urban sea
urban sea

Urban Sea

(Photo : Irish National Stud)


In horse breeding, the great mare (or stallion) is as elusive as the needle in the haystack. While most of us like to believe we’re on the scent of one, truth is they are as much a product of happenstance as they are of design. Such a mare is Urban Sea.

The progeny of Urban Sea, who died earlier this year at the age of 20, have landed many of the world’s most prestigious prizes, but until Sunday none had emulated their mother by winning the G1 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. That changed when Sea the Stars went postward in Europe’s richest turf race as the heavy favorite.

Although she remains one of the most influential broodmares in modern history, the story of Urban Sea had humble origins. French breeder Michel Henochsberg needed only approximately $55,000 to acquire her dam Allegretta (GB) (Lombard), who was in foal to Irish Castle, at the 1984 KEENOV sale.

I wanted to buy [Alegretta] because she was quite a good performer,” said Henochsberg, the former chairman of the French and European Breeders’ Associations. “She was second in the [G3] Oaks Trial Stakes at Lingfield. She ran in the Oaks, but she was quite nervous - she was on her toes - and she didn’t perform well. She was sold to the United States, but she didn’t do much there, and they put her in the sale in foal to Irish Castle.”

It wasn’t just Allegretta’s racetrack performance that caught Henochsberg’s attention.

She was out of a fantastic German family that was not fashionable at the time,” he said. “I knew the main bloodlines in Europe, including those in smaller countries like Italy and Germany. This mare was coming from the “A” family, where the mares’ names start with the letter “A”.

“It’s the blood of the stud Gestut Schlenderhan.”

Her first three foals were unremarkable, with handicap horse Irish Allegre (Irish River {Fr}) being the best of the lot. That all changed when Henochsberg decided to send Allegretta to a son of Mr. Prospector.

[Irish Allegre] was a decent horse, but he was not brilliant,” he said. “The entire German family consisted of stayers, and I wanted some Mr. Prospector blood. At that time, he represented speed, at least for Europeans. Miswaki was a good performer in France, and he was a winner at seven furlongs.”

“[Miswaki] was starting to become quite highly regarded in the United States, as he was standing for $40,000 at Walmac Farm. Miswaki was not a big horse. Allegretta was a big mare - workmanlike.”

Getting a season to Miswaki wasn’t easy, but Henochsberg was able to obtain one from then bloodstock agent Barry Weisbord. The resulting foal was a chestnut filly.

“[Urban Sea] had a good structure and a good frame,” Henochsberg recalled. “She was not unfurnished, but she was not the most pleasant yearling. She was a very good walker and a good athlete.”

Like all other horses bred by Henochsberg at the time, she was sold at auction.

Henochsberg set a reserve of FF280,000 (about $50,000) when he offered her at the Deauville Yearling Sale, and she sold for that exact price.

“One bid less, and I would have kept her,” he noted.

Henochsberg admitted Urban Sea’s racing success surprised him, as she took the 1993 G1 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe en route to being named France’s highweight older mare at 11-14 furlongs.

“As a two-year-old, [Urban Sea] was nothing much,” he said. “As a three-year-old, she was a good group winner. At four, she became a champ. She was always very useful, but she improved. She had a big, big heart. She didn’t really have the structure to be a champion, but she wanted to win.”

Henochsberg, having missed the chance to campaign Urban Sea, attempted to buy an interest in her as a broodmare prospect.

“I had become friends with her current owner, Mrs. Tsui,” he said. “I proposed we make a partnership, breeding her on a foal share to Nureyev, who was one of the most expensive stallions in the U.S.

“We were very close to completing this deal, but she changed her mind.”

While fate worked against Henochsberg with Urban Sea, luck was on his side when he tried to sell Allegretta’s sixth foal, Allez Les Trois (Riverman). She failed to meet her reserve of FF550,000, and she would go on to win the G3 Prix de Flore and finish third in the G3 Saratoga Breeders’ Cup Handicap. As a broodmare, Allez Les Trois produced the 2001 G1 Prix du Jockey Club winner Anabaa Blue (GB) (Anabaa). Turbaine (Trempolino), also out of Allegretta, produced MGSW Tertullian (Miswaki) and GSW Terek (Ger) (Irish River {Fr}).

Allegretta saved one of her best runners for her later years when, in 1997, she foaled the eventual G1 English 2000 Guineas winner King’s Best (Kingmambo). Pensioned after coming up barren in 2000 and 2001, Allegretta died in 2005 at the age of 27. Despite having passed on, Allegretta’s impact on the breed has been guaranteed by Urban Sea, whose son by Sadler’s Wells, Galileo (Ire), has established himself as one of the finest young stallions in the world. Her son Black Sam Bellamy (Ire) (Sadler’s Wells) plies his trade in Germany. Stud plans for Sea the Stars have yet to be determined.

Henochsberg, a professor of economics at the University of Paris, credits Urban Sea for Sea the Stars’ brilliance.

“Sea the Stars looks like a typical Cape Cross or Green Desert,” he said. “He’s a very handsome colt with a lot of power, but obviously there is something inside that comes from Urban Sea. This mixture seems to be something great. I hope I’ll have another filly like her, but it’s very doubtful.”

Extract from Thoroughbred Daily News