Today's meeting at The Curragh can help clarify a complicated juvenile division. Looking back now, a year on, the first real surprise is that Sea the Stars was allowed to run on the yielding ground. The second is that in spite of some fairly enthusiastic assistance from Mick Kinane he could only beat his stable-mate Mouryan by half a length, with a short head and a neck back to the third and fourth placed horses. The visual impression created by that edition of the Beresford Stakes was that it was just another insignificant cog in a wheel that would only revolve into its final position during the end of season October sort out at Newmarket, Doncaster and Longchamp.
The subsequent racing careers of the most recent winners bore out the scepticism that the race is usually a lukewarm predictor of future brilliance. Curtain Call, Eagle Mountain, Septimus and Albert Hall were all talented animals, but none were ever in any danger of being labelled as an all time great. There was an obvious clue though, if only we'd looked a little further back through the list of previous winners. The two victors prior to this quartet, Azamour and Alamshar, had between them won two King George's, an Irish Derby and several other top class contests and both were trained by John Oxx.
But if a week in politics is a famously long time, a year in racing is an eternity and opinions examined in hindsight have a tendency to highlight shortcomings more often than brilliant incisiveness. Even so, anyone who argued that Sea The Stars hard-fought victory at the Curragh on this very day 12 months ago was a prelude to his ascension to the pantheon of greats alongside the likes of Sea Bird, Brigadier Gerard and Ribot would probably have been escorted from the racecourse by the men in white coats.
And therein lies one of the fascinations of this part of the season. Trying to figure out the two-year olds is akin to watching the Galway minors win at Croke Park earlier this month and wondering if any of them will be good enough to build that support scaffold around Joe Canning that he so desperately needs. Today's card at the Curragh is another case in point. It could bring more heat than light to the still murky 2009 juvenile pecking order but this in no way dilutes interest from what's sure to be an illuminating afternoon of flat racing. Like dipping into Forrest Gump's box of chocolates, you never really know what you are going to get. But you might get Sea The Stars.
This afternoon Goffs conclude their lucrative sponsorship of their flagship two-year-old sales races, the Sprint and the Mile, which between them have enough added prize money to recapitalise a small bank. This is the fourth and last edition of this series as the bloodstock company have prudently decided that not even the carrot of a restricted entry to a couple of million-euro races will bring any madness to yearling buying this season so they've battened down the fiscal hatches in another sorry tribute to the prevailing economic pestilence.
Whether any of the runners in today's two races have the ability to match the achievements of the best of their 'Million' winners, Lush Lashes, remains to be seen and the more meaningful future clues today could be found in the Juddmonte Beresford Stakes and more particularly in the performance of Aidan O'Brien's Monjeu colt, St Nicholas Abbey, who is rumoured to be the real deal.
One of the more interesting, and in its own way welcome, features of this season's two-year-old division is that none of the (arguably) four best Irish juveniles so far are trained by O'Brien. This is certain to change over the next month or so when the likes of Steinbeck and Cape Blanco reappear, but the diversity makes for far more interesting post-racing conversations.
Termagant, trained by Kevin Prendergast, has the best form among the fillies, having easily won the Group One Moyglare Stud stakes at the Curragh on very heavy ground. However, it was in her only other race on good ground at Leopardstown in June that she beat O'Brien's Cabaret by an easy two lengths and that contest may prove in time to be one of those golden maidens that defines the shape of things to come.
Cabaret won her next two races with consummate ease and is already among the favourites for next year's 1000 Guineas at Newmarket and the Oaks at Epsom. O'Brien was hoping to run Cabaret this afternoon for a million euro first prize but an allergy that required a shot of cortisone intervened on Tuesday and instead she is being kept for the Prix Marcel Boussac at Longchamp next Sunday. The regard in which her trainer holds her is a silent testament to her Leopardstown conqueror.
Like Termagant, Kingsfort, the best two-year-old colt seen here this year is also trained by Kevin Prendergast. Like his stablemate he is unbeaten in two races to date and also like Tarmagant he may not be seen again until the spring of 2010. His National Stakes victory over Jim Bolger's Chabal wasn't visually stunning but could still ultimately prove to be the best two-year-old form in Europe, especially if Chabal completes a Bolger four-timer in the Dewhurst Stakes next month at Newmarket.
The other clearly outstanding two-year old seen in Ireland so far this season is Arctic from the Tracey Collins stable. Arctic has won his three starts to date by national hunt distances and in his last race he beat Air Chief Marshall by four and a half lengths. Literally interpreted, this form makes him two lengths better than Kingsfort, but as always there are unanswered questions. Can he stay a mile well enough to win a fast run classic? Will he be as effective on good ground as he is on heavy?
Arctic was bred at Sheikh Mohammed's Darley Stud and is by one of his more promising young stallions, Shamardal, so the Godolphin chequebook could well be temptingly opened in pursuit of this one at some stage in the future. Hopefully though, he will stay right where he is and continue his winning ways against some of the fastest juveniles in Britain in the upcoming Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket.
The English two-year-olds still have some sorting out to do also and barring a couple of exceptions there hasn't been any sign of real jaw dropping brilliance. Arcano, Awzaan and Elusive Pimpernel all look top class but for something that looked out of the ordinary you need to go all the way back to Royal Ascot in June and to Jealous Again and Canford Cliffs.
Jealous Again looks like a lightning fast filly when she hosed up in the Queen Mary Stakes but she was bought by Godolphin after that race and hasn't been seen since. It remains to be seen if she can improve that stable's inconsistent record with bought in two-year olds. It was also at Ascot that the most astounding performance of the season was put up by a monster that goes by the name of Canford Cliffs.
When he won the Coventry Stakes by six lengths Canford looked to be perched on the edge of greatness and although he was beaten in his only race since at Deauville, there were reasonable excuses. His trainer Richard Hannon has an unparalleled record training youngsters, but doesn't quite seem to reap the benefits as much as he should during their second season, so hopefully Canford Cliffs can buck this trend. It will be a whole year before we know, but that's the thing about two-year olds, you never really know what you are going to get. But you just might get Sea The Stars.