Racing: Giant's Causeway stakes claim as Sadler's heir

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The Independent Online

When a monarch draws near to the end of his reign, thoughts of the succession inevitably become more imperative. And although Sadler's Wells, not only the king of the Coolmore bloodstock empire but the most influential sire of modern times, is still holding court at the Co Tipperary stallion station that has been his home for 20 years, he is now aged 24 and getting more grizzled by the day. Every future season must be counted a bonus.

When a monarch draws near to the end of his reign, thoughts of the succession inevitably become more imperative. And although Sadler's Wells, not only the king of the Coolmore bloodstock empire but the most influential sire of modern times, is still holding court at the Co Tipperary stallion station that has been his home for 20 years, he is now aged 24 and getting more grizzled by the day. Every future season must be counted a bonus.

Sadler's Wells, a tough, talented runner, has exhausted most superlatives in his second career. In terms of championships, he is the most successful stallion in the annals of the Thoroughbred, his 14th title last year having eclipsed Highflyer's 206-year-old record; he has sired the winners of more than 100 Group or Grade One winners worldwide; he stands at a European record fee of £250,000 a service.

Right from the word go, the son of Northern Dancer made an impact, when two colts from his very first crop, Prince Of Dance and Scenic, dead-heated for the Dewhurst Stakes. Three more of their contemporaries went on the score at the highest level, Old Vic, In The Wings and Braashee.

But even Sadler's Wells did not do what another under the Coolmore banner achieved on Sunday. When Shamardal held on so gamely to take the Poule d'Essai des Poulains at Longchamp he gave his sire, Giant's Causeway, his second Guineas after Footstepsinthesand's victory on the Rowley Mile 15 days earlier. You have to go back to 1982 for the last sire before him to notch two individual Classic winners from his first crop. That was Be My Guest, with On The House (1,000 Guineas) and Assert (French and Irish Derbys).

Like Sadler's Wells, Giant's Causeway was all man on the track, the so-called iron horse of 2000, winner of nine of his 13 races, including his famous five Group Ones in a row. He started his stud life at Coolmore's Irish base near Fethard, where he covered 181 mares, before transferring to the Kentucky arm of the business. His fee this year is $150,000 (£82,000), twice that of 12 months ago.

The increase is unsurprising; Shamardal was rated champion juvenile and the average price of his auction-sold yearlings last autumn was more than £135,000. And even though the highest-priced of them, the 1.25m guinea filly Mona Lisa, has been disappointing so far, another distaffer, Maid's Causeway, goes to the Curragh at the weekend with bright prospects of avenging her 1,000 Guineas defeat in the Irish version.

Three individual Classic winners in a season is not unprecedented - Sadler's Wells achieved it two years ago with Refuse To Bend, Yesterday and Brian Boru - but such a feat tends to be a self-fulfilling prophecy by an established sire: the better you prove, the more opportunities you get. It would be sensational for a stallion at the start of his career.

The formula for success at stud is, thankfully, still a mystery; without that uncertainty the bloodstock business, a massive international factory floor behind the shop window of the racecourse, would collapse. If everyone could breed a top-notch horse, everyone would, and with no risk there would be no reward.

After nearly 300 years, the best advice is still the old adage "breed the best to the best and hope for the best". But where the shake of the genetic cocktail is concerned, success is a rare commodity; only five per cent of horses who go to stud can be judged a success.

Sadler's Wells was well performed, superbly bred and had a great attitude, but possession of those qualities does not guarantee success. Most good stallions, though, own at least two and Giant's Causeway has all three. The powerhouse chestnut is by the top-notch sire Storm Cat out of the Rahy mare Mariah's Storm, winner of 10 of her 16 starts and for whom Coolmore supremo John Magnier paid $2.6m at auction when she was eight months pregnant with Giant's Causeway. In his second season Giant's Causeway had a hard race virtually every time, yet never shirked, a trait which he seems to have passed on.

Footstepsinthesand was presented with 16 potential rivals in Saturday's Irish 2,000 Guineas at yesterday's penultimate declaration stage, including supplemented Newmarket runner-up Rebel Rebel and the favourite that day, Dubawi.

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