Sadler’s Wells, the name in thoroughbred annuls says it all. Continuing in the tradition of his sire, the now legendary Northern Dancer, Sadler’s Wells has more than any other of the great sires, defined excellence and raised the bar as the standard by which sires are evaluated. Never in the history of thoroughbred breeding has one sire been so utterly dominant.
There have been dominant sires before. St. Simon, Regulus, Herod, Highflyer and Sir Peter Teazle in England, while Glencoe, Lexington and Bold Ruler in North America have been yearly leading sires in these jurisdictions at least eight times each. However, apart from Bold Ruler, all of these sires were born more than a century ago, some two centuries ago and in the case of Regulus, not long after the dawn of the breed.
Sadler’s Wells led the English/Irish sire list fourteen times, and was also a leading sire in France and North America. This during the modern era when the number of available stallions is far greater than the days of yore. I could list other sires that have dominated in as great a scale in Australia, Canada and Japan. However since many of these sires are mostly of regional importance, they do not fit the criteria or the magnitude of significance the leading sire lists of North America and Europe encompass. Sires that lead at year’s end in North America and the three leading European racing countries, England, Ireland and France, run all of the most valuable races as open to any registered thoroughbred born in any country, by any sire.
The fact that Sadler’s Wells was a leading sire in the U.S. while standing in Ireland certainly points toward the shift in sire power to Europe. For decades there where many leading sires standing in North America that were leading sires in European lists. As there are far more races run in North America than in Europe, this is a significant achievement.
To illustrate this point, the leading broodmare sire of 1977 in England/Ireland was Victoria Park, a stallion standing in Canada. Victoria Park won the broodmare sire championship due to the exploits of one horse, that being The Minstrel. The Minstrel won three very lucrative races in England and Ireland. Victoria Park was nowhere to be found in the top twenty broodmare sires that year in North America.
Sadler’s Wells was bred by Robert Sangster, under the banner of his Swettenham Stud in Kentucky. He was foaled on April 11, 1981 out of Fairy Bridge by Bold Reason. Fairy Bridge is a half sister to Nureyev, sired by Northern Dancer, and is a member of a very productive female family. She also produced five full siblings to Sadler’s Wells including Fairy King, who stood successfully at stud alongside his brother at Coolmore. Fairy King sired Helissio (Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe) and Oath (Epsom Derby) among his seventy-three stakes winners. He is also the sire of Encosta De Lago, a two time leading sire in Australia.
Fairy Bridge was a relatively inexpensive auction purchase for Sangster as a yearling from Claiborne Farm in 1976 for $40,000. This price was cheap compared to the world record prices he and his partners would pay for other yearlings at the major sales. Fairy Bridge became a co-champion two year old in Ireland the following year. Sadler’s Wells was her first foal.
There is no need to go on about Northern Dancer here as Sadler’s Wells sire, his legend speaks for itself. However, Sadler’s Wells had a strong resemblance to his dad as he was a bright bay with a prominent white blaze and two white feet. He was taller than Northern Dancer as he would be just over sixteen hands hands full grown. Sadler’s Wells carried his head high in repose and when he ran, much in the same manner as his grand sire Nearctic. He was a dominant bay, meaning that he did not sire chestnuts. There were a few greys from dominant grey mares, such as El Prado, and dark bays however.
Racing in the green and blue silks of Sangster and trained by Vincent O’Brien, Sadler’s Wells competed against the best horses from the exceptional class of foals born in 1981. He won six of eleven starts with three second place finishes. He faced the likes of Darshaan, Rainbow Quest, stable mate and fellow Northern Dancer son El Gran Senor, Tolomeo, and Secreto, another son of his sire. He won both of his starts as a two year old, a maiden race at Leopardstown and the Beresford Stakes at the Curragh. He was weighted ten pounds below his popular stable mate El Gran Senor on the year end free handicap.
