Racing enthusiasts will remember 2009 as the year when Sea the Stars achieved sporting immortality with six Group One wins, including a magnificent display in one of the world's most prestigious races, the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. In capturing the unique 2,000 Guineas-Epsom Derby-Arc treble, as well as the Coral Eclipse, Juddmonte International and Irish Champion Stakes, Sea the Stars claimed a rightful place among an elite list of champions.
The trainer, Aidan O'Brien, often described as a "maestro" of the track because his overwhelming success, threw everything his mighty yard had at Sea the Stars. But even with up to four Ballydoyle runners in a race, trying every tactic in the book to put John Oxx's solitary horse off his stride, Sea the Stars emerged supreme every time. Even if Sea the Stars had not already won five preceding Group Ones, the manner in which he claimed the Arc would have set him apart.
Sea the Stars' jockey, Mick Kinane, did not rise to the bait of the two O'Brien pacemakers, Set Sail and Grand Ducal, who steamed ahead of the 19-runner field, instead dropping to ninth and, like the other riders, simply waiting for them to tire. Fighting for his head in the somewhat slow-paced contest, Sea the Stars did not give his jockey an easy time. Kinane was forced to switch his runner outside the rapidly tiring Grand Ducal, before making a run from two furlongs out that left genuinely talented Group One contenders looking like handicappers.
That race, the pinnacle of any jockey's career, was also a sign-off of sorts for one of the most accomplished and enduring race riders in the world. Kinane, the 50-year-old, 13-time Irish champion, retired from riding in December. In his 34-year career he won 10 English Classics including four 2,000 Guineas and three Derbies. He has 14 Irish Classics to his name, three Arc victories and five King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes triumphs.
It was also the year that saw Kieren Fallon, one of the most controversial yet compelling figures in international racing, make his return to the saddle after three years in exile. His drugs ban served and a new leaf seemingly turned over, Fallon struck up an immediate partnership with the top trainer Luca Cumani, and is set to continue his renaissance when he travels with the Cumani string to Dubai for the Carnival.
In the United States, the girls took the headlines. In winning the Breeders' Cup Classic, the unbeaten Zenyatta, darling of the American racing public, achieved undisputed status as that country's greatest mare, capturing her 14th consecutive win (and eighth Grade One) and beating the boys in her first start outside a fillies' and mares' race. Rachel Alexandra was to the US east coast what Zenyatta was to the west. Unbeaten this season, it was in the Preakness Stakes that Rachel Alexandra really stood out.
Like Zenyatta, she stole victory from the boys - among them the Kentucky Derby winner, Mine That Bird, who finished second. firstname.lastname@example.org