Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Legend Maker

Sadler's Wells Theatre in London, U.K., circa 1808.
Photo from Wikipedia.

A quick entry to acknowledge the loss of the legendary sire Sadler’s Wells in Ireland today at the age of 30. (He celebrated his actual 30th birthday 15 days ago, on April 11th.) No doubt the Racing Post will have comprehensive tributes by my friend Tony Morris (also a legend!) and other experts detailing the exploits of Sadler’s Wells as a racehorse, sire, and his legacy as sire of sires in the days to follow.

Below is Sadler’s Wells’ win in the 1984 Phoenix Champion Stakes (his only victory I was able to find on YouTube). Notice that among the vanquished are the fillies Flame of Tara, who produced his marvelous three-time Classic-winning daughter *Salsabil (Irish Derby, English 1,000 Guineas, and Irish Oaks) in his second crop; and Princess Pati, dam of a Group-placed runner by him:

On a personal note, I was fortunate enough to spend an afternoon at Coolmore in the autumn of 1998. Having been working at the gray, wet Goffs sales grounds near Kildare for the Orby and Challenge yearling sales, one day I escaped to the blue skies and green grass at Fethard. Coolmore associate and one-time general manager Bob Lanigan (whose son David, now a successful trainer in England, worked with me at Walmac Int’l some years later) arranged the visit, and Tim Corballis gave me a grand tour of the gorgeous farm.

I remember as Sadler’s Wells, covered in a light dusting of dried mud, was led out for a face-to-face meeting. He seemed very kind and stood quietly but attentive, looking at me as intently as I looked at him, and allowed me to scratch his pink nose. I would have stayed for hours, but when after a couple of minutes he turned his distinctively long head toward his paddock, it seemed time to go.

Sadler's Wells in 1998, looking toward his paddock.
Over the years, I often harrumphed at Sadler’s Wells because he was a nephew of my favorite, Nureyev, and his success relegated Nureyev to an undeserved role as understudy in the family. Sadler’s Wells had many advantages over Nureyev at stud -- better fertility; a European base; and no direct competition from the likes of Mr. Prospector, Danzig, and Storm Cat. They were both great, but there is no question that Sadler’s Wells has had a wider influence and exerted a greater impact on the breed. His son El Prado was one of my favorite Kentucky sires even from the time he was standing for $7,500 at Airdrie Stud, long before his fee peaked at $125,000. With El Prado’s 2009 death and Powerscourt’s move to Turkey, Perfect Soul is the only Sadler’s Wells who remains advertised at stud in Kentucky, but El Prado’s popular sons Medaglia d’Oro and Kitten’s Joy are also doing their part to keep the Sadler’s Wells line going strong in the U.S.

Sadler’s Wells’ European flag flies high through the many leading sire sons, including Galileo and Montjeu, and grandsons left in his wake. The powerful influence of this “Legend Maker” (the apt name of one of his 320+ stakes winners) is set to continue for the foreseeable future.

As Sid Fernando alluded in passing along news of the great stallion’s death: “The King is dead. Long live the King.” Perhaps in the case of Sadler’s Wells’ legacy, the proclamation should be: “The King is dead. Long live the Kings.”


*Here is a look at the three-year-old season of Salsabil (“River of Heaven” as I recall), with commentary from her trainer John Dunlop and jockey Willie Carson. The year was 1990, six years before her death from cancer:

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