Horseracing StoriesCarreras de Caballos

Sea Bird, photo from albatrozbloodstock.com

Sea Bird

Foaled in 1962, by Dan Cupid out of Silicade, Harsh Thakor"

His pedigree hardly suggested he would be a great horse. Bred by his owner M.Jean Ternynck, a French textile manufacturer, he was a chestnut with a white blaze and two stockings behind.

His sire Dan Cupid, was by Native Dancer.He won three times in France and finished second in the Middle Park Stakes. The following season, he was unplaced in the 2,000 Guineas and the Epsom Derby. However, in the French Derby, he finished a most honourable second to Herbager, a truly top class horse. Sea Birdís five immediate dams amazingly never won a race of any sort. The nearest his dam Silicade got to winning was finishing second in a race at Maisons-Laffitte.

Trained at Chantilly by Etienne Pollet, Sea Bird ran three times as a 2 year old. He gained a comfortable success in the Prix de Blaison, thus making a winning debut. Against most formidable opposition, he gained a most convincing victory in the Criterium de Maisons-Laffitte.

In his final race of the season, Sea Bird faced his solitary defeat of his racing career. Grey Dawn, his stablemate defeated him in a field of thirteen. Sea Birdís defeat was attributed to his slow start and running wide at the bend. However, his supporters were convinced he would avenge his defeat.

Sea Bird made a promising start as a three year old, winning the ten furlongs of the Prix Greffulhe at Longchamp in a canter. Subsequently, he outclassed a strong opposition with disdain, by 6 lengths in the Prix Lupin. The field included the French, 2,000 Guineas winner Cambremont and the Prix Noailles winner Diatome, who was unbeaten till then.

He moved up on the bridle inside the last furlong to match strides with Diatome.Glennon let go of him at that stage and Sea Bird demolished his rivals, winning by a long-looking 6 lengths from Diatome with Cambremont in third place.Sea Bird thus became an overwhelming favourite for the Epsom Derby (Diatome went on to win the Washington International).

On Derby day, he looked spare and not particularly impressive. However, in the race he totally reversed that, Sea Bird was tucked behind in sixth place at Tattenham corner after being in a handy position throughout the race. With a quarter of a mile to go, Sea Bird was still on the bit. At this point, his jockey Pat Glennon let go of him and like a Rolls-Royce he cruised into the lead, opening up an invincible 4 length lead. After 100 yards, he was again on the bit and at the winning post he had 2 lengths to spare. Ter being pulled up. Those who were at Epsom that day were privileged to see what was debatably the easiest ever Derby win.Had jockey Pat Glennon not eased him in the last 50 yards Sea Bird would have won by a far greater margin. Meadow Court and I say a Length who finished second and third respectively looked like starters hacks.

It was a superlative performance, which would be etched in the minds of racegoers forever. Sea Bird had beaten the best English and Irish horses, such as Meadow Court (Who went on to win the Irish Derby and the King George), Are I Say, Niksar, Convamore, Cambridge,Gulf Pearl, Bally marais, Solstice, Alcade, Silly Season and Foothill.

Sea Bird went on to win the Grand-Prix de Saint Cloud with great ease. Criterium conqueror Grey Dawn. He was always on the bit, despite meeting older horses for the first time. He won with 2 1/2 lengths to spare from Couroucou.

That year the strongest field ever contested the Prix del'Arc de Triomphe. It included Meadow Court, winner of the Irish Derby and King George VI Diamond Stakes, the Russian champion Anilin, Tom Rolfe, winner of the Preakness Stakes and the Kentucky Derby; Oncidium, winner of the Coronation Cup, Diatome, who later that year won the Washington International, and Reliance, winner of the Prix du Jockey Club, the Grand Prix and the Prix Royal Oak.

The Italian colt Marco Visconti made the running followed by Anilin, Khalife, Sea Bird, Reliance, Francilius and Tom Rolfe. At the bend, Anilin took over the running with Meadow Court improving his position. Sea Bird was travelling well in fifth place with Reliance close behind.

At that stage, any horses among the top half dozen could have won.Before one could count Jack Robinson, Sea Bird and Reliance, like a flash of lightning, drew away from the rest of the field. Two furlongs from home, Pat Glennon urged Sea Bird and like a rocket propelling into the air drew away to win by the widest ever margin in the Arc-6 lengths. The strides he produced in accomplishing the victory after hitting the front captured the racegoers heart in Europe as perhaps never before.

Reliance finished second, 6 lengths ahead of Diatome. Reliance (timeform rating of 137) was one of the best horses to run in France for a long time, scoring a smashing 6 length win in the Grand Prix de Paris. Over Diatome, who went on to win the Washington International (Thus a great racehorse in his own right).