As a three year old, Sadler’s Wells ran in the shadow of El Gran Senor but still carved out a very respectable and successful campaign. He began by finishing second to his stable mate in the Gladness Stakes and then took victory in the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial, a ten furlong affair. The Irish 2000 Guineas was next and a cut back to eight furlongs. The colt handled this with speed and courage as he fought hard to win defeating soon to be Epsom Derby winner Secreto and French trained Procida.
Next up was the Prix du Jockey Club at twelve furlongs of Chantilly Racecourse lush grass. He finished second to Darshaan, but ahead of Rainbow Quest. Originally, O’Brien had intended to enter him in the one mile St. James Palace Stakes during the Royal Ascot meet, but elected to go to France instead. In July he won the ten furlong Eclipse Stakes as the only three year old in the event, holding off the very good Time Charter in a roughly run race, by a neck.
Later in July came the prestigious King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes which had attracted a very classy field. Sadler’s Wells finished second to the previous year’s Epsom Derby winner Teenoso, ahead of Tolomeo, Time Charter and Darshaan. He followed this good run with a clunker when he could only get up to fourth in the Benson and Hedges Gold Cup at York. Sadler’s Wells redeemed himself admirably two weeks later in the Phoenix Champion Stakes, a ten furlong group one race at Leopardstown. His three quarter length victory over Seattle Song was another display of his inherited courage from his sire. Sadler’s Wells would then tackle the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in October at Longchamps but was soundly defeated as he faded in the stretch to finish eighth.
Sadler’s Wells retired from racing after the Arc and went to Coolmore Stud in County Tipperary, Ireland. I am quite sure that even in the wildest dreams of Sangster, O’Brien, Magnier and their many partners and fellow breeders sending mares to this new young sire son of Northern Dancer, could they have imagined the phenomenal success he would achieve. His bloodlines and race record suggested that he had every chance to succeed, but no one could have ever predicted what was to transpire in the next twenty-three years of thoroughbred breeding.
Many top rated broodmares were sent to the court of Sadler’s Wells, and he was highly supported from the get go. When his first crop came of age to race, they became a harbinger of things to come. Prince of Dance and Scenic would dead heat in the 1988 Dewhurst Stakes, the top race for juveniles in England. Prince of Dance also added the Champagne Stakes that year while Scenic won the William Hill Classic the following season.
Other stakes winners from the first crop of foals by Sadler’s Wells included In The Wings, winner of the Breeder’s Cup Turf, the Coronation Cup, and the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud. In The Wings became a successful sire highlighted by the wonderful Singspiel (Canadian International, Japan Cup, Dubai World Cup, Coronation Stakes and the International Stakes) among his get. Sadler’s Wells also sired Old Vic (Irish Derby and the Prix du Jockey Club), French Glory (Canadian International), and Braashee (Prix Royal Oak) in his first crop.
Salsabil from the 1987 crop won the Prix Marcel Boussac as a two year old and then the 1000 Guineas, the Epsom Oaks, the Irish Derby and the Prix Vermeille as a three year old.
The third crop of Sadler’s Wells foals would reap Opera House. Opera House won his first start, a maiden race at Leicester, by ten lengths but then sustained a broken pastern injury during exercise at Newmarket. This injury kept him from the races until September the following year. He reappeared at Nottingham, winning a three runner race, and then finished second to Perpendicular at Goodwood.
Opera House became a group one winner as a five year old when he was victorious in the Coronation Cup, the Eclipse Stakes, beating Breeder’s Cup winners Barathea and Arcangues, and then the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes. Opera House contested seven races as a five year old, all of them group one events. He was sold to the Shinzunai Stallion Station in Japan for stallion duty. He has had some success as he is the sire of T M Opera (Japan Cup, Tenno Sho etc) and Meisho Samson (Japanese Derby, Tenno Sho).
El Prado was a grey son of Sadler’s Wells racing in the colours of Robert Sangster while winning the group one National Stakes as a two year old as well as the Railway Stakes and the Beresford Stakes. He was sold to leading Canadian breeder Frank Stronach and stood first at Airdrie Stud in Kentucky and then at Stronach’s Adena Springs Kentucky farm upon the launch of the new establishment.
