When Sea-Bird Flew Home In The Arc


This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of what is widely considered the greatest performance by a winner of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Sea-Bird’s win at Longchamp in 1965 was the crowning moment of a career that earned him the accolade ‘Horse of the Century’ from John Randall and Tony Morris in ‘Horse Racing’s Millennium Book’ A Century of Champions.

Sea-Bird’s Timeform rating of 145 has been the benchmark by which subsequent champions have been measured for most of the last fifty years, one surpassed only recently by Frankel (147). Beaten only once (at two), Sea-Bird had already won the Prix Greffulhe, Prix Lupin and Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud in France before the Arc, but it was his victory in the Derby which was the other highlight of his career.

‘He beat his twenty-one opponents without coming off the bit’, said Racehorses of 1965. ‘Has there ever been an easier or a more impressive Derby winner?’ it asked. Sea-Bird’s Derby and Arc wins can be viewed here.

Sea-Bird routed an international field at Longchamp, but it was principally the presence in second of a rival who would have been well up to Arc-winning standard himself most years, and a top-class one in third, and the ease with which he beat these other members of a vintage crop of French three-year-old colts, that put Sea-Bird in a league of his own. ‘I cannot remember commentating on a Flat race’ wrote the late Sir Peter O’Sullevan, ‘in which the quality of performance exceeded the breathtaking achievement of this glorious galloper.’

Here are listed Sea-Bird’s victims, the distance they were each beaten, and in brackets their age and, where published, their Timeform annual rating in 1965:

Second, beaten 6 lengths: Reliance (3, 137) unbeaten in five previous starts, including Prix Hocquart (by 5 lengths from Carvin), Prix du Jockey Club (by ¾ length from Diatome), Grand Prix de Paris (by length from Diatome) and Prix Royal-Oak (by ¾ length from Ragazzo)

Third, beaten 11 lengths: Diatome (3, 130) winner of Prix Noailles and Prix du Prince d’Orange before the Arc and subsequent winner of  Washington D.C. International (by nose from Carvin); also runner-up to Sea-Bird in Prix Lupin and to Reliance in Prix du Jockey Club and Grand Prix de Paris

Fourth, beaten 11¼ lengths: Free Ride (4, 129) the best French older horse of 1965, winner of Prix Boiard and Prix Ganay; also fifth to Sea-Bird in Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud

Fifth, beaten 11¾ lengths: Anilin (3) Russian Derby winner; also triple winner of Preis von Europa during his career and twice placed in Washington D.C. International

Sixth, beaten 16¾ lengths: Tom Rolfe (3) American champion three-year-old colt by dual Arc winner Ribot, winner of Preakness Stakes in between placed efforts in Kentucky Derby (third) and Belmont Stakes (second)

Seventh, beaten 22¾ lengths: Demi Deuil (4, 122) winner of five races in 1965, including Grosser Preis von Baden prior to Arc and Premio Roma afterwards

Eighth, beaten 24¼ lengths: Carvin (3, 127) winner of Grand Prix de Vichy; also placed in Prix du Jockey Club and Prix Royal-Oak and narrowly beaten by Diatome in Washington D.C. International after the Arc

Ninth, beaten 24¾ lengths: Meadow Court (3, 129) top Irish three-year-old part-owned by Bing Crosby; winner of Irish Sweeps Derby and King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes (from Soderini and Oncidium) after a strong-finishing second to the eased-down Sea-Bird in the Derby

Also ran in alphabetical order:

Ardaban (4, 115)

Blabla (3, 118) top French three-year-old filly (only one of her sex in the field), winner of Prix de Diane; had also been runner-up to Sea-Bird in Criterium de Maisons-Laffitte at two

Emerald (4, 112) winner of Prix Maurice de Nieuil

Francilius (4)

Khalife (3, 112) winner of Desmond Stakes, intended pacemaker for Meadow Court (he was unable to lead)

Marco Visconti (3) Italian colt, third in Derby Italiano and second in Gran Premio di Milano

Oncidium (4, 123) winner of Coronation Cup and third to Meadow Court in King George

Ragazzo (3, 125) winner of Great Voltigeur Stakes and second to Reliance, with Carvin third, in Prix Royal-Oak

Sigebert (4, 116) winner of Prix Henri Foy

Soderini  (4, 123) winner of John Porter Stakes and Hardwicke Stakes; also runner-up to Oncidium in Coronation Cup and to Meadow Court in King George

Timmy Lad (4, 120) fourth in previous year’s Arc

Sea-Bird’s stud career didn’t match the brilliance of what he achieved on the track, while his death aged only eleven prevented him leaving more of a legacy. His first five years at stud were spent under lease to John W. Galbreath’s Darby Dan Farm in Kentucky.

Even so, there were some highlights, that in Europe being the Arc victory of his outstanding daughter Allez France in 1974 (Randall and Morris ranked her as second only to Pretty Polly among the twentieth century’s fillies and mares). That same year, Sea-Bird had a champion in America too, where Galbreath’s Little Current won the Preakness and Belmont Stakes. He too was being aimed at the Arc before an injury prompted his retirement.

Sea-Bird didn’t get a Derby winner, but Gyr was runner-up to Nijinsky in 1970, while another of his sons, only seventh in the 1973 Derby, went on to be a tough and popular dual-purpose gelding in Britain, Sea Pigeon winning two Champion Hurdles.

Sea-Bird’s male line lives on principally through his son Arctic Tern who finished down the field in the Prix du Jockey Club and the Arc as a three-year-old but won the Prix Ganay at four. Arctic Tern was from the family of Northern Dancer, their dams being half-sisters (Northern Dancer’s dam Natalma was by Sea-Bird’s grandsire Native Dancer).

Arctic Tern’s best horse was out of a mare by Northern Dancer’s son Lyphard. That was the flashy chestnut Bering who was unbeaten at three, when his wins included the Prix du Jockey Club, until finding only Lyphard’s son Dancing Brave too good in the Arc, one of the best winners of the race since Sea-Bird. Like his grandsire, Bering began his stud career in Kentucky, probably his best horse being the 1995 2000 Guineas winner Pennekamp. Incidentally, Pennekamp’s grandam was by none other than Diatome and a half-sister to another of Sea-Bird’s Arc victims Carvin.

[Image of Longchamp courtesy of Copyleft]