Mill Reef's Stud Career

14th October 2018

With Tattersalls Autumn Sales now under way, and millions of guineas changing hands, guest blogger Amy Bennett reviews Mill Reef's stud career and his leagacy.

On that sunny morning in August 1972 when Mill Reef shattered his near-fore on the Kingsclere gallops, the dreadful injury marked the end of one career and the start of another that would prove almost as illustrious as the first had been.

Photo Must Be Credited ©Alpha Press 050000 ( 1971 ) Mill Reef riden by jockey Geoff Lewis won the 1,000 Guineas , 2,000 Guineas , Oaks ( twice ) , Coronation Cup, and Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. His greatest moment came in 1971 when he rode the great Mill Reef to win the Derby.

By the time of his injury, Mill Reef had already amassed a race record of 12 victories from 14 starts and placed in the other two. His CV boasted such top-level triumphs as the Dewhurst Stakes at two, the Derby, Eclipse, King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes (pictured right) and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at three and the Prix Ganay and Coronation Cup at four, as well as success at two in the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot and the Gimcrack Stakes at York. The Pattern may have been a new-fangled development when Mill Reef was plying his trade, but it is notable that six of victories carry Group 1 status now. Timeform rated him 133 at two and 141 at three and four, marks that highlighted again his outstanding career.

As Mill Reef underwent surgery, conducted by an Professor James Roberts and his team, the immediate aim was to save his life. If he could also continue on to a stud career, then so much the better.

mill-reef-at-national-stud Mill Reef with Professor Roberts at The National Stud. c1973, The Roberts Collection, National Horse Racing Museum

Thanks to the skill of Professor James Roberts, the son of Never Bend was saved for a stud career. In a magnificently sporting gesture, his anglophile owner Paul Mellon passed up several lucrative offers and opted to stand Mill Reef at the National Stud in Newmarket, where he could be supported by leading European breeders, many of whom indeed were involved in him as shareholders during his stud career.

Mill Reef began his second career at the National Stud in February 1973 and he would remain there until his premature death in February 1986 from a heart condition.

During 13 years at stud, Mill Reef produced nearly 400 live foals, of whom 63 became black type winners and 38 scored at Group level, giving him a strike rate of ten per cent which would be the envy of some modern stallions.

The legacy of Mill Reef’s severe injury meant that he was limited to just 21 mares in his first season, a disastrously small book by modern standards, but no huge cause for concern in the early 1970s.

shirley-height Shirley Heights winning the Irish Derby

No superstars emerged from that first crop, but in his second came a colt bred and owned by the Earl of Halifax. Trained by John Dunlop, he was named Shirley Heights and emulated his own sire by winning the 1978 Derby, as well as the Irish Derby before breaking down in training.

He took up stallion duties at the Royal Studs and would ape his great sire one more time however, by siring his own Derby-winning son, Slip Anchor, successful in 1985 for Lord Howard de Walden, Henry Cecil and Steve Cauthen. Shirley Heights also assured his own legacy, and that of Mill Reef, by siring the 1984 Prix du Jockey-Club victor Darshaan, who would go on to exert tremendous influence on the breed, as well as Deploy, damsire of Dubawi.

Further Derby glory would follow for Mill Reef in 1987 when his son Reference Point triumphed, and, unsurprisingly, Mill Reef was crowned Champion Sire in both the years his sons won the Derby.

Unsurprisingly, Mill Reef’s stud fee soared in line with his growing reputation as a talented sire. From £10,000 in his first year, it rose to a reputed £100,000 in his last two seasons.

Mill Reef’s breeding record shows up a star from almost every crop. In the same crop as Shirley Heights came the 1978 Prix du Jockey Club victor Acamas, while the foal crop of 1978 yielded the 1,000 Guineas heroine Fairy Footsteps as well as Glint Of Gold, whose six top-level successes around Europe included the Derby Italiano.

From the foal crop of 1979 came Diamond Shoal, a Champion performer for his owner-breeder Paul Mellon, 1980 produced the Irish 2,000 Guineas victor Wassl, and born in 1981 was Lashkari, winner of the very first Breeders’ Cup Turf.

Towards the latter years of Mill Reef’s stud career, he sired the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes heroine Milligram, and in 1985 came the Aga Khan’s Doyoun, whose victories included the 2,000 Guineas.

It is not just through his own progeny that Mill Reef’s influence was felt; unsurprisingly, given the talent of his daughters, he also became a very smart broodmare sire, as evidenced by his strike rate of eight per cent black type winners as a broodmare sire.

Mill Reef did not leave a staggering legacy as a sire of sires, but his name endures in pedigrees thanks to his own prodigious talent which he imbued in his offspring.

Blog by guest blogger, Amy Bennett.

Race photos courtesy of  Alpha Press.