02/06/2015 1:09PM

Sparkman: Sadler's Wells line back in the saddle

Nikki Sherman
Magician, winner of the 2013 Breeders' Cup Turf, is among North America's new representatives for the Sadler's Wells male line.

Funny how success changes attitudes.

The Northern Dancer male line spent the 1990s and most of the first decade of the 21st century completing its conquest of the globe, while retreating on the continent of its birth. Of course, Northern Dancer himself was born in Canada and first achieved fame through his victories in the 1964 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, and he led the sire list in England four times but only once in North America.

That perhaps was largely because so many of his best yearlings were purchased to race in Europe by the Coolmore partnerships and later the Maktoum family, but enough of those good sons returned to stand in America to maintain a healthy percentage of Northern Dancer’s male-line descendants in American stud barns.

:: CLOSER LOOK: Sadler's Wells-line stallions in North America for 2015 ::

Once American breeders turned away from foreign-raced turf performers when Coolmore and the Maktoums temporarily reduced their participation in American auction markets in the early 1990s, however, American breeders restricted their affections to the more dirt-oriented Storm Cat and Deputy Minister branches of the Northern Dancer line and to the branch of aging three-time leading North American sire Danzig. Other Northern Dancer lines, including that of the Ireland-based Sadler’s Wells, who was in the midst of a historic reign in England, were deemed too turf-oriented.

Then in 2009, Rachel Alexandra happened. American breeders mostly had ignored and rationalized the 2002 sire championship of El Prado, by Sadler’s Wells, as an aberration, a one-off event that had little bearing on the rapid rise of the Mr. Prospector male line and the emergence of A.P. Indy as a powerful force in American dirt racing.

Rachel Alexandra’s undefeated Horse of the Year campaign in 2009, however, did more than capture the hearts and minds of American women. It proved that her sire, Medaglia d’Oro, who had a big hand in El Prado’s championship year, was an important sire and that the male line of Sadler’s Wells might have something to say about American racing after all.

Medaglia d’Oro has continued to prove his worth since that brilliant first crop, and in 2013, another son of El Prado, the 2004 champion turf male Kitten’s Joy, ascended to the top of the stallion tree, despite the fact that all five of his 2013 Grade 1 winners earned their stripes on turf.

Thus, it is no surprise that sons and grandsons of Sadler’s Wells have become far more popular and more numerous in American stallion barns in the last few years, especially sons of Sadler’s Wells’s successor as the best sire in Europe, Galileo. The winner of 6 of 8 starts, including the Epsom and Irish derbies, Galileo has led the English sire list five of the past six years.

The first son of Galileo to arrive was Cape Blanco (out of Laurel Delight, by Presidium), who capitalized on his 2011 champion turf male Eclipse Award by standing at Coolmore’s American outpost at Ashford Stud in Versailles, Ky. Although much of his pedigree was unfamiliar to American breeders, there was a lot to like about Cape Blanco’s race record if breeders could look past their prejudice against foreign turf runners. He was undefeated in three starts at 2, including Group 2 and Group 3 events, and though he had won the 1 1/2-mile Irish Derby at 3, his best form that year was in the 1 1/4-mile Group 1 Irish Champion Stakes, where he beat Rip Van Winkle, another son of Galileo, by 5 1/2 lengths.

Cape Blanco had won all three of his American starts at 4, the Grade 1 Arlington Million, Man o’ War, and Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, but missed the Breeders’ Cup because of injury. He bred more than 100 mares each of his first three seasons before being leased to Japan for the 2015 breeding season.

Galileo’s son Midas Touch (Approach, by Darshaan), who had finished second to Cape Blanco in the Irish Derby, arrived at War Horse Place in 2013, followed by another Irish Derby winner in Treasure Beach (Honorine, by Mark of Esteem), who also won the Grade 1 Secretariat Stakes at Arlington Park, to Pleasant Acres Stallions in Florida in 2014.

This year, Galileo’s champion son Noble Mission (Kind, by Danehill) is one of the headliners of the new crop of stallions retiring to stud, taking up duties at Lane’s End. A year-younger full brother to the undefeated Frankel, Noble Mission spent much of his racing career in the shadow of his magnificent sibling, and it was not until his fourth season in training that his connections figured out the best way to utilize his speed.

Second in his only start at 2, Noble Mission won his first two starts at 3, including the listed Newmarket Stakes at 1 1/4 miles, but spent most of the next two years running well in good company while giving the distinct impression that he possessed more talent than his race record showed. Always more tractable than his headstrong brother, Noble Mission came into his own when he was allowed to roll along in front under new rider James Doyle.

Noble Mission swept to four straight victories, including the Group 3 Gordon Richards and Huxley stakes and the Group 1 Tattersalls Gold Cup and Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud (via disqualification), and closed his championship season with a stirring victory in the Group 1 Champion Stakes on British Champions Day.

Physically, Noble Mission is much more a “Northern Dancer type” than Frankel, who is a bit plainer and takes more after his broodmare sire, Danehill.

In the Tattersalls Gold Cup, Noble Mission defeated another son of Galileo, Magician, who had scored a surprise victory in the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Turf. Also the winner of the 2013 Irish Two Thousand Guineas, Magician (Absolutelyfabulous, by Mozart) has replaced his paternal half-sibling Cape Blanco in the stallion barn at Ashford for the 2015 season. An attractive, close-coupled horse, Magician looks a speedier type than Cape Blanco and, indeed, won his races with a striking turn of speed from off the pace.

At least two other sons of Galileo, the 2006 Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Red Rocks (Pharmacist, by Machiavellian) and the Australian Group 1 winner Seville (Silverskaya, by Silver Hawk), will stand in America this year. Red Rocks had stood in Italy since 2010 before transferring to Calumet Farm this year. Seville also ran second in the 2011 Irish Derby to Treasure Beach before continuing his career in Australia and will stand his first season at stud in 2015 at Heritage Stallions in Maryland.

Noble Mission’s three-quarter brother Bullet Train, by Sadler’s Wells out of Kind, by Danehill, preceded him to stud in America and will stand his third season this year at Crestwood Farm. Bullet Train won the Group 3 Lingfield Derby Trial but spent much of his career utilizing his considerable speed as a pacemaker for illustrious brother Frankel.

With El Prado now deceased, Bullet Train joins the proven graded stakes sires Perfect Soul (Ball Chairman, by Secretariat) and Sligo Bay (Angelic Song, by Halo) as sons of Sadler’s Wells in North America.

Of course, the success of Medaglia d’Oro and Kitten’s Joy has produced something of an explosion of the El Prado branch of Sadler’s Wells in American stud barns. In addition to those two, El Prado’s sons Artie Schiller, Fort Prado, Paddy O’Prado, and Singing Saint all stand in Kentucky or Canada.

Add in Medaglia d’Oro’s sons Atreides (a newcomer for 2015), Violence, and Warrior’s Reward, as well as Kitten’s Joy’s sons Csaba and Real Solution, and it is apparent the Sadler’s Wells male line now accounts for a substantial percentage of the shrinking American population of Thoroughbred stallions.

Results matter.

Sire lines cannot endure, however, without representation to produce those results, and the Sadler’s Wells male line at last is getting a chance to succeed in America.