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Demands of regime mean no easing off for Stars.

Byline: David Ashforth

T'S AN intriguing situation.

IFor Sea The Stars, the Irish Champion Stakes will be, or was to have been, the fifth peak in a demanding series of carefully considered peaks, stretching from the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket on May 2 until, perhaps, the Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita on November 7. The challenge for trainer John Oxx is to present the world's best racehorse in peak form on each and every occasion, because even the best horse needs to be at his best to win the races Sea The Stars has won - the 2,000 Guineas, the Derby, the Coral-Eclipse, the Juddmonte International.

Winning competitive Group 1 races is rarely without cost, because it draws on finite reserves of physical and mental wellbeing. No horse can, indefinitely, perform at its peak over an extended period of time and preparing a horse for one race, then possibly being obliged to train it, instead, for a race a month later, adds to the difficulties.

If Oxx had known, for certain, that the ground for the Irish Champion Stakes would be unsuitable, he could have relaxed Sea The Stars' training regime, but with the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe four weeks away there is little scope for relaxation.

France's major contenders for the Arc will arrive at Longchamp having had a more genuine break than Sea The Stars and, if he runs today, it will involve a significant withdrawal from his reserves.

I asked Oxx about the challenge of bringing a horse to a succession of peaks, and the significance of an unwanted change of plan.

"It is not ideal," Oxx says. "Sea The Stars has raced every month from the Guineas to York. Because of the uncertainty over the going in the autumn, he hasn't missed anything. We have had to keep him on the stretch all the time except for three weeks after the Coral-Eclipse when, having decided not to run him in the King George, he didn't do any fast work, but did canter every day.

"The Irish Champion means peaking for the fifth time in five months. It remains to be seen how it will affect him later on."

The demands of this regime, extended by the lure of the Breeders' Cup and other valuable, late-season overseas races, test the robustness and temperament of three-year-old thoroughbreds.

"The length of a horse's season, and the number of times it needs to peak, is an issue," says Oxx. "Sea The Stars is a particularly adaptable, uniquely tough horse with a terrific constitution. He actually needs to work, because he gets fresh if he doesn't, so it is not as big a drawback as it would be with some other horses. Even so, it is not making it easy for the horse. It is a tough regime and he has been asked serious questions.

"In a lifetime, you wouldn't ask many horses such questions, but Sea The Stars has been thriving. We will have to see if he stays fresh and well for November 7, for example."

That is the day when, subject to what happens in the interim, Sea The Stars is likely to appear on the far side of the US, in the Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita, probably in the Classic, on the Pro-Ride surface, rather than the Turf.

Soft ground is always a possibility at Longchamp on Arc day and Sea The Stars' optimum trip is probably 1m2f rather than 1m4f.SANTA ANITA, as Oxx remarks, "is the one place you can be certain of suitable conditions, but it is so late in the year. The horse will tell us if he is still right for it."

Oxx's dilemmas may be enviable ones but they are teasing, nevertheless, even for a trainer as experienced as he is. Oxx will be trying to ensure Sea The Stars is at his best, again, on October 4, but it will be no surprise if he finds himself required to divert Sea The Stars to the Champion Stakes at Newmarket almost two weeks later, with the Breeders' Cup then only three weeks away.

Oxx's handling of Sea The Stars, a wonderful horse if not yet a charismatic one, has been faultless. What happens next is as much in the lap of the weather and Sea The Stars' head as in Oxx's hands, but if the current world champion makes it to California, and conquers the final peak, six months after winning the Guineas, he will have proved himself an extremely tough as well as very talented horse, trained by a very able trainer.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Sep 5, 2009
Words:766
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