others -- but it's hard to ignore that Rachel has done things even the likes of those champions never accomplished.

It will be a bit anticlimactic not to see Rachel and Sea The Stars (presuming he doesn't) running in the Breeders' Cup.

Still, there should be some very good races. And if an American horse manages to rebuff the British Invasion in the Classic, it will be an historic Breeders' Cup weekend in its own right.


  1. STS is a great turf horse but don't think for one moment that horse would come within 10 lengths of Rachel on a dirt track. It's nice everyone likes STS so much but what track records has he set ?

  2. One more point I would like to make is a horse no matter how good he or she is must run as a older horse to have a complete career. It's not enough to say, "Hey look what I did at 2 and 3." A career is not complete unless they run as an older horse like Citation, The Bid, Affirmed, Seattle Slew, and Native Dancer.

  3. So you would be one, then, to place Secretariat on a rung below Seattle Slew?

    It certainly happens sometimes, but I find it hard to picture Secretariat being a lot worse at 4 than at 3.

    As for track records, plenty of those are held by horses who never won a race against stakes company, let alone so many consecutive Grade or Group 1 races.

    Getting to the wire first among the best available company is a better measure of greatness than how fast a horse covered a given distance, company not considered.

  4. Just for the record, STS did set a hammer track record over York's 10 1/2 furlong course in the International Stakes. Generally, though, I agree with Glenn that a champion's accomplishments should not be measured in terms of speed figures. Do you also measure a baseball team's greatness by average winning margin?

    In the case of STS, he is one of those horses who will never drive away if not necessary (I call it the Lammtarra-type).

    And as much as I would prefer the best horses to prove themselves against the best as 4yo&ups, but if you apply this criterion strictly, then what's left of today's champion horses (would your American champion be Einstein, Presious Passion or Macho Again? - and I'm being gracious about the term "proving against the best" here).

  5. One of the reasons your poll went the way it did was simply due to recency of racing. If Rachel had raced in October, the results would have been different. Racing fans are a fickle lot.

  6. Where do I place Secretariat? Well the facts are the facts and after Belmont Secretariat never won another G1 race on dirt. He lost 2 or his last 3 on dirt and moved to grass to find a softer spot and did. Was he a great 3 year old yes but remember on dirt he lost half his races at 1 1/8th and 1 1/2 on dirt. Losing 3 times to very average horses places him below Man O War. For me this also places him below The Bid, Affirmed, Citation, and Seattle Slew who went on to PROVE themselves as older horses.

  7. Interesting. I wouldn't consider switching surfaces to face G1-winning turf horses such as Tentam and Big Spruce to have been taking the easy way out.

    In his last three dirt races, Secretariat was indeed:

    -- Upset by Onion by a length in the Whitney (losing to a 4-year-old, but an average 4-year-old).

    -- Beat Riva Ridge (an older horse who won 17 of 30 lifetime) and Cougar II by 3 1/2 and 5 1/2 in the Marlboro Cup, setting a world record for 9 furlongs in the process at 1:45 2/5.

    -- And lost to another 4-year-old in Prove Out by 4 1/2 in a sloppy Whitney, though Sec finished 11 lengths ahead of the rest of the field.

    It's a bit unfair to call Prove Out an "average" horse. He also won the Jockey Club Gold Cup that year over former Travers winner Loud. He also defeated multiple G1 winner Our Native in a Grade 2 race as a 5-year-old. ... A legendary horse? No. But he also was no Onion. (And on the day Onion won the Whitney, Onion was no Onion.)

    Unless you're also counting Secretariat's debut, in which he finished off the board in a race won by Herbull (there's a trivia question for you), you must then mean that he also lost to "average" horses in dropping the Wood Memorial, his final prep for the Derby. I can't make a big case for Angle Light as being more than "average" (except on that day), but Angle Light that day also beat a darned good horse in Sham, who was second. And Lucien Lauren revealed post-race that Secretariat was bothered by an abscess in his mouth that might have affected his performance.

  8. Sham truth be told was a Sham. Pioneer of the Nile achieved more. Sham won the SA Derby and then NEVER won another race. Sham was really a one hit wonder. Prove out beat Secretariat while giving him 7 pounds and the Marlboro Cup was a race set up as a match race but both horses got beat by nobodies so they paid appearance money for others just to show up and race Secretariat.
    The fact is Affirmed did what Secretariat did but ran at 4 and won older honors. Take a look at who Affirmed lost to at 3 and then take a look at who Secretariat lost to at 3 and then tell me how you can place Secretariat ahead of Affirmed.

  9. Sham won that Santa Anita Derby in stakes-record-equaling time, and also won the G2 Santa Catalina.

    And, it easily could be argued, would've won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness by eight lengths each if not for Secretariat. ... As it is, he was 2 1/2 lengths behind Secretariat -- and 8 lengths ahead of Our Native -- in the fastest Derby in history (this after knocking teeth out hitting the gate), and in what *should* have been (according to the DRF) the fastest Preakness in history.

    Sham finally broke chasing Secretariat's suicidal (for any other horse) pace in the Belmont.

    Sham was probably a better horse than you give him credit for. He was just at his peak when Secretariat was also at his peak.

    As for whatever the Marlboro Cup was intended to be, what it ended up being was a NWR for 9 furlongs on dirt. You can't script that.

    I'm not trying to make a case for Secretariat as "best horse ever."

    But I do believe that on his best three days -- the three days when he most needed to be at his best -- Secretariat just might have proved untouchable for any other horse who ever lived.

  10. Secretariat was great in those 3 Triple Crown races but so was Citation and ever bit as dominate. But Secretariat at 2 and 3 does not compare to Citation at 2 and 3. For the record I am saying Secretariat is not in the top 5 any way you look at it if you are talking about careers because Secretariats is incomplete. And if you just want to compare at 2 or 3 how do you place him ahead of Citation or Affirmed.

  11. STS came out ahead in this poll because everyone is quick to pick apart an American horse, while they won't do the same of a European. Why do people even keep asking which is the best in the world? Until Rachel beats STS on turf, or STS beats Rachel on dirt, there will never be a best in the world, only a best on a particular surface.

    Simply put, fans bought the European hype. Thank God we demand more of our horses than 9 races to rank them among the greatest.

  12. I've had the opposite experience. On most message boards I've witnessed and such, there were a number of fans adamantly against STS as unproven (granted, before the Arc), an equal number who probably didn't know much of anything about European racing, and a few who argued that he was very, very good.


I welcome comments, including criticism and debate. But jerks and the vulgar will not be tolerated.