Racing: Montjeu fast emerges as the wonder stallion

Sue Montgomery
Thursday 04 July 2013 02:09
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The weekend's events in Ireland ensured that the prince has already eclipsed the king in one respect. Sadler's Wells, the modern European monarch of stallions, started his stud career in spectacular style, with the winner of two Derbys - Old Vic, at Chantilly and on the Curragh 16 years ago - among the five individual Group 1 scorers in his first crop of foals.

Montjeu, his best representative on the racecourse, has produced two Derby winners at the first time of asking, in Epsom hero Motivator and Sunday's victor Hurricane Run.

The feat is unparalleled in the annals of the Thoroughbred, and for good measure their runners-up, Walk In The Park and Scorpion, share their sire. Talk about starting with a bang.

Sadler's Wells has been champion a record 14 times, but is now a grand old man of 24, greying round the whiskers. He was still hearty enough to get more than 100 mares pregnant in the spring but at his age every day is a bonus. Fittingly, father and son live in the same stallion yard at Coolmore, and see each other leaving for work daily. Is this right, dad? Go get 'em, boy.

A Sadler's Wells comes along rarely - he is a true phenomenon - and Montjeu cannot be a replica, only a successor. The search has been on for one for some time. Until the coming of Montjeu, the best in these parts had been Coronation Cup winner In The Wings. Any more than being a champion racehorse does not guarantee success as a stallion, being a superlative sire does not mean sire of sires as well. Old Vic, for instance, failed as a Flat progenitor, though he has now found fame as a begetter of jumpers, notably Kicking King.

It is a rare enough stallion who gets a performer better than himself but in this case the old block was rated 132, the chip 137. As a runner, Montjeu, out of a Top Ville mare, was middle-distance through and through, winning the French and Irish Derbys and the Arc at three and the King George at four, a fine riposte to the modern breeders' obsession that class expressed at 12 furlongs is class expressed a smidge too far.

To look at, Montjeu is atypical of his Northern Dancer sire's progeny, a size bigger, a mould more imposing, a grade less elegantly handsome than most of the tribe. He owned a glorious turn of foot, but also a certain combustibility of temperament, which he seems to be passing on. Like Sadler's Wells, he breeds true for his colour, bay, but that is a genetic hard-wire rather than an indication of merit.

Owners of high-class broodmares queued at the gates to use tough, talented, beautifully-bred Sadler's Wells at a fee of £125,000 and he did not disappoint; extraordinarily, his first two-year-olds included Dew-hurst Stakes dead-heaters, Prince Of Dance and Scenic. Montjeu, who started at just €45,000 (£30,000), has had to work harder; his initial book of 144 was stronger on quantity than quality, but huge encouragement came from the fact that a staying horse like him, who improved with age, took high rank with his first juveniles.

If Montjeu is, as he seems, the real deal, then John Magnier's accountants can breathe a sigh of relief, for the development of a world-class stallion is what the bloodstock industry is all about. If Sadler's Wells covers 150 mares a season at £250,000 a go, he earns £37.5m. There are 45 stallions in the Coolmore empire worldwide, many of them doubling up with dual-hemisphere mating. The figures stack up.

Two first-crop Derby winners is unique, and even two first-up Classic winners is rare. Remarkably, Coolmore also have the season's other young stallion sensation, Kentucky-based Giant's Causeway, who has achieved just that with 2,000 Guineas winner Footstepsinthesand and Sham-ardal, who took the French Guineas and Derby and will provide the chief opposition to Motivator in the Eclipse Stakes. Even without a serious Ballydoyle contender on Saturday the Co Tipperary team are in a win-win situation.

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