07/01/2005 12:00AM

Montjeu destined to be next big thing

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Montjeu (above) is the sire of derby winners Motivator and Hurricane Run.

NEW YORK - European breeders have been wondering for years if a replacement for the great Sadler's Wells would ever appear. Now they may have found one with the electrifying emergence this spring of Montjeu.

Himself an Irish-bred son of Sadler's Wells out of the Top Ville mare Floripedes, Montjeu has hit the bull's-eye this season with two derby winners from his first crop of 3-year-olds - Motivator in the Epsom Derby and Hurricane Run in the Irish Derby. What makes his youthful achievement special, though, is that he also sired the second-place finishers in those races, Walk in the Park at Epsom and Scorpion at The Curragh.

Montjeu might well have swept all three of Europe's major derbies had France-Galop not reduced the distance of its Derby, the Prix du Jockey-Club, from 1 1/2 miles to 1 5/16 miles. In that race, Hurricane Run was fast getting to the victorious Shamardal in the latter stages of the race, falling short by a neck.

There was never much doubt that Montjeu would be capable of getting top class 1 1/2-mile runners. That he moved so quickly to the head of the class in that department, however, is virtually unprecedented in the annals of modern breeding.

Trained in France by John Hammond for owner Michael Tabor, Montjeu was a Group 1 winner going 1 1/2 miles no fewer than five times. In 1999, at age 3, he won the French Derby, the Irish Derby, and the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. At 4, he used a victory in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud as a prep for what was probably the most impressive win of his career, in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes. That day he slammed Fantastic Light by the easiest 1 3/4 lengths ever seen at Ascot to become only the sixth horse in history to win both the Arc and the King George. The others who achieved that double were Ribot, Ballymoss, Mill Reef, Dancing Brave, and Lammtarra.

None of those stalwarts, however, ever got off to a start at stud like Montjeu has. One would have to go back to the early years of Seattle Slew's breeding career to recall a young stallion - Montjeu is still only 9 years old - who had gotten off to such an quick start.

Montjeu has even displayed a certain talent for siring winners on dirt. Stagelight made it 2 for 2 on that surface with a three-length victory in the one-mile UAE 2000 Guineas at Nad Al Sheba in February, but has been sidelined since by injury. It is from 10 and 12 furlongs on turf, however, that Montjeu should continue to excel, and he will likely do so with only the occasional runner in the United States.

In a country where two-turn miles are perceived as "route races," and where a 1 1/2-mile is considered a "marathon," Montjeu is unlikely to make much of an impact. Standing as he does at Coolmore Stud in County Tipperary, Ireland, for a 45,000-euro ($54,000) fee that is sure to rise substantially in 2006, Montjeu might be an opportunity for American owners to recoup some of the influence of the Northern Dancer line that has been drained away from these shores over the last 30 years, but don't bet on it. American owners are far too insulated and overly concerned with the quick returns available through statebred programs to concern themselves with stallions like Montjeu. How would he fit in a country where more than half of all the entries at Belmont Park this spring have been New York-breds, while the average distance per race at Hollywood Park has been 6.99 furlongs? By comparison, the average distance at which Montjeu's foals have been winning is already 9.24 furlongs.

As speed and raceday medication have replaced stamina and quality as the standards by which American Thoroughbreds are judged, it is probably in Montjeu's best interests that his offspring remain in Europe. There we may be witnessing a changing of the guard, as the 24-year-old Sadler's Wells, still a major force at Coolmore Stud, prepares to hand over his throne to the breeding industry's crown prince, Montjeu.