At Longchamp we were all nervous – scared that Sea The Stars could not fulfil this date with destiny. Peter O’Sullevan said that he felt as wound up as at any of the Arcs he had watched and called since 1946. He could not face lunch. John and Jack could.
John Hynes and Jack O’Shea work for Sea The Stars’ trainer John Oxx. They had flown over with him on Saturday just as Jack had with Sinndar before winning the Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe in 2000. At half past twelve on Sunday afternoon they were collecting chicken and chips for the rest of the team from the mobile grill set in the Bois de Boulogne just outside the stable entrance. While they waited, Jack eat up hungrily. For he knew that Sea The Stars already had.
Of all the extraordinary things about what now has to be the finest three year old thoroughbred that I have ever seen, just about the most astonishing is the way he is able to control the adrenalin that surges within his massive frame. We saw it again three hours later when John and Jack next came into view. As Sea The Stars circled the paddock John held the lead rein on his near side, Jack walked on the off side, while behind them the trim figure of Oxx’s long time head man Jimmy “Slim” O’Neill walked shotgun in case drama struck. 19 Arc runners, 49,000 spectators but Sea The Stars did not turn a hair.
But never think he is some dozey Dobbin. As the world soon noticed when the starting gates slammed open and the first horse in history to pull off the Guineas, Derby and Arc de Triomphe treble jumped out so fast that the only thing in front of him was a long inviting slope of Paris grass. In fifty years on the planet and 36 years in the racing saddle, Mick Kinane has had a host of critical moments but none more crucial than the next ten seconds when he had to pull back the raging, rushing power beneath him and lock Sea The Stars away on the inside ready to fire the rocket later.
Swinging into the straight the watchers were a lot more nervous than the jockey. For there was a deadliness about Kinane’s yellow silks as they slid up the far rail and then, right on the 300 metre mark, there came the awesome power-punch, retina-searing effort that took this field apart. I was here when Mill Reef skipped out of a similar pocket a furlong earlier in 1971, and when Dancing Brave came flying up the outside even later in 1986. But not even those two had matched what Sea The Stars had done. This, truly, was the ultimate in greatness on the hoof.
Then, instantly, we were not nervous any more but afflicted by a wondrous sort of “we were there” happiness, telling each other how amazing , how magnificent, how brilliant was Sea The Stars, and hugging the moments into the memory. The other horses came cantering back and finally Mick Kinane brought his champion before the grandstand to allow an ovation that had whole waves of history in it.
Quite a bit later we got down into the stables. Slim O’Neill was wondering if John Oxx would ever get free from the winning ceremony to saddle Alandi whom Jack O’Shea was leading round ready to go and beat Gold Cup winner Yeats in the Prix du Cadran. Travelling head lad Jeff Houlihan had run back from his duties at the start of the Arc and John Hynes was trudging round with the most special, most valuable equine in the world just as if he was a plodder after a point-to-point.
None of the little team said much but their faces kept creasing into smiles of a satisfaction so deep that their cheeks would be sore in the morning. Every now and then they would go across and run and admiring, grateful, wondering hand down Sea The Stars neck and over his quarters. They, even more than the rest of us, were experiencing the unique happiness that only a great horse can give.