Here El Prado became one of the first sons of his sire to become highly successful at stud as he led the North American sire list in 2002. Among his progeny are Borrego (Jockey Club Gold Cup), Asi Siempre (Spinster Stakes), Artie Schiller (Breeder’s Cup Mile), Kitten’s Joy (Champion Turf Horse, Secretariat Stakes, Joe Hirsch Classic etc), and Medaglia d’Oro (Travers Stakes, Whitney Handicap, Donn Handicap etc). The latter two have become very successful sires in their own right as Kitten’s Joy is the 2013 leading sire in North America, while Medaglia d’Oro is consistently in the top ten sires and has sired the wonderful Horse of the Year, Rachel Alexandra.
Sadler’s Wells offspring Johan Quatz won the Prix Lupin, and Masad won the Gran Premio D’Italia. These two were also bred the same year as El Prado.
Barathea won the Irish 2000 Guineas in 1993 and then the Breeder’s Cup Mile the following year. Intrepidity won three group one races when she took the Epsom Oaks, the Prix Saint-Alary and the Prix Vermeille, while Fort Wood captured the Grand Prix de Paris.
From the 1991 crop came Carnegie who emulated his mother Detroit by winning the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, plus the Grand Prix de Saint Cloud. King’s Theatre won the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes. Northern Spur captured the Breeder’s Cup Turf and the Oak Tree Invitational.
Istabraq, a three quarter brother to Secreto, did not have his major success as a flat runner, but as one of the greatest Hurdle runners in recent times. He won the Royal Sun Alliance Novice Hurdle, the Hatton Grace Hurdle, the AIG Europe Hurdle four times, the Champion Hurdle twice, the Aintree Hurdle and the Irish Champion Hurdle. All of these races are group one events and are two miles or longer in distance.
Moonshell was from the same crop as Istabraq and she won the Epsom Oaks. Poliglote won the Criterium de Saint Cloud and Muncie won the Prix Saint Alary, all group one winners. The 1993 crop would contain Dance Design, winner of the Irish Oaks and the Pretty Polly Stakes. Chief Commander won the Prix du Cadran, and Luna Wells took the Prix Saint Alary.
There were five grade/group one winners from the Sadler’s Wells crop of 1994 led by Kayf Tara a full sister to Opera House. Kayf Tara won the Irish St. Leger and the Ascot Gold Cup. In Command won the Dewhurst Stakes. Entrepreneur captured the classic 2000 Guineas. Cloudings scored in the Prix Lupin, and Ebadiyla won the Irish Oaks and the Prix Royal Oak.
The next crop would also contain five G1 winners. King of Kings won the 2000 Guineas and the National Stakes. Insight won the E. P. Taylor Stakes. Dream Well won the Irish Derby and the Prix du Jockey Club. Leggera scored the Prix Vermeille, and Greek Dance was victorious in the Grosser Dallmayr Preis.
The 1996 crop of Sadler’s Wells offspring contained his second Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Montjeu. Montjeu was an exceptional horse. He won eleven stakes races from sixteen starts, including six group one events. As well as his Arc victory, Montjeu won the Irish Derby, Prix du Jockey Club, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud and the Tattersalls Gold Cup. He was world champion as a three year old and four year old in his age division.
Montjeu then became a wonderful sire standing at Coolmore in Ireland and Australia. Among the many grade/group one winners he sired are Epsom Derby winners Authorised, Motivator, Pour Moi and Camelot. The latter is also one of four Irish Derby champions by his sire, the other three being Fame and Glory, Frozen Fire and Hurricane Run. Hurricane Run also won the Arc, Tattersalls Gold Cup, and the King George. Additional grade/group one winners by Montjeu are Joshua Tree (Canadian International three times), St. Nicholas Abbey (Coronation Cup three times, Breeder’s Cup Turf), multi champion hurdler Hurricane Fly, Green Moon (Melbourne Cup), Nom De Jeu (Australian Derby) and emerging hot sire Tavistock.
