In these days of multimedia and dumbing down, dear reader, we are faced with a seemingly perpetual barrage of 'stuff': celebrity tittle tattle, hyperbole, genius this and legend that. Very often, it's difficult to sort the genuinely outstanding wheat from the salacious newspaper-peddling chaff. But not so this weekend, when a horse that far better judges than me have called the best race horse ever strolled into perpetuity with a generation-transcending swagger.
I am of course referring to yesterday's 2009 running of the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, won emphatically in the end by the 2000 Guineas / Derby / Eclipse / Juddmonte International / Irish Champion Stakes victor, Sea The Stars. No horse has achieved the Guineas / Derby / Arc treble before and, when you chuck in another hat-trick of wins - all three over the intermediate ten furlong trip, you begin to get a barometer of the beast.
He's done all sorts this season. In winning the 2000 Guineas, he showed his class by cruising into contention and then being shoved away from the rest, with race favourite Delegator taking second to solidify the form somewhat.
Five weeks later, in the Epsom Derby, he introduced Fame And Glory to a familiar sight, the omnipotent hind quarters of an equine hall of famer. An idiot on a blog somewhere said he'd never race over a mile and a half again, and he was lucky to beat Fame And Glory, having stolen first run.
Today, that same idiot condedes that he's never seen a horse so talented, gutsy and versatile, not to mention classy, as Sea The Stars.
He looked beaten for a stride or two in the Eclipse, before picking up impressively to see off Rip van Winkle. Two of Ballydoyle's finest having been vanquished they took him on three-handed in the Juddmonte (indeed those were the only four runners), with two pacemakers setting things up for a tete a tete 'twixt STS and Mastercraftsman.
If ever he was going to get beaten, that was the day. Indeed, a furlong out, he looked cooked. But that's the thing with this strapping colt: he has that rare combination of class, guts and robustness, and he overhauled the valiant 'craftsman deep inside the distance. Incidentally, that four horse procession produced a course record time!
Next, it was the Irish Champion Stakes, and Fame And Glory's 1 3/4 length beating at Epsom extended to a 2 1/2 length defeat here. Credit to F&G, who is clearly a very classy animal (remember, he also won the Irish Derby). But he's been no match for the 'Stars. Yesterday, that margin extended still further to 4 1/2 lengths, and there's no doubt that Johnny Murtagh will be glad he doesn't have to see that splash of yellow breeze past him any more.
Yesterday's race was a true test. There were concerns over the trip in many camps; there were concerns about a long season that had seen five Group One's bagged in as many months; there were concerns about the opposition, which was the strongest and deepest field that STS had encountered.
All of the concerns were legitimate, and all were disabused in the style of an all-conquering hero. On a fine Autumn afternoon on the Bois de Bologne, a raucous ruckus of Brits, Irish, Germans, Japanese, Americans, and the occasional Frenchman, cheered and hollered, "wow"'d and "ooh la la"'d, and - in a truly united entente cordiale - stood and applauded the finest quadruped we're likely to see.
Sea The Stars had sweated up beforehand (none of the other horses had such a lather about them).
In the race itself, he had a troubled passage, as a combination of Kinane's questionable judgment and some aggressive (but entirely legitimate) tactical riding from Johnny Murtagh, on Fame And Glory, saw the odds on favourite tightly hemmed in on the rail, with horses on all three of the sides that didn't mark the inner edge of the course.
The Stars went the shortest way, that is for certain. But, even a quarter mile out, it looked in question as to whether the gap would come for him and, even if it did, whether the son of Urban Sea - herself a winner of the Arc way back in 1993 - would have enough reserve and resolve to take it.
Yesterday was a day when any and all remaining questions were unequivocally and permanently answered. It was a day when lingering doubts about the status of Sea The Stars as a true thoroughbred legend were rebuffed with a Gallic shrug of seismic proportions.
If it could have gone wrong in the race, it pretty much did. And yet, still, at the business end, Sea The Stars oozed class and heart.
Chapeau, STS, chapeau!
For my part, I was reacquainting myself with Longchamp for the first time since 1995, when I came to witness Lammtara's crowning achievement. It was a very British affair back then, and only more so now.
Britain and France have shared a grudging (and more than a touch jealous) regard towards each other for milennia. What a microcosm of that we witnessed in the Western parks of Paris this past weekend. You see, we Brits are a rowdy bunch. We come to drink the beer, and to bet, and to cheer - yes, cheer! - our horses. We show no reserve, no Parisian panache when it comes to urging our investments on.
And I suspect, deep in the collective psyche of those seemingly apathetic Francaises, there exists an ingrained yearning to be as connected with the sport as we freer Brits (and Irish, I might add). How they must envy our liberte as we bare our souls to anyone who is not sufficiently preoccupied with baring their own to take notice. How, through their coutured insouciance, they must wish they could just let rip, and shriek, "ALLEZ! ALLEZ, MA BELLE!!"
In fairness, I'm sure that one or two of them did (before brusquely reverting to type). And good luck to them. It was a sad indictment of French racegoers that the Arc itself was almost a sideshow to the hospitality area, where a couple of famous actors were perched, their dollies preaning themselves and seemingly engaged in a marathon nonchalance contest.
You will note throughout this post the use of French words in popular parlance in English. What I've realised as I've been writing this, is just how many of them refer to a state of detachment! No matter, for I have to admit to a strong sense of francophilia personally.
For all it's foibles (like we don't have any!!), France - and Paris in particular - is a wonderful place, full of wonderful people (when one takes the time, and gets the chance, to get to know them).
They are a proud nation, and border on xenophobia when it comes to their sporting heroes. Perhaps the lack of a credible French contender in the big race contributed to the greater interest in stars on two legs, rather than four (and the complete absence, aside from four lines, of commentary in today's L'Equipe - France's sports daily).
I had a wonderful weekend, despite winners proving very difficult to find (just ask Christophe Lemaire, whose injury absence caused him to miss no fewer than FIVE winners on Saturday, and a further THREE on Sunday, all Group races at that. We'd speculated that he was probably in the bath when the Arc was run and - had his intended mount, Stacelita, prevailed there - he might have put razor blade to wrist. A dark thought maybe, but Monsieur Lemaire can have had few darker days than the samedi et dimanche just passed. My sympathies to him).
Below is a short video, taken with my usual amateuresque verve, that tried to capture a little something of the atmosphere of Arc day. I hope you like it. 🙂