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Sadler’s Wells: A True Great

Since the beginning of thoroughbred racing the horseplayer has been comparing horses in an effort to determine which was best. A quick glance on YouTube will yield titles such as “10 Greatest Racehorses” or “ 50 Greatest Racehorses”.

But what determines Greatness? There are many metrics we can use.

Horses such as Secretariat and Frankel were forces of nature on the track and will be on or near the top on most lists. Others, such as Affirmed, Tiznow and Personal Ensign stand out for the courage and the determination they exemplified. While the CHRB deserves the title of the greatest gelding to ever walk the planet, the waters can get pretty muddy after this.

The great jimson weed warrior, Justify, won the triple crown and won all of his six career starts. Justify would be on many top 50 lists. Hartnell retired in 2019, having raced 58 times. He won 13 of those races (4 of which were Group 1s) and finished second to a buzzsaw named Winx on 3 occasions. In an era when horses are not known for long racing careers, Hartnell was an exception, but many do not know of his accomplishments.

Sunday Silence will forever be remembered for his races with Easy Goer but his influence on the Japanese breeding industry has had a far greater effect on the thoroughbred industry. What do we do with Urban Sea? Not only did she win the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe but went on to produce two elite Epsom Derby winners in Galileo and Sea the Stars.

In modern times, the fastest race is the one to the breeding shed so this may be our way to determine greatness. As Lisa always says, “the numbers don’t lie." This introduces us to a new list; a list that determines the influence on the thoroughbred as a whole; a list that includes Sadler‘s Wells.

Bred by in the United States by Robert Sangster’s Swettenham Stud, Sadler’s Wells was campaigned by the powerful Ballydoyle stable of Vincent O’Brien. His two-year-old season was highlighted by a six-length win in the Group 3 Beresford Stakes and he flashed some potential as a contender for the following years classics. At 3, he won the Derrinstown Stud Derby trial and from there went to the Irish 2000 Guineas. He was on or near the lead throughout and looked like being swallowed up at the 3f pole. He kept finding more and held on for a solid victory.

In the Phoenix Champion Stakes, he took the lead from Princess Pati with 2f to go and held off a late charge from Cash Asmussen on Seattle Song to post the victory. His final start came in ”The Arc” where he faded in the stretch and was well beaten by Sagace. Although he had some memorable performances on the track, he was not the top 3-year-old in his own barn, not alone Europe. The following year he entered stud and it was here that his legacy was defined.

He was leading was leading sire in Britain and Ireland fourteen times. The term sire of sires hardly does him justice as he produced sires such as Galileo and Montjeu who went on to dominate European breeding in their own right. El Prado Prado proved to be an influential sire in the United States while High Chaparral carried the torch in the southern hemisphere. Other notable sons include Yeats (4 time Ascot Gold Cup winner) and Istabraq (3 time Champion Hurdle winner). He shows up on both sides of Tiger Roll’s pedigree (2 time Aintree Grand National winner).

At the time of his death in 2011 he had sired more than 320 stakes winners including 73 Group1/Grade 1 winners. His influence on thoroughbred racing will be seen for generations to come.

128 views3 comments


Unknown member
Mar 08, 2022

I also appreciated the "humor" you threw in here, I was laughing out loud. Thank you.


Unknown member
Feb 27, 2022

Love Sadler's Wells, undoubtedly the greatest of Northern Dancer's sons at stud and the main reason ND has been in every pedigree of an Epsom winner for decades. Sadler's Wells was a giant, thanks for writing about him!


Unknown member
Feb 27, 2022

Thank you, hayes.gerard. Your first article!

Very enjoyable and nice to see when the memory of these guys are kept front and center.

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