The 1996 Sadler’s Wells crop also contained Daliapour, victorious in the Coronation Cup and the Hong Kong Vase. Commander Collins won the Racing Post Trophy Stakes. Saffron Walden, a full brother to Insight, won the Irish 2000 Guineas. In 1997, the foal crop contained Beat Hollow winner of the Grand Prix du Paris, the Arlington Million and the Turf Classic, as well as Subtle Power who won the Breeder’s Cup Handicap.
By now it has become obvious to all who follow thoroughbred racing that Sadler’s Wells could sire a wide variety of world class grade/group one winners. His progeny was capable to compete at any distance. Grade/group one winners from seven furlongs (the Dewhurst) to twelve furlongs (the Derby etc) and beyond were becoming common practice. Many sires that have success as sires of grade/group one winners would normally get such winners at selected distances. Sprinters and or milers, middle distance types, or out and out stayers, Sadler’s Wells provided all types. His get could also be precocious two year olds or develop later and show their class as three year olds and older. The versatility of the Sadler’s Wells offspring at top levels of world racing ensured the continuation of his receiving top broodmares throughout his stud career.
Sadler’s Wells sired grade/group one winners from his 1998 crop included the phenomenal Galileo. A Derby and Arc winner and current World’s leading sire, Galileo is quite simply the most decorated active stallion in the world today. His accomplishments as a sire so far to date is extraordinary, and he is on pace to break his own sire’s records.
At the time of writing Galileo has sired the following multiple grade/group one winners. Teofilo, Red Rocks, Soldier of Fortune, Lush Lashes, New Approach, Rip Van Winkle, Cape Blanco, Golden Lilac, Misty For Me, Nathaniel, Roderic O’Connor, Noble Mission, Magician, Adelaide, Australia, and the incomparable super horse Frankel. Many of the aforementioned won classic races and added other G1 wins to their resumes. Furthermore there are more outstanding classic winners such as Was (Epsom Oaks), Nightime (Irish 1000 Guineas), Allegro (Prix Royal-Oak), Great Heavens (Irish Oaks), Intello (Prix du Jockey Club), Marvellous (Irish 1000 Guineas) and Ruler of the World (Epsom Derby).
Clearly, Galileo is is in the midst of a record shattering sire career which is eye popping to say the least. As sure as the sun will rise in the east, Galileo will sire plenty more classic winners and multiple grade/group one winners in the near future. “What about sons continuing the line?” you may ask. Galileo’s son Teofilo from his first crop is off to very good start at stud and shows promise to continue the line. There are high hopes from other Galileo sons to become great sires, none more so than the enormous expectations from the get of Frankel. I don’t doubt a few will continue the line successfully, it is just a matter of which sons will become world class sires.
Returning to Sadler’s Wells’ 1998 crop, Imagine has her name inscribed on the trophies of the Epsom Oaks and the Irish 1000 Guineas as the winner of those classic races. Sadler’s Hall won the Coronation Cup. Sligo Bay is a winner of the Hollywood Turf Cup. Milan won the St. Leger Stakes. Sequoyah is the winner of the group one Moyglare Stakes for two year olds.
High Chaparral became the next Epsom Derby winner sired by Sadler’s Wells. He would defend the race for the sire line the year after Galileo’s victory. High Chaparral gave his trainer Aiden O’Brien and owners Sue Magnier and Michael Tabor back to back wins as well. High Chaparral added the Irish Derby and the Irish Champion Stakes. Furthermore he secured two victories, one in a dead heat, in the Breeder’s Cup Turf. High Chaparral finished his racing career with a record of ten wins from thirteen starts. He also placed second once and third twice.
