Irish Leger holds key to Sadler's Wells record
The vagaries – some might say idiocy – of the calendar means that on Saturday week, within half an hour of each other, two St Legers will be run.
First up, at Doncaster, is the 331st edition of the original, followed by the Irish version at the Curragh. Focus will rightly be on the race which still maintains its true Classic status by being restricted to three-year-olds, but the Curragh contest may have its own fascination.
For it may fall to one of the contenders, Mores Wells, to maintain a run of success unequalled in the annals of the breed. The mighty Sadler's Wells now has 20 crops running for him – his youngest representatives are this year's juveniles – and the first 18 have the unblemished record of each having produced at least one Group or Grade One winner.
The 2004 vintage have yet to strike at the top level, at either two or three, but time is getting short if one is to do so this year.
Mores Wells, trained by Kevin Prendergast, won the Ballysax Stakes earlier in the season and laid down his credentials for the Group One marathon test when he took the Ballyroan Stakes at Leopardstown last month.
The Cliveden-bred colt should have no trouble with the step up in trip as his dam, Endorsement, won over two miles.
With an official rating of 109, Mores Wells is Sadler's Wells' best colt of his generation; his best filly, on the same mark, is the dual Oaks-placed All My Loving, bound for the Group Two Park Hill Stakes at Doncaster a week today.
Of course, this year's three-year-olds could well go on to top-level glory next year and an obvious candidate for improvement would be Arabian Gulf, much fancied for the St Leger until ruled out by injury.
Sadler's Wells has been European champion sire on an unprecedented 14 occasions, but not for two years and is unlikely to regain that title. He is now 26 and his books have fallen in both quality and quantity in recent years. That is the way of the world; younger horses (particularly his two sons Montjeu and Galileo) have picked up the baton, and the old man finds it harder to get out of bed in the morning.
There is no reason, though, that he cannot sire a top-class horse, even at his advanced years (he has outlived both the others of the great triumvirate whom he split in that vintage 1984 French Derby, Darshaan and Rainbow Quest), it is just that the opportunities are becoming fewer.
As far as his 20th batch of runners, the two-year-olds of today, are concerned, he has four sons in the National Stakes at the Curragh on Sunday week, 14 daughters in the Fillies' Mile at Ascot at the end of the month, nine offspring in the Dewhurst Stakes and 11 in the Racing Post Trophy.
When Sadler's Wells retired to stud at Coolmore in 1985, the world was at his feet. He had showed himself to be a tough, classy runner and he had a pedigree to die for, being by Northern Dancer out of a half-sister to the excellent stallion Nureyev. His initial fee of Ir£125,000 was near the top of the market and even at that price he did not lack for choice brides, 58 of them to be precise.
Those figures on both counts were soon left far behind and at the height of his powers the handsome bay was covering 150 or more mares a year, at some £250,000 a go. Even those conservative estimates would have engendered earnings of £37.5m a year.
He made a sensational start to his career, with the Dewhurst Stakes dead-heaters Prince Of Dance and Scenic the first of ultimately six individual Group One winners from his first crop, the others being In The Wings, Old Vic, French Glory and Braashee.
Salsabil came from the second, Opera House from the third, and he was on his way. The most prolific crop was that of 1999, which produced eight individual winners of 19 races: Ballingarry, Black Sam Bellamy, Gossamer, High Chaparral, Islington, Quarter Moon, River Dancer (who ran in Europe as Diaghilev before his move to Hong Kong) and Sholokhov. The most barren time was 2002; the sole Group One winner foaled that year was Playful Act, who saved her sire's blushes by winning the Fillies' Mile.
The most prolific of his 70 individual top-level victors has been Montjeu, whose six wins beats High Chaparral's five-and-a-half; the winner of the French and Irish Derbys, Arc, King George, Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud and Tattersalls Gold Cup was also his highest-rated runner on 138. His first Derby winner was Galileo in 2001, when he also had the Oaks winner, Imagine, and St Leger hero, Milan.