Europe’s senior handicappers have baffled many racing fans with their assessment of the 2009 flat season.
They rated champion colt Sea The Stars at 136 which places him a pound behind 1997 Arc winner Peintre Celebre and 1991 English Derby and King George winner Generous.
Dancing Brave earned the best rating in the last 25 years with a high-water mark of 141 after winning the 1986 Arc.
Many would argue Sea The Stars was the equal, at least, of Dancing Brave but the judges stressed that changes in handicapping practice, as well as the Cape Cross colt’s habit of only doing enough to win, account for much, if not all, of the difference.
“In 1986 there was a higher level than there is at present,” Irish handicapper Garry O’Gorman said. “In real terms, I don’t think that rating would be as high now. And we will never know what Sea The Stars could have achieved.
“There was potential to find out if (2008 Arc winner) Zarkava had stayed in training, or if he had gone to the Breeders’ Cup to race against Zenyatta. That could have been illuminating. The implication for his rating there is obvious, because it could have been taking him out of his shell. In poker terms, he never showed his full hand.
“If Zenyatta and Sea The Stars had met, we might know more, but they didn’t, and now we’ll never know . In a way we were relieved to get him as high as 136. If horses like Rip Van Winkle (129) hadn’t been around, he could have been on 130.
“If people are saying that Sea The Stars is the best they have seen, we are not saying that they are wrong. Wide-margin winners will always get a higher rating as it is easier to give them a mark but it’s important not to concentrate on the rating alone but to look at a horse’s overall CV.”
Trainer John Oxx was philosophical about the colt’s rating. “I never get too worked up about these things, but it’s a great rating and there will be very few horses that beat it.”
Sea the Stars put together an unprecedented sequence of Group 1 victories during a perfect three-year-old campaign in 2009. He started with the English 2000 Guineas at Newmarket in May, followed by the Epsom Derby, Eclipse Stakes over older horses at Sandown, Juddmonte International in course-record time at York and the Irish Champion at Leopardstown.
He bowed out of racing in October with an Arc de Triomphe victory that stamped him as one of the all-time great champions.
Sea The Stars retired to the Aga Khan’s Gilltown Stud in County Kildare. He will stand his first season at a fee of 85,000 euros (AUD 138,210) and is likely to cover a first book of 120 mares.
The Aga Khan announced 2008 Arc de Triomphe winner Zarkava would be covered by Sea The Stars. “I believe the last two Arc winners were made for each other both in terms of ability, temperament and conformation,” he said. “The best needs to be bred to the best.”