The coming of spring is popularly supposed to inspire a renewal of positive and optimistic thoughts, but in these islands, in our little world of racing, it has brought instead an unwelcome dose of gloom this year.
Before March was out we lost one of our – and the world’s – outstanding sires in Montjeu. In mid-April the National Hunt game suffered, for the second successive year, the deaths of two runners in the Grand National, the sport’s highest-profile event, a disaster that could only swell the numbers of those who seek the suppression of the race and even of all racing over jumps.
In addition, with the new Flat season barely under way, doubts were cast over the principal reason for relishing its return, namely Frankel. At the time of going to press he had just been given the all-clear to return to training after an injury scare. Let’s hope everything now goes to plan with the world’s top-rated horse.
Tennyson did not have racing in mind when he wrote that “we needs must love the highest when we see it,” but the remark is certainly applicable to racegoers, who love nothing better than the sight of a champion in action. And when we recognise one, we greedily want to see him or her as often as possible.
It’s much the same where the top sires are concerned. We appreciate those who regularly supply the leading performers, depend on them to deliver quality year after year, and acknowledge their contribution to our enjoyment of the sport. It wasn’t necessary to be a shareholder in Sadler’s Wells to relish the success he generated over more than two decades; the profusion of outstanding runners that came from him was a source of wonder and delight to every ordinary racegoer.
As Montjeu began stud duties there was a suspicion that his pedigree was over-loaded with stamina
Having been conspicuously successful at stud at the outset of his career, and strikingly consistent in the production of high-calibre sons thereafter, Sadler’s Wells was naturally expected to establish an important male-line dynasty, so it was surprising that he was represented by champion sires in South Africa (Fort Wood) and North America (El Prado) before any threatened to claim a title in Europe. While intending no disrespect to the likes of In The Wings and Barathea, who both compiled good records, neither was ever going to come close to emulating his sire.
The picture eventually changed, and it was the very best of Sadler’s Wells’s sons on the racecourse who provided the breakthrough. Nobody could doubt that Montjeu deserved that accolade. He was Timeform-rated 137, 5lb higher than his sire, he won 11 of his 16 races over three seasons in training, and only once finished out of the frame.
His six Group 1 triumphs came in the Prix du Jockey-Club, the Irish Derby, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, the Tattersalls Gold Cup, the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud and the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes, his victory in the last-named event registered in a canter, demonstrating his overwhelming superiority.
Montjeu’s performances clearly identified him as an exceptional middle-distance runner, effective on any ground and blessed with a tremendous turn of foot. Those qualities surely gave him licence to achieve great things at stud, yet when he retired to Coolmore in 2001 that was not how everyone assessed his potential.
He began stud duties in the same season as Giant’s Causeway, whom Timeform rated his inferior by 5lb. But whereas the fee for Storm Cat’s son was set at Ir100,000gns, the charge for Montjeu’s services was only 30,000gns. The case presented by the devil’s advocate cited several reasons for the apparent want of faith in his prospects: the suspicion that his pedigree was over-loaded with stamina, the absence of a Pattern victory at two on his cv, the temperamental quirks he had displayed on several occasions, and, not least, the fact that sons of Sadler’s Wells really hadn’t cut the mustard in Europe.
Yes, there was always the chance that Montjeu would get plodders with dubious characters for racing, and that wasn’t an argument that might be advanced in the case of Giant’s Causeway; the so-called ‘iron horse’ had six Group 1 wins of his own to flaunt, one of them as a juvenile, and all between seven and ten furlongs.
As it turned out, Montjeu was by no means neglected in his first season, receiving 144 mares, but Giant’s Causeway had a book of 181, and was much more keenly supported by his home team. In addition, Montjeu was earmarked for southern hemisphere covering as well, suggesting that Coolmore’s priority was to maximise income from him before his progeny had been tested on the racecourse.
The horse who died on March 29 after suffering complications from septicaemia was no sire of plodders. On the contrary, he confounded the doubters and surpassed the expectations of even his keenest supporters by establishing himself as a top-ranking sire who faithfully transmitted his abundant class to his progeny. The breeding industry has lost one of its giants, whose record over the eight completed seasons in which he has been represented on the racecourse outpaced that of his sire at the same stage of his career.
As was to be expected, there have been no sprinters among Montjeu’s stock, and precocity was not among their traits. But many have been able to demonstrate their quality by the end of their first season, a point emphasised most strikingly by his four winners of the Racing Post Trophy – Motivator, Authorized, St Nicholas Abbey and Camelot. Others successful at Group 1 level as juveniles include Fame And Glory, Jan Vermeer and Recital.
But it is as the Derby sire par excellence that he is most widely recognised. Motivator, Authorized and Pour Moi have triumphed for him at Epsom, Hurricane Run, Frozen Fire and Fame And Glory at The Curragh. To that list we must add Nom du Jeu, the Australian Derby victor, while noting that Camelot heads the ante-post market for Epsom in 2012.
Of course, it has to be acknowledged that Galileo, with his progeny’s tally of Pattern races won already in three figures, now outranks Montjeu among the sons of Sadler’s Wells, but Frankel’s sire has had the benefit of larger books and generally better mares. Montjeu has 36 winners of 82 Pattern races to his credit, 31 of those wins coming at Group 1 level, most of them conceived off a fee under €50,000. It is a fair bet that his final tally will reach the century mark; although the crops yet to race lack the numbers typical of his earlier years at stud, they are the products of more distinguished mares.
We shall never know what Montjeu might have achieved, granted normal longevity, but the evidence to date confirms his status as a progenitor of the highest class. His influence has been expressed chiefly through his sons, currently headed by Hurricane Run, who emulated him as a rare winner of both the Arc and the King George, but his daughters have lately made a more notable mark, including this year’s Classic hope Wading; her victory in the Group 2 Rockfel Stakes made her his only Pattern scorer in the northern hemisphere at less than a mile.
Of Montjeu’s sons at stud only Hurricane Run and Motivator have yet been numerously represented on the racecourse, and neither has so far chalked up a victory at Group 1 level. But with so many other younger sons at stud or due to stand at stud in the years to come, chances are that Montjeu’s impact will extend beyond a single generation.