Montjeu, the Irish-bred and French-trained thoroughbred, was an eccentric genius that most pundits consider to be the best racehorse of his generation and one of the best of all-time.
The son of thirteen-time British champion ‘Sadler’s Wells’ and out of Prix de Lutece winner ‘Floripedes’, he was bred in Ireland by Sir James Goldsmith and foaled in 1996. He was named ‘Montjeu’ after a chateau owned by Goldsmith that was outside Autun in France.
Before the colt started racing, Goldsmith passed away and ownership switched to Tsega Ltd. This was a holding company owned by Laure Boulay de la Meurthe, mother to two of Goldsmiths children.
The horse was sent into training with John E. Hammond, based in Chantilly, and started racing as a two-year-old in the Autumn of 1998. His first race was the Prix de la Maniguette at Chantilly, where he easily beat nine other horses to land a debut success.
His only other run as a two-year-old came in listed class a month later, with a three quarters of a length victory over ‘Spadoun’ to win the Prix Isonomy. At the end of his debut season, de la Meurthe sold a half share in him to the Coolmore organisation represented by successful bookmaker and businessman Michael Tabor.
Montjeu started his three-year-old season with a victory in the Group Two Prix Greffulhe at Longchamp, finishing strongly to beat ‘Sendawar’ by a length. Next up, he suffered his first ever defeat. Starting as a red-hot 1/10 favourite for the Prix Lupin, he hung badly to the right in a slowly run race and lost by a length to ‘Gracioso’.
Despite that defeat, he was favourite a few weeks later in the Prix du Jockey Club at Chantilly, where he gained his revenge on ‘Gracioso’. A superb ride by Cash Asmussen saw the horse finish strongly to give him a four length victory, with ‘Nowhere to Exit’ in second and the Prix Lupin winner back in sixth.
He raced outside France for the first time in the 1999 Irish Derby at The Curragh, where Asmussen rode him to an impressive five length victory over ‘Daliapour’. He then narrowly won the Prix Niel at Longchamp, with Mick Kinane riding for the first time, and followed that up by landing the Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe. After that half a length win, Kinane described him as “The best mile-and-a-half horse I have ever sat on”.
Although he lost his final run of the season, finishing fourth in the Japan Cup, Montjeu was still officially rated the top three-year-old in the world with a rating of 135. He also won a prestigious Cartier Award when he was voted Cartier three-year-old European champion colt.
He had a successful start to his four-year-old season, winning the Tattersalls Gold Cup at The Curragh and the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud, before racing in Great Britain for the first time in the summer of 2000. That race was the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot, where he cruised into the lead and won by just under two lengths from ‘Fantastic Light’.
He then won the Prix Foy convincingly and was made odds-on favourite to land his second ‘Arc’. Unfortunately, he failed to reproduce anything near his best form and finished in a well beaten fourth place. He then finished second behind ‘Kalanisi’ in the Champion Stakes at Ascot and his final race ended in a disappointing seventh place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.
Montjeu was retired to Coolmore Stud in Tipperary, Ireland, in 2001 and he went on to become one of the top sires in the world. In fact, he was named leading sire in France in 2005.
His first group of foals included ‘Hurricane Run’, who went on to win the Irish Derby, Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe, Tattersalls Gold Cup and the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes. His progeny also includes four Epsom Derby winners, ‘Motivator’, ‘Authorized’, ‘Pour Moi’ and ‘Camelot’ as well as several other Group One winners.
Perhaps the most successful horse he sired was the great hurdler ‘Hurricane Fly’, who holds the record for most Grade One wins in history with 22. These include the Irish Champion Hurdle five times, Punchestown Champion Hurdle four times, Cheltenham Champion Hurdle twice and the December Festival Hurdle four times.
The great Montjeu died aged 16, on 29th March 2012, at Coolmore Stud from complications related to Septicaemia. He was a fantastic racehorse, that will always be remembered as one of the greats in the sport of horse racing, and has left a lasting legacy with the winners he has sired.