A shuttle sire for Coolmore between the Ireland farm in Tipperary and this time to Windsor Park Stud in New Zealand, High Chaparral is having great success as a sire. He has founded another branch of the pre-potent Northern Dancer/Sadler’s Wells line. High Chaparral has sired So You Think (WS Cox Plate twice, Tattersall’s Gold Cup twice, Prince of Wales Stakes at Royal Ascot, Eclipse Stakes etc). Shoot Out (Australian Derby, AJC Randwick Guineas, ATC Norton Stakes twice etc). Wigmore Hall (Northern Dancer Turf Stakes twice, Secretariat Stakes). Wrote (Breeder’s Cup Juvenile Turf). Redwood (Northern Dancer Turf Stakes). Descarado (Caufield Cup). It’s a Dundeel (Australian Derby, Rosehill Guineas, Spring Champion Stakes, ATC Queen Elizabeth Stakes etc). The latter is currently standing in Australia under the name Dundeel.
Islington was another Breeder’s Cup winner for Sadler’s Wells when she took the 2003 Breeder’s Cup Fillies and Mares Turf event to go with her Yorkshire Oaks victory. Islington won the latter race as a three year old as well as the Nassau stakes.
Gossamer is a full sister to Barathea, and did her sire proud by winning the Irish 1000 Guineas. Black Sam Bellamy, a full brother to Galileo, won the Tattersall’s Gold Cup. Ballingarry won the Criterium de Saint-Cloud in France as a two year old, travelled to Canada and won the Canadian International at Woodbine at four, and then the following year won the Stars and Stripes Handicap at Arlington. Quarter Moon won the Moyglare Stakes. Sholokhov won the Gran Criterium.
The 2000 crop would contain Brian Boru, winner of the Racing Post Trophy and the St. Leger Stakes. Doyen captured the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes. Powerscourt won the Tattersall’s Gold Cup and the Arlington Million. Alberto Giacometti won the Criterium de Saint-Cloud. Yesterday, a full sister to Quarter Moon, the Irish 2000 Guineas. Refuse To Bend won the National Stakes at two, the 1000 Guineas at three and the Queen Anne Stakes and the Eclipse Stakes at four.
Sadler’s Wells sired Yeats, a first class stayer in the old tradition of British racing. Yeats won the Coronation Cup as a four year old, then at five he captured the twenty furlong Ascot Gold Cup. He repeated this feat as a six year old while adding the fourteen furlong Irish St. Leger (open to three year olds and up). Quiff won the Yorkshire Oaks. Play Full Act won the juvenile Fillies Mile. Alexandrova won the 2006 Epsom Oaks, the Irish Oaks and the Yorkshire Oaks. Linda’s Lad won the Criterium de Saint-Cloud.
The above listed runners sired by Sadler’s Wells are only the grade/group one winners to his credit. Sadler’s Wells sired three hundred and twenty-eight stakes winners in total. This total also includes his many offspring that became stakes winners as National Hunt runners. His get were strong and sound racers, and came in a wide variety of distance ability. He was one of the first sires to have enormous bookings of mares each season. Because of his popularity and his formidable fertility, Sadler’s Wells has been influential toward a gargantuan shift in the mindset of stud farms to breed stallions to as many mares as possible each breeding season.
Sadler’s Wells did not shuttle to other parts of the globe, even though this practice had been initiated by his stud management. He became too valuable to be moved. The high cost of insurance to travel would no doubt have been a major factor as well as his advancing age. He did however court as many as two hundred mares a breeding season. His fellow Coolmore sire Danehill would become just as valuable a sire but his reputation was enhanced by his offspring from his southern hemisphere foals as well as his northern hemisphere foals. Besides, Danehill was younger, by five years, and he became a revelation down under. Sadler’s Wells however has been more than capably represented by Galileo and High Chaparral, who have shuttled to the Antipodes.
The world class sons and daughters of Sadler’s Wells have thirty-one classic victories combined. Furthermore, they have won an additional forty-eight world class grade/group one races among them, which includes seven Breeder’s Cup victories. The daughters of Sadler’s Wells are also, as would be expected, excellent broodmares. He was after all the leading broodmare sire for seven consecutive years in England/Ireland.
