Montjeu RIP

We all know that death is inevitable, yet we are still surprised when it happens. Montjeu was only 16 when he died today from complications related to septicaemia. He leaves behind an outstanding legacy with too many big winners to name, but even looking at his classic winners gives a sense of his achievements.

Classic Winners (Northern Hemisphere):

Hurricane Run (2002 c ex Hold On by Surumu) won Irish Derby

Motivator (2002 c ex Out West by Gone West) won Epsom Derby

Scorpion (2002 c ex Ard Melody by Law Society) won St Leger

Frozen Fire (2005 c ex Flamingo Sea by Woodman) won Irish Derby

Fame & Glory (2006 c ex Gryada by Shirley Heights)- won Irish Derby

Authorized (2006 ex Funsie by Saumurez) won Epsom Derby

Pour Moi (2008 c ex Gwynn by Darshaan)

Masked Marvel (2008 ex Waldmark by Mark of Esteem) won St Leger

Additional “Classic Winners” (depending on your definition)

Montare (2002 f ex Contare by Shirley Heights ) won Prix Royal Oak (French St Leger)

Jukebox Jury (2006 c ex Mare Aux Fees by Kenmare) won Irish St Leger

That is a remarkable level of consistency for a sire who has only had 8 crops of three year olds to represent him so far. It also goes without saying that there could be plenty more names added to this list before the final total is known with Camelot (ex Tarfah by Kingmambo) a short priced favourite for this years Derby and Guineas.

In addition he did very well from his stint down under (although it took some time to recognise this) and he has also enjoyed  major national hunt success including festival winners Hurricane Fly and Noble Prince.


When Montjeu’s first crop of three year olds hit the track it was a phenomenon. He sired the first two in the Epsom Derby (Motivator and Walk in the Park) and Irish Derby (Hurricane Run and Scorpion). For good measure Scorpion added the St Leger and Hurricane Run the Arc that season. It seemed the true successor to his sire Sadler’s Wells had finally arrived. And then along came Galileo.  Now it seems that Montjeu is always to be compared to his more expensive stud mate and almost invariably unfavourably. “He doesn’t sire milers and he doesn’t sire fillies and they carry their heads a little high” so the cream of the mares go to Galileo, just like their sire Sadler’s Wells kept the best mares from Caerleon. Indeed one wag suggested to me that the cause of his death was a broken heart as he felt like a jilted lover losing so many of his mares to Galileo!

But the comparison with Sadler’s Wells and Caerleon and the conventional wisdom is unfair. Montjeu is to my mind a better sire than Caerleon and in many respects a better sire than Galileo. The most important stat is usually stakes winners to foals- Galileo has 98 from 1651 foals of racing age (6%), Montjeu is currently 100 from 1318 foals (8%). If we factor in the superior quality of Galileo’s mares then Montjeu’s comparative record is all the more laudable. He also outperformed Galileo from their shuttle crops. As for his supposed failings with fillies and milers, those perceptions could easily change and very rapidly if for instance Camelot won a Guineas and Wading a fillies classic. With further crops to come it is worth waiting to see if his record with fillies and milers will improve in time. Even if they don’t, he has done enough to be regarded as one of the ten greatest sires to ever stand in Ireland. The others probably consist of Sadler’s Wells, Danehill, Habitat, Galileo, Birdcatcher, Gallinule, Blandford, Gallinule and Desmond.

Sons at Stud

To date the record of his sons at stud is underwhelming. Motivator seemed afflicted by bad luck suffering injuries and having small resultant crops but he was disappointing. Hurricane Run has got plenty of stakes horses but quickly needs a big name to keep his name in lights. Authorized had a quiet first season last year with his two year olds so he needs them to improve considerably as three year olds. There are still plenty of sons either yet to retire or just retired so there is plenty of time for a successor to emerge and it is worth remembering that Sadler’s Wells had more failures than successes before Montjeu came along.

Broodmare Sire

It is also very early to make pronouncements Montjeu as a Broodmare sire.  However last year saw Montjeu as broodmare sire of two of the best two year olds in Europe via Dewhurst winner Parish Hall (2009 c by Teofilo ex Halla Siamsa by Montjeu) and Group 2 winner Restiadargent (Kendargent ex Restia by Montjeu). Given Montjeu’s rivalry with Galileo it is interesting to see them combine in the pedigree of Parish Hall who is by Galileo’s son Teofilo and we can expect to see there names increasingly linked in future pedigrees.

