For the last decade, the Irish Derby (Ire-I) has come close to being Aidan O’Brien’s private playground, with seven of the last 10 runnings – including the last five consecutive editions – falling to Coolmore’s star trainer. Not since Woody Stephen’s streak of five consecutive Belmont Stakes (gr.I) victories in 1982-1986 has one trainer held such a stranglehold over a classic race. Indeed, O’Brien’s dominance has been even greater, for this year he put an exclamation point on his ownership of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby by sweeping the top three spots with Cape Blanco, Midas Touch, and Jan Vermeer. All three colts are owned by Coolmore partners Derrick Smith, Mrs. John Magnier, and Michael Tabor.
O’Brien’s run of successes in the Irish Derby is inextricably tied to Coolmore and to the male line of Sadler's Wells, which has supplied five of his total of eight winners of the Classic. (Two of the others, Desert King and Dylan Thomas, were sired by Coolmore’s other outstanding stallion, Danehill.) In this year’s sweep, Cape Blanco and Midas Touch are by the Sadler’s Wells horse Galileo, himself winner of the Irish Derby for O’Brien in 2001 and sire of O’Brien’s 2007 Irish Derby winner, Soldier of Fortune, while Jan Vermeer is by Montjeu, a son of Sadler’s Wells who won the 1999 Irish Derby for J. E. Hammond before siring O’Brien’s Irish Derby winners Frozen Fire (2008) and Fame and Glory (2009).
Out of 1993 CIGA Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (Fr-I) winner Urban Sea and so a half brother to last year’s sensational European champion Sea the Stars, Galileo won his first six starts at 2 and 3, sweeping the 2001 Vodafone Epsom Derby (Eng-I), the Budweiser Irish Derby, and the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes (Eng-I) before falling to Fantastic Light in the Food Island Irish Champion Stakes (Ire-I). In his final race, the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I), he failed to show his usual form and finished nearly eight lengths behind Tiznow in sixth place.
Retired to stud at Coolmore for 2002, Galileo quickly made an impact, finishing seventh among all European sires of 2006 with just two crops of racing age. His runners that season were headed by European champion juvenile male Teofilo and Ladbrokes St. Leger Stakes (Eng-I) winner Sixties Icon. The following season, with three crops of racing age, Galileo trailed only Danehill among European sires, helped to the second spot by Soldier of Fortune’s victory in the Irish Derby. And in 2008, Galileo topped the European general sire list, with his runners that year led by European Horse of the Year New Approach. In 2009, Galileo slipped to “only” fifth, finding his top representative in dual group I winner Rip Van Winkle.
Like his sire, Sadler’s Wells, Galileo has been capable of getting top runners at a mile but has generally thrown offspring tending towards stamina. This tendency is shared by Montjeu, who has finished among the top five European sires annually since his second-crop year in 2005. The winner of six European group I events during his own racing days, Montjeu is the leading sire of European classic winners among the sons of Sadler’s Wells, having sired two Derby Stakes winners (Motivator and Authorized), one St. Leger winner (Scorpion), and three Irish Derby winners (Hurricane Run, Frozen Fire, and Fame and Glory). Between them, Galileo and Montjeu already appear to have assured the future of the Sadler’s Wells branch of the Northern Dancer male line well into the 21st century.
Bred in Ireland by Jack Ronan and des Vere Hunt Farm, Cape Blanco has a rather unusual distaff pedigree by the standards of modern European classic winners, with names such as Northern Dancer, Mill Reef, Rainbow Quest, and Surumu all being conspicuous by their absence. His dam, Laurel Delight, was better known for hardiness than class, winning four times in 25 starts without ever earning black type. She was sired by Presidium (by General Assembly, by Secretariat), a group-placed half brother to the brilliant full brothers Kris (champion miler in England in 1979 and 1980) and Diesis (1982 English champion juvenile male), both by Sharpen Up. Presidium’s dam, the Reliance II mare Doubly Sure, also produced group II winner Rudimentary (by Nureyev) and the listed stakes winner Keen, a full brother to Kris and Diesis.
Kris and Diesis were both very good sires, but like many inferior siblings and half siblings to top racers, Presidium was not nearly as successful, getting only two stakes winners from 469 foals according to The Jockey Club. The second damsire of Cape Blanco, the Round Table horse Artaius, was a much better racer than Presidium, winning two group I events, but was only a modest improvement as a sire; from 650 foals of racing age, The Jockey Club credits him with 19 stakes winners.
Foudroyer, the dam of Laurel Delight, was unplaced in two starts, and her dam Foudre (by the speedy Petingo) won only once in a dozen starts. In its further reaches, however, the female line is a good one. Descending from the 1944 One Thousand Guineas winner Picture Play, the female family includes Crocket (1962 English champion juvenile male), Welsh Pageant (1970 English champion miler and 1971 English champion older male), Royal Palace (multiple English champion and winner of the 1967 Two Thousand Guineas and Epsom Derby), Light Cavalry (1980 St. Leger), and Fairy Footsteps (1981 One Thousand Guineas (Eng-I)) among its luminaries.
As a side note, Irish Derby runner-up Midas Touch stayed on very well through the stretch and according to jockey Colm O’Donoghue may be a live prospect for the St. Leger. By Galileo out of Approach, by Darshaan, his pedigree is an example of a cross that has worked very well for Sadler’s Wells, that of Sadler’s Wells over mares carrying Mill Reef. A cross that automatically doubles up on 1955 Kentucky Oaks winner Lalun, dam of Bold Reason (damsire of Sadler’s Wells) and Never Bend (sire of Mill Reef), it has accounted for more than 100 graded/group winners sired by Sadler’s Wells and his sons, headed by champions and highweights High Chaparral, Universal Prince, Beat Hollow, In the Wings, and Islington.