Sea The Stars (by Cape Cross) was one of the most brilliant racehorses of recent years, a Timeform 140-rated champion who began his career with an eye-catching fourth-place debut effort at the Curragh as juvenile and then swept through a sequence of eight races that culminated with a two-length score in the Group 1 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.
He won a maiden and the Group 2 Beresford Stakes on his other outings as a juvenile, kicked off the new campaign with victory in the Group 1 2000 Guineas at Newmarket, followed that with a one and three-quarter length defeat of Fame And Glory in the Derby at Epsom, and then beat Rip Van Winkle by a length in the Group 1 Coral Eclipse Stakes at Sandown. He beat Mastercraftsman by the same margin in the Group 1 Juddmonte International Stakes at York and, on his penultimate start, extended his margin of superiority over old rival Fame And Glory to two and a half lengths in the Group 1 Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown.
With his rating and race record he was always going to be a hugely popular new addition to the stallion ranks, but as he could also boast being a half-brother to the dual Derby hero and phenomenal sire Galileo (by Sadler's Wells), Sea The Stars went to Gilltown Stud as one of the most exciting new stallion prospects for a long time.
Nothing is ever guaranteed in this business, but with everything he had going for him it was going to be a considerable shock if this grandson of Green Desert (by Danzig) failed to get Group 1 winners. He has not disappointed. Indeed, he is living up to everything for which we could have hoped, and earlier this month, from his third crop, he got his first winner of the Group 1 Investec Derby.
Already by this point he had been represented by runaway Group 1 Deutsches Derby star Sea The Moon and the Group 1 Oaks and Group 1 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes heroine Taghrooda, both of whom came from his first crop, along with additional Group 1 scorer Vazira. The dual Derby-placed Group 2 winner Storm The Stars features in his second one, and his current tally stands at 28 stakes winners. Seven of those have achieved the feat in 2016, and six of them at pattern level.
Harzand heads that shorter roll of honour and the Aga Khan's homebred colt, who is trained by Dermot Weld, may bid for a Derby double at the Curragh on Saturday. Cloth Of Stars and Mekhtaal won Group 2 classic trials in France and, hopefully, will bounce back from their disappointing classic runs, Mutakayyef won a listed contest at York, while Astronereus and Zelzal are Group 3 scorers, the latter a colt with the potential to move up a lot in the rankings.
The septet is completed by Across The Stars, the Sir Michael Stoute-trained three-year-old who finished down the field behind Harzand at Epsom (didn't handle the track) but bounced back at Ascot last week to beat Beacon Rock by one and a quarter lengths in the Group 2 King Edward VII Stakes.
This was a second win from six starts for the colt, he finished third behind subsequent Derby fifth Humphrey Bogart in the Listed Derby Trial at Lingfield in May, and it will be interesting to see where he goes next. His trainer said, in post race interviews, that he does not think of the colt as being a St Leger horse, and there is evidence in the pedigree both to support and refute a position that 12 furlongs might be as far as he'd really like to go.
Sea The Stars was never asked to try that longer distance, and neither have most of his most talented progeny, but his son Astronereus is interesting in this debate. A half-brother to Le Havre (by Noverre), who did not run again after his victory in the 10 and a half furlong Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby), and out of a half-sister to high-class sprinter/miler Polar Falcon (by Nureyev), this is a horse whose stamina beyond 12 furlongs might have been in doubt.
The Amanda Perrett-trained five-year-old won the Group 3 Al Rayyan Aston Park Stakes over that trip at Newbury last month, but last season won a listed handicap over 14 furlongs at York shortly before finishing a half-length third in a valuable handicap over that same distance at Goodwood, and he holds an entry in the Group 1 Palmerstown House Estate Irish St Leger, also over 14 furlongs, at the Curragh in September.
His ability to perform well at just over half a furlong shorter than the St Leger distance, albeit in lesser company than would be faced in a Group 1 contest, suggests that at least some of the leading progeny of Sea The Stars will stay. And why not? Most 12-furlong racehorses sire some who stay farther than they did.
Despite what we see in the case of Astronereus, the distaff side of the pedigree is likely to be important in this regard, and with Across The Stars one of the first things to stand out about his family's record is that his grandam, Glowing With Pride (by Ile De Bourbon), was runner-up in the Group 2 Park Hill Stakes over the St Leger course and distance.
That mare's son Pridwell (by Sadler's Wells) won the Group 1 Aintree Hurdle and was runner-up in the Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle, among various other top performances, and his half-brother Inchcailloch (by Lomond) stayed beyond three miles over fences, despite being the son of a 2000 Guineas winner. Surely this would suggest that the recent Ascot star would stay the trip at Doncaster.
Maybe, but not necessarily. It may come down to what he has inherited from his dam and from her sire.
Across The Stars is out of Victoria Cross, a stakes-placed miler who was lightly-raced and and a beaten favourite on her only attempt at 10 furlongs. She was bred by Hascombe and Valiant Studs, as is her talented son, and she has three other progeny who have earned blacktype.
Valiant Girl (by Lemon Drop Kid), a nine-furlong Goodwood winner, was narrowly beaten over 10 furlongs at Newbury before crossing the atlantic. There she won again over nine furlongs, was well-beaten when stepped up in grade and again at 12 furlongs, and then she dropped back to nine to take a Grade 3 handicap at Gulfstream Park West.
Her sire won the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes, the son of Kingmambo (by Mr Prospector) stands at Lane's End Farm in Kentucky, and his progeny include two other notable individuals that the Oppenheimers bred. Cannock Chase (out of Lynnwood Chase, by Horse Chestnut) won the Grade 1 International Stakes over 12 furlongs at Woodbine, while 2009's Group 2 Hardwicke Stakes and Group 2 Jockey Club Stakes winner Bronze Canyon is a half-brother to Across The Stars.
In addition to the aforementioned jumpers, Victoria Cross is a half-sister to the speedy eight-times scorer Everglades (by Green Desert), to the dual Group 2-classic placed miler Much Commended (by Most Welcome) and also to Prize Giving (by Most Welcome), a Listed Dee Stakes winner in England who went on to become a Grade 1-placed Grade 2 scorer in California.
Much Commended went on to become a successful broodmare. Her prolific stakes-winning daughter Magic Eye (by Nayef) was a miler, and her 12-times winning son Dabbers Ridge (by Indian Ridge) was best from seven to eight furlongs. She is also responsible for Much Acclaimed (by Sulamani), a mile winner who was well beaten when initially trying farther on the flat. But after he made a winning debut over hurdles, he won a 12-furlong handicap at Galway, a premier handicap over 14 furlongs at the Curragh and then a blacktype handicap hurdle over two miles at Listowel.
Clearly there is a strong case to be made for the potential ability of Across The Stars to stay the St Leger distance, but if this 600,000gns Tattersalls October Yearling Sale graduate has got a genetic tendency towards speed from his dam and broodmare sire, both of whom were milers, then this will limit his range and so it is entirely possible the mile and a half, or even 13 furlongs, would be as far as he wants to go.