Final Word

Montjeu was an outstanding racehorse and his performance in the 2000 King George was as impressive as you could wish for. He had a great turn of foot for a horse who truly stayed 12 furlongs and would have got further. He also had courage as he demonstrated in a tough Arc when El Condor Paso got first run on him in heavy ground. He passed on many of these attributes to his offspring and he is huge loss to the European breeding industry.

Stowaway fever

The first two days of Cheltenham 2012 were dominated by the Sadler’s Wells tribe, in particular Oscar. However it was nice to see Stowaway a sire that we previously tipped for greatness (see earlier post) sire his first Cheltenham winner. The horse in question was Champagne Fever (2007 g Stowaway ex Forever Bubbles by Roselier) who determinedly held off all challengers to give his trainer Willie Mullins an incredible 7th bumper victory.

Career to date:

Champagne Fever was an impressive point to point winner at Quakerstown in April 2011. His first start under rules was at Leopardstown’s Christmas festival. This is often the venue for Willie Mullins to unleash his best bumper prospects and Champagne Fever obviously shown a lot of potential as he started odds on. However he had to give second best to Thomas Edison. Champagne Fever reappeared on the 22nd of January where he had little difficulty in opening his account at 1/4.  He was 16-1 and on the face of it not the stable selected for the Cheltenham Bumper but he battled bravely to repel all challengers and given that he has already won a point to point, he seems to have a bright future ahead over the bigger obstacles.


Stowaway is to my mind the most interesting national hunt sire in Ireland. He has earned respect the hard way and if he can survive for another few years he will benefit from massive books of increasing quality. As a son of Slip Anchor (with only one cross of Northern Dancer in the fourth remove) he offers an obvious choice for any of the thousands of granddaughters of Sadler’s Wells now in the National Hunt broodmare band.

Champagne Fever’s dam Forever Bubbles was unraced but she is a daughter of an outstanding jumps sire in Roselier. To date Forever Bubbles is the dam of a useful winner in Presenting Forever (by Presenting) and placed offspring by Luso and Topanoora. The second dam Cool Blue was a daughter of an even better jumps sire in Deep Run and she was a winner over hurdles and has become the dam of two winners to date. There is nothing particularly classy close up in the pedigree, but like any pedigree if you go back far enough you will eventually find something worthwhile. In the case of Champagne Fever you need to go back to her fifth dam Blue Petrel who was the ancestress of Andy Pandy who was well clear in Red Rum’s 1977 National when falling at Beechers, but who gained compensation 3 weeks later in the Whitbread. In addition the likes of Scottish National winner Belmont Kin  and graded winners The Bajan Bandit and TheRealBandit can be traced to Blue Petrel.  However these are distant connections and the pedigree is no more than modest and this is reflected in the price of €17,500 realised for Champagne Fever at the 2010 Tattersalls Derby Sale.


Champagne Fever is from an unremarkable family but on the damside the names Roselier and Deep Run appear and these are amongst the best national hunt stallions to ever stand in Ireland.  It is premature to include Stowaway in such company but he is certainly starting to make his mark.  Willie Mullins described Champagne Fever as “a big light framed horse” but he has a great engine and it will be no surprise to see him return to Cheltenham for further glory in the years ahead.


(GB) 1994
Anchor (GB) 1982
Heights (GB) 1975
Reef (USA) 1968
(GB) 1969
(GER) 1965
(GER) 1945
(GER) 1954
Credit (FR) 1988
Pass No Sale (IRE) 1982
(USA) 1968
Disgrace (IRE) 1976
Tiara (USA) 1981
Noble (GB) 1965
(IRE) 1975
Bubbles (IRE) 1992
(FR) 1973
(FR) 1958
(FR) 1946
(FR) 1953
Rose (FR) 1959
Rock (FR) 1947
Paix (FR) 1951
Blue (GB) 1976
Run (GB) 1966
King (GB) 1954
By Fire (FR) 1958
Buck (GB) 1968
Buck (GB) 1957
Jirao (GB) 1957

What has happened to NH horses?

In this months international thoroughbred magazine I wrote about the decline of the National Hunt horse. The full text is shown below:

What has happened to National Hunt horses?

