Sea Hero was a dark bay colt that was owned and bred by Paul Mellon, who raced the colt under his Rokeby Stables. A Virginia-bred, the colt was by Polish Navy, out of the well-bred Graustark mare, Glowing Tribute. Hailing from the La Troienne line, his dam was voted as the Kentucky Broodmare of the Year in 1993, having foaled Sea Hero, in addition to the other Graded Stakes Winners, Hero’s Honor, Wild Applause, and Glowing Honor. Mellon dispersed much of his bloodstock in 1992, keeping Sea Hero along with a few others. Leggy, tall, and temperamental, the colt challenged trainer Mack Miller who was known for his patience with difficult horses.
At 2, Sea Hero wouldn’t win until September, in his 4th start, a one-mile contest over the turf. He went on to win again over the turf, this time in an allowance. Switching over to dirt for the Champagne, the promising colt would be victorious. It seemed that every time the colt was progressing, he would regress. Finishing the year with a 7th place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, the quirky colt was sent to Florida for the winter.
Due to Sea Hero’s dislike for the Florida weather, he was winless in his first three starts. Moved to Aiken for training, the bay seemed to enjoy the weather, showing improvement. Shipped to Keeneland for the Blue Grass Stakes, he only managed 4th behind Prairie Bayou. The connections were very pleased with the effort he put forth, deciding to take a chance on contesting the Kentucky Derby. Running without blinkers as a last-minute decision that was introduced by jockey Jerry Bailey who thought the colt was running too aggressively in his races, the colt showed them that they made the right decision to run.
The field for the 119th Kentucky Derby was made up of 19 horses, with Prairie Bayou the lukewarm favorite. Breaking from the six position, Sea Hero had a clean break, with Bailey settling the colt towards the back of the pack in 12th, saving ground on the rail. As they ran down the backstretch, Bailey started trying to find room for his mount as the leaders began to slow in front of him. Just when it seemed that it was hopeless, the field slowed and parted, giving them room to close on the front-runners. Turning for home, the duo hugged the rail, finding openings until they were just three lengths behind. Again being stuck with no where to go, a large hole suddenly opened on the rail, with Bailey asking Sea Hero to power on through. Showing an impressive move, the colt drove up the rail, pouring it on to pass under the wire 2 ½ lengths in front in 2:02 2/5.
The victory was a nice anniversary gift for the Mellons, as they were celebrating their 45th year of marriage. The win was the first for Bailey and Miller, as well as Mellon, who became the second owner to complete the Epsom and Kentucky Derby double, with Mill Reef in 1971 and Sea Hero’s 1993 victory, following Darby Dan’s John Galbreath. In addition to the Epsom and Kentucky triumphs, Mellon became the first owner to win the two classics along with the French Prix de l’Arc de Triumph.
After the Derby, Sea Hero finished a disappointing 5th in the Preakness and 7th in the Belmont, along with a 4th in the Jim Dandy. Entering into the Travers off of a 3-race losing streak, Sea Hero showed his Derby winning form in tracking the pack before swinging wide and spurting away to a two length victory, becoming the first Derby/Travers winner since Shut Out in 1942. From there, the Travers victor was shipped to Woodbine to make a start in the Molson Export Million Stakes, finishing third behind the Canadian Triple Crown winner, Peteski. Sea Hero would come in second behind Prairie Bayou for 3YO Champion Male.
At 4, the bay competitor finished first in a 7-furlong allowance, his first start of the year. Unfortunately, it would also be his last, although he would manage a second in the Bowling Green Handicap, in addition to two third place finishes, the Brooklyn and Calcutta Handicaps. Retired to Lane’s End Farm in 1995 with a record of 6 wins, 3 seconds, and 4 thirds out of 24 starts, three of those wins were Gr. I victories. After his 1999 breeding season, Sea Hero was sold to Karacabey Pension Stud in Turkey, where he became a top-10 leading sire for many years, ranking 7th on the all-time stallion list by progeny earnings, siring 200 winners and 15 stakes winners. Living to be the oldest living Kentucky Derby winner, Sea Hero is immortalized by a statue that is near the Saratoga Walking Ring.
(Photo courtesy of KDM archives)