“An eccentric genius” is an unusual way for a trainer to describe a racehorse, but those were the words John Hammond chose when paying tribute to Montjeu on the great champion’s death in March 2012.
Jockey Michael Kinane was inclined to agree, noting that the imposing bay, whose great victories included the Irish Derby, the Arc and the King George, “had an aura about him ... and a few issues - and the great horses he has sired have had that as well”.
His well documented idiosyncrasies (such as the day he refused to enter the paddock at Ascot before his King George victory) were, however, not overly apparent during the four years he stood at Windsor Park Stud in New Zealand.
“We never had any problems with him,” said the stud’s Michael Moran. “He was here to work and didn’t show any temperament issues.”
Moran recalls how privileged everyone at Windsor Park felt to be standing a horse of Montjeu’s calibre. “We were so thrilled to have a horse of his quality and, in only four seasons here, he achieved a great deal.”
‘The ultimate Thoroughbred’
Moran was lucky enough to see Montjeu race, describing him as “immense”.
“He was the ultimate Thoroughbred and the best racehorse ever to come off the track in Europe to stand in New Zealand.”
Moran fondly remembers the arrival of Montjeu’s first Southern Hemisphere crop. “What really stood out about them was their huge constitutions. They just ate and ate!”
Moran regrets that, on the back of Montjeu’s debut crop success in Europe, his first New Zealand-bred 2-year-olds were pushed a bit too hard. “They were in the first 650-metre trials here and ended up being cooked, and that is often irreversible. But, once our trainers got the hang of them, they began to make their mark.”
G1 winners Wall Street, Tavistock, Nom du Jeu, Sharvasti and Roman Emperor were the best of Montjeu’s New Zealand stock, with Moran citing his greatest achievements as his AJC Derby quinella (Nom du Jeu and Harris Tweed) and his four Caulfield Cup runners-up (Nom du Jeu, Roman Emperor, Harris Tweed and Green Moon).
Fresh victories in Australia
The latter is Montjeu’s highest achieving import in Australia, winner of the 2012 Melbourne Cup.
Speaking of imports, three Northern Hemisphere-bred sons of Montjeu have won feature races in Australia this season, the 2014 Sydney Cup winner The Offer taking the Bendigo Cup and the Rowley Mile, Assign winning the listed Mornington Cup Prelude and Gallante (winner in France of the Grand Prix de Paris) adding a second elite-level win to his resume with the Sydney Cup in April.
So it has been a fine season for Montjeu in the Southern Hemisphere, not only as a sire but also as a broodmare sire and a sire of sires.
His influence was highlighted during the running of The Championships series in Sydney over the Easter period. His grandson Tavago was a dominant winner of the Australian Derby while a week later Lucia Valentina (out of the Montjeu mare Staryn Glenn) was able to race away with the Queen Elizabeth Stakes.
Tavago, who had been an eye-catching and somewhat unlucky sixth in the New Zealand Derby before his trip to Randwick, is by one of Montjeu’s best performing New Zealand-bred sons, the dual G1-winning sprinter/miler Tavistock.
The Tavistock dilemma
A stallion whose popularity has increased with the achievements of his progeny, the Cambridge Stud based 10-year-old recently had his service fee increased from NZ$15,000 to NZ$65,000 (US$10,150 to $44,000).
Cambridge Stud’s Sir Patrick Hogan said he had been inundated with applications from breeders. “It really is a dilemma,” he said. “I find myself in an impossible situation trying to please everyone.
“It has been a very difficult exercise in arriving at a fee that reflects the tremendous success of his first two crops as well as being fair to broodmare owners.”
It was reported that Cambridge received over 280 applications for Tavistock and then even more when another of his brilliant sons, Werther, thrashed his older rivals in the Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup at Sha Tin in April.
Werther, along with the dual G1 winner Volkstok’n’barrell, is a member of Tavistock’s debut crop with his second crop yielding not only Tavago but the Victoria Derby/Rosehill Guineas winner Tarzino.
G2 winner Hasselhoof is another emerging star for Tavistock, while this season has also seen him represented by the stakes-placed gallopers Titanium, Bullish Stock, Infantry, Tavy, Imperial Lass and Downton Abbey.
Authorized making his mark
Whilst Tavistock is undoubtedly the most successful son of Montjeu to have stood in the Southern Hemisphere, his Epsom Derby winner Authorized also made his mark during four seasons at Darley and three of his progeny have won at stakes level this season.
Due to make his stud debut at Mapperley Stud, New Zealand, this spring, Complacent was a G1 winner at three (and second in the Victoria Derby) before a tendon injury caused him to miss nearly two years of racing.
Yet he won the Chelmsford Stakes on only his second run back and also took the Craven Plate.
Sadly also injury prone, the Darren Weir-trained Signoff (fourth as third favourite in the 2014 Melbourne Cup and being set for the same race this year) lost a listed race on a controversial positive swab to ibuprofen before proving 6 1/2 lengths too strong for his rivals in the Lord Reims Stakes at his most recent outing in early March.
Meanwhile Maygrove won the Awapuni Gold Cup, adding to another G2 success last season.
Best remembered for his fast-finishing 2005 Arc victory, Hurricane Run (winner of three other G1s) has never stood in the Southern Hemisphere, but seven of his 10 runners in this part of the world have won.
Successes as a broodmare sire
And he had one particularly good day last October when his son Magic Hurricane won the Metropolitan Handicap, a race in which another of his sons in Havana Cooler (winner in March of the Doncaster Prelude) was third.
Several other sons of Montjeu have sired stakes winners this season - the Feehan Stakes winner Guillotine (sire of Kelt Memorial winner Allez Eagle), the dual Group-winning stayer Gallant Guru (sire of the listed winners Tommy Tucker and Coulee) and the Australian Derby winner Nom du Jeu (sire of listed winner Alcaldesa).
Meanwhile there have been six Australasian-bred stakes winners for Montjeu as a broodmare sire this season, Lucia Valentina the best of them, while Leading Role (Wakefield Stakes), Mime (Sir Tristram Fillies Classic & Sunline Vase) Kaharau (Dunedin Gold Cup) and Replique (Southland Guineas) have also enjoyed success.
As have, in South Africa, the New Zealand-bred G3 winners Ma Choix and The Centenary.
So, while Montjeu never raced in Australasia and stood at stud in New Zealand just briefly, he left a major imprint.
In Michael Moran’s words: “He has left a long and lasting impression.”