Among the grade/group one winners produced by daughters of Sadler’s Wells are Beethoven (Dewhurst Stakes). Conduit (Breeder’s Cup Turf twice, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes). Peeping Fawn (Irish Oaks, Yorkshire Oaks). Youmzain (Preis von Europa, Prix Saint-Cloud). Silic (Breeder’s Cup Mile). Music Note (CCA Oaks, Beldame Stakes, Mother Goose Stakes). Henrythenavigator (2000 Guineas, Irish 2000 Guineas, St. James Palace Stakes). El Condor Pasa (Japan Cup, Prix Foy, Prix Saint Cloud); Pathfork (Futurity Stakes). Divine Proportions (Poule ‘d’Essai des Pouliches, Prix Diane, Prix du Morny). Passage of Time (Criterium Saint-Cloud). The unfortunate Horatio Nelson (Futurity Stakes), who suffered a life ending injury in the 2006 Epsom Derby.
The daughters of Sadler’s Wells are still writing this chapter of the legacy, so there are more to come.
Sadler’s Wells was the foundation sire for the Coolmore conglomerate. His sons Galileo, El Prado and Montjeu have continued the sire legacy with great success. This sire line is not the only line that has carried Coolmore to the pinnacle of the breeding world, as Danehill would also have a hugely successful career as a sire and his sons Danehill Dancer and Dylan Thomas are continuing this line successfully for Coolmore interests.
The importance of standing Sadler’s Wells for his entire stud career in Ireland has essentially blown the lid off the perception that all world class sires have to be in the U.S. The success of Sadler’s Wells has in a sense returned the predominant sire male line back to its European roots, from whence it began. This line traces directly back to Phalaris, the foundation sire bred by the 17th Lord Derby in 1913. Phalaris sired Pharos. Pharos sired Nearco, bred by Federico Tesio. Nearco sired Nearctic, bred by E.P. Taylor. Nearctic sired the incomparable Northern Dancer. The latter sired Sadler’s Wells.
Will Sadler’s Wells records ever be broken? One already has, as to the number of stakes winners sired by one stallion. Danehill has surpassed Sadler’s Wells for total stakes winners, three hundred and fifty-five. However, one must also remember that Danehill had been pressed into stud service on two hemispheres and sired around two hundred and thirty-one more foals than Sadler’s Wells.
Percentage of stakes winners to number of named foals is a good way to evaluate the production of a sire’s progeny. Sadler’s Wells had 17.3% stakes winners from his entire foal output. 10% is considered highly successful, 15% is considered exceptional. There have been a few select sires that have surpassed the 20% mark, but from a smaller total output than that of Sadler’s Wells. His son Galileo is on pace to perhaps exceed his dad in total stakes winners sired, much the way Sadler’s Wells exceeded Northern Dancer.
Where a sire is remembered the most however is if he can sire sons who become great sires themselves. The early part of Sadler’s Wells’ stud career did not produce any legitimate heirs to his crown. First crop son In The Wings was a good success at stud. The advent of Galileo, Montjeu and El Prado having become world class sires with world class sons continue the line. High Chaparral could add his name to this elite group.
Sadler’s Wells became the cornerstone stallion to launch Coolmore into the stratosphere of world-wide breeding excellence. The Coolmore conglomerate has become one of the most prestigious, go to farms to acquire the services of the best sires in the world. Sadler’s Wells is now a predominant sire in many of the top pedigrees in the world today.
As previously stated, Sadler’s Wells did not sire any chestnut horses as he was a dominant bay. He did have a few greys, such as El Prado, and a few bark bays. He was a spirited energetic horse who carried his head high, much like his grand sire Nearctic had. When he walked, he pranced. Another trait inherited from his sire line.
On April 29, 2011, Sadler’s Wells passed away peacefully at his home in Ireland, from natural causes. He was thirty years old. He had been pensioned from stud duty three years prior and was living out his life like the king he became. His legacy of courage, speed and durability, has been passed on for future generations of high class thoroughbreds.
No one will ever forget the wide blazed face of this great champion both on the turf and especially as a sire. Sadler’s Wells IS the standard for success for all stallions in future breeding.
(Photo courtesy of Coolmore Stud, Ireland)