11/30/2012 6:00PM

Holy Roman Emperor filling big shoes at stud for Coolmore

Edward Whitaker
Holy Roman Emperor, winning the 2006 Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere, was retired to stud at 3 in 2007.

In March 2007, Coolmore Stud’s John Magnier faced a difficult decision. None of the dozens of mares his new star stallion, George Washington, had covered since the beginning of the breeding season had been scanned as being in foal. With more than 100 high-class mares booked to Europe’s 2005 champion 2-year-old male and 2006 champion 3-year-old male, how could Coolmore accommodate those mares and honor the breeding contracts since George Washington appeared to be infertile?

Although Coolmore and partners maintain one of the world’s most successful racing stables at Ballydoyle, sending out classic winners and champions almost every year, their business is selling stallion seasons. With George Washington’s stud fee at $78,000, the loss of all those mares booked to George Washington would be a substantial blow to the bottom line.

As has so often been the case in his long career at the pinnacle of the international Thoroughbred industry, Magnier’s decision was both innovative and controversial. On March 11, 2007, Coolmore announced that its dual Group 1-winning 2-year-old of 2006, Holy Roman Emperor, would be retired to stand in George Washington’s place. Like George Washington, Holy Roman Emperor was a high-class son of Coolmore’s great sire and sire of sires Danehill, and thus could be expected to match well with many of the mares booked to George Washington.

At the time of his retirement, Holy Roman Emperor was second favorite to champion Teofilo for England’s first classic of 2007, the Two Thousand Guineas. He was perfectly sound, and his perennial Irish champion trainer, Aidan O’Brien, said Holy Roman Emperor was the stable’s best horse.

“He was the horse we were looking forward to for the Two Thousand Guineas and St. James’s Palace Stakes,” O’Brien said.

Magnier’s decision was met with considerable shock in the international racing community and perhaps caused substantial blowback on the subsequent stud career of Holy Roman Emperor. Some breeders were offended by Coolmore’s decision, which put commercial considerations directly before racing consideration.

George Washington was the best son of Danehill to race in Europe, but Holy Roman Emperor had proved himself a very high-class 2-year-old the previous year. If anything, his pedigree was superior to George Washington’s. Bred by Magnier’s Tower Bloodstock, Holy Roman Emperor was the 11th foal out of L’On Vite, a full sister by Secretariat to champion Medaille d’Or and Grade 2 winner D’Accord, and half-sister to champions L’Enjoleur, by Buckpasser, and La Voyageuse, by Tentam.

Holy Roman Emperor’s second dam, Fanfreluche, by Northern Dancer, was a champion in the United States and Canada, and her daughters and granddaughters had been responsible for a long list of turf luminaries, including European champion juvenile filly Bint Allayl, leading Australian sires Flying Spur and Encosta de Lago, and Group 1 or Grade 1 winners Aube Indienne, Majestic Roi, and Medici.

Although unraced herself, L’On Vite had done her share to spread Franfreluche’s genetic excellence, producing Australian Group 3 winner Milanova, by Danehill, Japanese near-millionaire Big Viking, by Theatrical, and stakes winner Heart of Oak, by Woodman.

Holy Roman Emperor quickly proved himself the best of L’On Vite’s produce. Winner of a six-furlong maiden race at Leopardstown on his first attempt in June 2006, he disappointed when favored for the Group 2 Coventry Stakes, but bounced back 13 days later to win the historic Group 3 Railway Stakes. In August, Holy Roman Emperor showed his Coventry form was all wrong, beating the Coventry winner, Helvellyn, by 1 3/4 lengths in the Group 1 Phoenix Stakes.

Holy Roman Emperor started a hot favorite in Ireland’s premier juvenile race, the Group 1 National Stakes, but the unbeaten Teofilo outpaced him convincingly, drawing off to win by 1 1/4 lengths, with Holy Roman Emperor well clear of the rest. Sent to France for the Group 1 Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere, Holy Roman Emperor easily outpointed a substandard field, but though it was his sixth start of a busy campaign, he ran greenly, veering right, then left, then back right again in the final furlong, though the race was already well in hand.

Holy Roman Emperor challenged Teofilo once again in the Group 1 Dewhurst Stakes and came within inches of dethroning the champion. Held up at the back of the field, he squeezed through on the inside rail running down into the dip and then had to be switched outside Teofilo for the final uphill run. Holy Roman Emperor headed Teofilo about 100 yards out, but the favorite fought back to win by a head.

Like Holy Roman Emperor, Teofilo never raced again − in Teofilo’s case because of injury − so it is difficult to assess just how good Holy Roman Emperor might have been, but so far he has been a better sire than Teofilo.
Holy Roman Emperor’s first crop of 105 named Northern Hemisphere foals includes seven stakes winners, headed by the tough, consistent filly Banimpire, whose six wins at three in 2011 included a win in the Group 2 Ribblesdale Stakes. At the end of that season, Banimpire sold for $3,095,110 at Goffs but finished third in her only subsequent start.

Second-crop star Homecoming Queen provided Holy Roman Emperor with his first classic winner this year through her runaway, nine-length victory in the One Thousand Guineas, though she has run disappointingly in subsequent races. That classic win, though, was only the beginning of what has turned out to be an excellent year for the young stallion.

This fall, his juvenile son Morandi proved himself one of the best 2-year-olds in France with wide-margin victories in the Criterium de Saint-Cloud and Prix de Conde. A week after Morandi’s Group 1 victory, his Australian-conceived daughter Rollout the Carpet captured the New Zealand Bloodstock One Thousand Guineas.

Holy Roman Emperor is inbred 3x3 to Northern Dancer, and, inevitably, 15 of his 21 stakes winners carry at least one additional cross of the little giant of Windfields Farm. Two of his three Group 1 winners, Homecoming Queen and Rollout the Carpet, do not, and there are no obvious strong preferences among the broodmare sires of his best runners although two of his nine group winners are out of Bering mares.

Teofilo, too, has shown promise as a sire, with Dewhurst Stakes winner Parish Hall in his first crop, but poor George Washington sired only one foal during his brief period at stud and was dead before the next stud season after breaking down in the 2007 Breeders’ Cup Classic. His only foal, the aptly named Date With Destiny, placed in the 2011 Totepool Oaks Trial Stakes at Lingfield Park. 

Although John Magnier broke with one of racing’s holiest traditions in retiring Holy Roman Emperor to stud while still sound after his juvenile campaign, that decision seems to be paying off. Holy Roman Emperor may become the viable heir to Danehill that George Washington once appeared to be.