Breeding Brilliance: Greatest Classic Sires of the 21st Century

During the British flat season, five contests stand tall above the rest in terms of the prestige bestowed upon the winners. Collectively known as the Classics; the 1000 and 2000 Guineas at Newmarket, Epsom’s Derby and Oaks, and the St. Leger at Doncaster are the most coveted events of the year for the most talented three-year-olds in training. A win in any of these historic races not only earns a significant amount of prize money but also increases the breeding value of the winner immeasurably.

With so much on offer, it is not surprising that a great deal of thought, and money goes into attempting to produce the next Classic candidate, as breeders call upon the top stallions in an effort to create the next superstar. Many stallions have sired one or two Classic success stories, but some have hit the mark time and time again. And in the 21st century, none have fared better than the following quintet.

5. Frankel – 6 Classic Wins

  • Sire – Galileo
  • 1000 Guineas Wins – None
  • 2000 Guineas Wins – Chaldean (2023)
  • Oaks Wins – Anapurna (2019), Soul Sister (2023)
  • Derby Wins – Adayar (2021)
  • St. Leger Wins – Logician (2019), Hurricane Lane (2021)

The greatest at the track – who picked up a sensational Classic success of his own in the 2011 2000 Guineas – looks like he is going to make a bold bid to become the greatest at stud. Considering Frankel’s first runners only hit the racecourse in 2016, it is a remarkable achievement to have already made it onto this list. So far, only the 1000 Guineas has eluded the brilliant son of Galileo, but it seems only a matter of time until he completes the set. With time on his side, he may even reel in the illustrious name at the top of our list.

T3. Sadler’s Wells – 7 Classic Wins

  • Sire – Northern Dancer
  • 1000 Guineas Wins – None
  • 2000 Guineas Wins – Refuse To Bend (2003)
  • Oaks Wins – Imagine (2001), Alexandrova (2006)
  • Derby Wins – Galileo (2001), High Chaparral (2002)
  • St. Leger Wins – Milan (2001), Brian Boru (2003)

Next up, Frankel’s grandfather, Sadler’s Wells. The son of the hugely influential Northern Dancer didn’t manage to bag a British Classic success himsel, but did take the Irish 2000 Guineas in 1984 in addition to the Coral-Eclipse. Hugely talented on the course, he proved to be an unstoppable force at stud – winning the British Champion Sire title 14 times in total, including in 13 consecutive years between 1992 and 2004.

This list only covers wins since 2000, but Sadler’s Wells registered six further Classic triumphs during the 1990s to bring his overall tally to 13. One of those early victories was recorded by Salsabil in the 1990 1000 Guineas, making Sadler’s Wells one of only two modern stallions to have completed the set of all five British Classics.

T3. Kingmambo – 7 Classic Wins

  • Sire – Mr. Prospector
  • 1000 Guineas Wins – Russian Rhythm (2003), Virginia Waters (2005)
  • 2000 Guineas Wins – King’s Best (2000), Henrythenavigator (2008)
  • Oaks Wins – Light Shift (2007)
  • Derby Wins – None
  • St. Leger Wins – Rule Of Law (2004), Encke (2012)

Unlike every other entry on this list, Kingmambo is not a direct descendant of Northern Dancer. He is, however, closely related to the US star, with his great grandsire Native Dancer, being the grandsire of Northern Dancer on the dam side of his pedigree. Trained in France by François Boutin, Kingmambo was never given a crack at a British Classic but did win the French 2000 Guineas before conquering the best of the British challengers in the 1993 St. James’s Palace Stakes. Producing winners over all three Classic distances, only the Derby was missing from his CV at the time of his death in 2016.

2. Montjeu – 8 Classic Wins

  • Sire – Sadler’s Wells
  • 1000 Guineas Wins – None
  • 2000 Guineas Wins – Camelot (2012)
  • Oaks Wins – None
  • Derby Wins – Motivator (2005), Authorized (2007), Pour Moi (2011), Camelot (2012)
  • St. Leger Wins – Scorpion (2005), Masked Marvel (2011), Leading Light (2013

Predominantly raced in France, the first son of Sadler’s Wells on our list is another not to have been given a shot at a British Classic, but he did win both the French and Irish Derbies, in addition to the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Simply sensational on his day, never was his brilliance displayed better than in this contemptuous victory in the 2000 edition of the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes. Interestingly, whilst Montjeu produced winners over every Classic distance, all eight winners were colts, although his daughters Chiquita and Bracelet did win the 2013 and 2014 editions of the Irish Oaks.

1. Galileo – 20 Classic Wins

  • Sire – Sadler’s Wells
  • 1000 Guineas Wins – Minding (2016), Winter (2017), Hermosa (2019), Love (2020)
  • 2000 Guineas Wins – Frankel (2011), Gleneagles (2015), Churchill (2017)
  • Oaks Wins – Was (2012), Minding (2016), Forever Together (2018), Love (2020), Tuesday (2022)
  • Derby Wins – New Approach (2008), Ruler of the World (2013), Australia (2014), Anthony Van Dyck (2019), Serpentine (2020)
  • St. Leger Wins – Sixties Icon (2006), Capri (2017), Kew Gardens (2018),

Of course, the top spot could only belong to one horse, the mighty Galileo. Providing Aidan O’Brien with the first of his record-setting tally of nine Derby successes when dispatching his rivals in style in 2001, Galileo added the Irish Derby and King George to his haul, before retiring to stud at the end of his Classic campaign.

Despite those achievements at the track, Galileo is only the third most talented son of Sadler’s Wells according to the official handicapper, with Montjeu topping that particular list. However, he stands above all others when measured by stud success – and, in terms of the Classics, it isn’t even close.

A 12-time winner of the Great Britain & Ireland Champion sire title, he holds the record for siring the most Derby winners and the world record for most individual Group/Grade 1 winners. The rock on which the modern Ballydoyle operation is built, he will be greatly missed following his passing in 2021. That said, he will have more offspring coming to the Classics yet and so could well add to his tally and further enhance his reputation.