(Originally from the February 2, 2013 issue of The Blood-Horse)
by John P. Sparkman
When Galileo retired to stud at Coolmore in 2002, his sire Sadler's Wells was widely viewed as a disappointing sire of sires in Europe. At that point Sadler’s Wells had been the leading sire in England and Ireland for 10 consecutive years and 11 times overall, but only one of his many high-class sons, In the Wings, was an unqualified success, and he had never been particularly fashionable.
Fast forward a decade. Galileo himself just completed his fourth English sire championship in five years and the Sadler’s Wells male line has established itself as a dominant force in virtually every major racing country in the world, including, improbably, the United States.
In fact, the tide began to turn the year Galileo returned to his birthplace to cover his first book of mares. El Prado, a champion Irish 2-year-old by Sadler’s Wells, who had been mostly ignored by American breeders obsessed with dirt horses, earned a most unlikely North American sire championship that year, primarily through the exploits of his son Medaglia d'Oro , who never raced on turf. Two years later Kitten's Joy pushed El Prado near the top of the American sire list once again with his championship turf form.
In 2005, Motivator initiated a sequence of four Epsom Derby (Eng-I) winners for Sadler’s Wells’ son Montjeu, who led the French sire list that year after his son Hurricane Run won the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe Lucien Barriere (Fr-I). Galileo’s first foals hit the races in 2006, and by 2008 a veritable tsunami of high-class runners had made him leading sire for the first time.
In retrospect, the emergence of the Sadler’s Wells line as one of the world’s best seems inevitable. Holder of a record 14 English sire titles, a record 13 in a row, Sadler’s Wells simply sired too many good sons. They could not all be disappointing sires. And in truth they had not been, even by 2002. They just had not been good in the right places.
To understand how Sadler’s Wells achieved such dominance, one must understand his origins. Bred in Kentucky by the pivotal partnership comprising Robert Sangster, John Magnier, and Vincent O’Brien, he was the first foal out of Fairy Bridge, by Bold Reason, a small but fast filly from one of the best families in the Stud Book that the partnership had purchased cheaply at Keeneland.
Sadler’s Wells was one of two outstanding colts by Northern Dancer owned by the partnership from the foal crop of 1981, but he could never beat the other one, El Gran Senor. Although Sadler’s Wells was not as good as El Gran Senor, he was still an outstanding racehorse, winning the Airlie Coolmore Irish Two Thousand Guineas (Ire-I), Coral Eclipse Stakes (Eng-I), and Phoenix Champion Stakes (Ire-I) and finishing second in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes (Eng-I) and Prix du Jockey-Club (Fr-I, French Derby).
Although El Gran Senor was a lovely horse in the mold of his broodmare sire Buckpasser, he was parrot mouthed, a flaw O’Brien particularly disliked. Sadler’s Wells had the better pedigree and was a sturdier, more correct horse, in fact very hard to fault physically. Thus the partnership sent El Gran Senor to stand at their Kentucky outpost at Ashford Stud and retired Sadler’s Wells to Coolmore.
Bred to the large books of mares that Coolmore helped make the norm for the global industry, Sadler’s Wells became leading sire for the first time in 1990 when his first crop were only 4-year-olds. His Coolmore barn mate Caerleon edged him out in 1991, but Sadler’s Wells led the list from 1992-2004, beating Highflyer’s record of 12 consecutive championships from 1785—96.
Over the first decade of Sadler’s Wells’ stud career, though, five of Sadler’s Wells’ sons (Blue Stag, King's Theatre, Tamure, Dushyantor, Daliapour) finished second instead of first in the Epsom Derby. Other good sons such as Scenic, Stagecraft, Opera House, Fort Wood, and Carnegie were exported and became good sires in smaller markets. Old Vic, the best of Sadler’s Wells’ early sons on the racetrack, was an abject failure as a flat sire. Much was expected of Barathea, a high-class miler, but though he had sired 92 stakes winners, the expected stream of fast 2-year-olds and classic winners failed to materialize.
In the Wings, a high-class but rather delicate horse, was clearly the best of Sadler’s Wells’ sons at stud in Europe until Montjeu and Galileo came along. As shown in the accompanying table, his best son Singspiel has also been an outstanding sire, and Singspiel’s Japanese son Lohengrin is sire of Logotype, champion Japanese 2-year-old male of 2012.
Sadler’s Wells sired at least 32 sons who sired group I or grade I winners, and 10 leading sires in nine different countries. If that does not define a sire of sires, one cannot imagine what would.
With Galileo still going strong and grandsons Medaglia d’Oro, Kitten’s Joy, Dynasty, Blevic, and now New Approach established as top-class sires, the Sadler’s Wells male line is secure.