I normally sigh when I hear older racing folk talk about the good old days. If you were to believe them, horses were tougher, jockeys were tougher, the sport had more characters and everything was somehow better. To my surprise when I did a comparative study on the leading national hunt sires table over the past twenty years, it seems the traditionalists are almost certainly right when it comes to the assertion that horses were sounder in the past.

I looked at the Racing Post tables of the 50 leading sires by prize money in the UK and Ireland in various years since their records began. I then aggregated the number of runners, winners, runs and wins for these top 50 sires and calculated the average number of runs per runner in a season and the average number of wins per winner. The results are shown in the table below.

*2000-2001 results were affected by the cancellations of some meetings due to the foot and mouth crisis

Summary of Findings.

1. The average number of runs per horse per season is in freefall, dropping from over 4 per season to its current mark of 3.66. This is the major cause of concern arising from this research as it seems to indicate that our current national hunt horses are much less robust than their equivalents from only 20 years ago.
2. The jumping horses who do win, win far fewer races per season than in the past. The average number of wins has fallen from 1.78 wins per season to 1.48 per season a 17% reduction. This however may simply be a logical follow-on from the fact that all horses (winners and non-winners) are running much less often.
3. The impact of bigger book sizes is very apparent. The number of combined runners in a season for the top 50 sires went from 2,207 (an average of 42 runners per stallion) to 5,347 (average of 107 runners per stallion), a 142% increase in 21 years.

Considering the Options -Possible Reasons for decline
1. The question that arises is whether the reduced run frequency is a deliberate policy by trainers who are adopting a more protective and selective approach to racing their charges or an indication that their charges cannot handle a more regular racing regime? Its difficult to be definitive but it is reasonable to assume that owners nowadays( as in the past), prefer to have their horses compete if they are fit and well and capable of winning. As a trainers primary concern is to keep his owners content, I can see no reason why they would deliberately pursue a policy of fewer runs apart from special cases where a horses handicap mark is being protected or campaigns are all about one race (eg Best Mate and the Gold Cup).

2. Are trainers responsible for the decline? Perhaps increased string sizes with less individual attention for horses coupled with altered training techniques such as interval training and all weather gallops have caused an increase in injury rates? I don’t believe it to be case and improved veterinary techniques should also see faster rehabilitation from injuries but in the absence of statistical data we have to consider the possibility.

3. Blame the stallions and the bigger books. Its easy to conclude that because stallion books are bigger and horses are running less often there is a cause and effect situation. I don’t subscribe to that theory. If we take an example based on a book of say 80 mares being ‘acceptable’ and anything more than that being ‘excessive’ it is easy to see logical difficulties in this approach. I fail to see how by virtue of covering a single mare beyond the magic number (80 in this case) that the quality of all the offspring could be effected, as this would require the genes of the foals in the already pregnant mares to somehow be altered by a subsequent event! More credibly it could be argued that bigger books mean that less thought was given to compatibility with the mare, but this is a subjective area and unless there is an obvious conformation issue on both sides it may not be quite so easy to prove a stallion selection was unwise.

3b. Its not the bigger books- it is the bigger books being used on the wrong stallions. There is perhaps some merit in this argument. We have seen many examples of unproven new national hunt stallions attracting massive books of mares.  If these stallions prove to be progenitors of unsound offspring then there will be an awful lot of fragile offspring on the ground. Against that, the trend for bigger books has been of even greater benefit to the successful and proven stallions who it should be hoped will therefore have an opportunity to transfer their positive attributes to even greater numbers.

4. It’s something else entirely- The decline in average number of starts is not exclusive to jumps racing. Research on lifetime starts in the US lifetime show they almost halved since the 1950’s.  Unsound stallions who required medication to race is often put forward as a major cause and the internationalisation of bloodstock means that those bloodlines are prevalent here also. It is also possible that the modern thoroughbred has passed a tipping point in terms of soundness, it is after all a closed stud book and with every generation the level of inbreeding is increasing. National Hunt racing may just be another example of this and something more radical than tinkering with book sizes or alternative stallion selection will be required to make an appreciable difference to this trend.


We often don’t notice change when it occurs quite gradually. Looking in the mirror each morning, the ovenight ageing process is imperceptible but looking back on old photographs the transformations become obvious. Something similar is happening before our eyes in National Hunt racing. Horses are racing and winning less often each season and the cumulative effect is now quite striking. This should be a matter of concern to all lovers of the sport and at the very least further research into the underlying causes is required.