Those present at Longchamp that day thought it was the greatest performance ever by a racehorse. They simply couldn't believe that such a performance could be surpassed. At the end of the race, he received the greatest ovation ever given to a racehorse in France resembling the reception given to Napoleon after gaining a famous victory.

Sea Bird had become an equivalent of a Jesus Christ or a Mao Tse ĖTung to racing. The great leader of China, Mao Tse-Tung at that time in history had commanded more popularity and achieved political greatness as no leader had achieved in the century (The only possible exception could be Mahatma Gandhi but his role in transforming his country as well as his political achievements could not be compared with Mao). There were so many leaders in the 20th century but none at that stage could be placed on the same pedestal. Sea Bird had become the equivalent of that stature to racing as he had beaten truly great horses.

Sea Bird was given a rating of 145, the highest rating ever given to a colt by Timeform.

What were Sea Bird's claims of being the horse of the century?

As far as Europe is concerned, he eclipsed Brigadier Gerard (144), Ribot (142), Vaguely Noble (140), Mill Reef (141), Nijinsky (138), Shergar, (140) and Dancing Brave (140).

The opponents he beat were better than those faced by any of the other horses with the possible exception of Dancing Brave. However, Dancing Brave didn't beat his great 1986 Field with the same disdain in the Arc (Horses such as the French Star Bering, the dual Derby winner Shahrastani, etc...). Nor was the field Ribot beat in the 1956 Arc comparable to Sea Bird's one (He won with the same authority but Talgo whom he demolished could not compare with Reliance or Diatome nor could the other runners) Ribot only outscored Sea Bird on the point that he possessed the best- ever European Racing record of being unbeaten in 16 consecutive starts as well as dominated European racing for two whole seasons (In those days travelling was almost considered impossible and yet he won in devastating style exhibiting how tungsten tough the colt was).

Vaguely Noble beat a comparable Arc field in 1968, reminiscent of Sea Bird's field; galloping away to beat the English maestro Sir Ivor (Lester Piggot rates him the best horse he had ever ridden), by 3 lengths. However that was his single outstanding performance as a 3 year old and thus he couldn't be rated a better horse (Etienne Pollet, who also trained Sea Bird, thought that Vaguely Noble was equally talented).

Although Nijinsky won the Triple Crown, he simply didn't face the same type of opposition. Nor did Shergar when he scored a record-breaking 10 length victory in the 1981 Epsom Derby. Mill Reef, in my opinion came closest to Sea Bird if one judges the manner in which a horse has demolished his opponents (His Prix Ganay performance was rated by many people as the best performance they had seen in Europe. Where he demolished his opponents by 10 lengths which could easily have been 20).

However, his opponents did not equal Sea Bird and neither could he match Ribot's unbeaten record of 16 starts. Finally though the great Brigadier Gerard had the best ever record by a British trained horse, his major accomplishments were all over a mile, a distance at which the colt was simply invincible. Although he won the King George (mile and a half), his performance in that race could not be compared with Sea Bird's, Ribot's or Mill Reef's over that distance.

Thus over a mile and a half, he was truly Europe's best post-war horse. On the international scene, I feel Sea Bird challenged Secretariat, Man o'War and Phar Lap, for the title of the horse of the Century. Secretariat wins my vote over Sea Bird ,as a result of his 31 length Belmont Stakes victory in 1973, which was the performance of a supersonic plane.

It was like witnessing a miracle which couldn't be described in racing terms. Man o'War has a better statistical record (20 wins from 21 starts) and he also won with handicaps. However, for toughness and ability to carry weight, Phar Lap outscored the other giants. He won with the highest possible handicaps by a huge margin (First horse to revise the handicapping rules). My personal rating overall ranks Sea Bird as second to Secretariat amongst the top horses of the 20th Century (At least as far as raw ability is concerned).

The great horse was retired to John Galbreathís Derby Dan Stud farm in Kentucky.

The greatest horse he sired was Allez France, whose victories included the French 1,000 Guineas, the French Oaks, the Prix Vermeille, the Prix díHarcourt, the Prix Ganay and the Prix de líArc de Triomphe.

Sea Bird died in 1973.He also produced 1970 Derby runner-up Gyr, The Irish 2,000 Guineas runner up Great Heron, Bering's sire (Bering was one of the greatest 3 year olds in recent years in France, finishing second to the Great Dancing Brave in the 1986 Arc), the Ganay winner Arctic Tern and the phenomenal jumper Sea Pigeon. It was the end of an immortal.


Sea Bird's Pedigree

Sea Bird
Dan Cupid Native Dancer Polynesian
Vixenette Sickle
Lady Reynard
Sicalade Sicambre Prince Bio
Marmelade Maurepas