Opera House, the Most Successful Representative of Sadler’s Wells’s Blood in Japan

The former European champion stayer and later the leading Japanese stallion Opera House has died aged 28 due to an injury sustained in the paddock. Bred by Meon Valley Stud, England, and the sire to the once richest horse in the world, T M Opera O, deserves a short memory.

The colt of Sadler’s Wells's third crop was out of the Irish Oaks winner Colorspin, the daughter of the excellent dam and founder of the great family Reprocolor. The winner of the Lancashire Oaks and third in the Yorkshire Oaks, Reprocolor produced two exceptionally successful broodmares but these two were far from being the only successful dams. The first one was Bella Colora, the winner of the Prix de l’Opera, the dam of four black-type winners headed by the winner of the Prince of Wales’s Stakes and later a very successful sire Stagecraft. The second one was Colorspin who, besides Opera House, is the dam of the three-time European champion stayer, two-time Ascot Gold Cup winner and today one of the best British NH stallions Kayf Tara or the winner of the Gr.1 Prix de l’ Opera Zee Zee Top.

Opera House, bearing the silks of the Sheikh Mohammed and trained by Sir Michael Stout, raced just once as a two-year old in mid October when he won easily a maiden race at Leicester. Then came a pause of nearly one year – he raced again in late September next year and won comfortably a Class E race over 10 furlongs at Nottingham. The first race in the black-type company, in the listed Foundation Stakes at Goodwood, ended in second place, a neck behind Perpendicular. He ended the season by the fourth place in the St Simon Stakes (Gr.3). At four he already worked his way among the elite and he won three group races including the Tattersalls Gold Cup (Gr.2) and was the runner-up in the Coral Eclipse Stakes.

The peak of his career came at five. He launched the season by the second place in the Prix Ganay (Gr.1) where he was beaten by a short neck by Vert Amande but then came three Gr.1 wins in a row – Coronation Cup, Coral Eclipse and eventually the King George, where he beat the excellent winners of Derby Italiano and The Derby, White Muzzle and Commander in Chief. In the Irish Champion Stakes he lost to Muhtarram by 1/2 length, then finished among excellent competition on very soft ground third in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, taken by the dam-to-be of Galileo and Sea The Stars Urban Sea. He closed the season and his career by the sixth place in the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Santa Anita. After the season he was rated in the International Classification as the best older horse of Europe, just a pound under the best rated three-year-old Zafonic. He was also awarded as the European Champion Older Horse at Cartier Racing Awards.

After his racing career he was bought by the Japanese breeders and sent to the Shizunai Stallion Station, where he stayed as the stallion for no fewer than nineteen seasons. By 2013, when he was retired, he covered 1,254 mares who gave birth – according to the JBIS database – to 912 registered foals. Of these 817 raced, 505 won, 95 at two years of age. His progeny has earned a total of 12.43 billion yen, his AEI was at 1.37.

Of 817 runners fifteen won a black-type race. The best of them, T.M. Opera O, comes from the stallion’s second crop, which consisted of 64 progeny. The son of the unraced Blushing Groom’s daughter Once Wed, bought at Keeneland for USD 15,000, won 14 races in Japan, of which half were in Gr. 1 races. The winner of the Japan Cup, Arima Kinen or Satsuki Sho (Japan’s 2,000 Guineas) earned 1,835,189,000 yens and at one time he was the chief earner globally. Besides him the championship title went to Meisho Samson, the son of the maiden Dancing Brave’s daughter My Vixien, whose nine wins include four Gr.1 races including the Tokyo Yushun (Japan Derby) and Satsuki Sho. A Gr.1 win was scored also by Nihon Pillow Jupiter, the winner of the Nambu Hai on dirt. Among other successful progeny let us name the winner of the Sankei Osaka Hai (Gr.2) T M Encore or Tosen Crown, the second among the stallion’s group winners out of a dam by Dancing Brave, who won the Nakayama Kinen.  

Both T.M. Opera O and Meisho Samson were given an opportunity at stud. T. M. Opera O covered in the first season of 2002 98 mares but since then their number has been decreasing to last year’s thirteen partners. None of his progeny followed in his footsteps. The best of them was T M Yokado, the winner of the Queen Sho, registered in Japan as a Gr.3 race. Japanese breeders had more trust in Meisho Samson who was given over a hundred mares in each of the first four seasons but he, too, failed the expectations. So far he has produced two group winners, Denko Ange and Frontier Queen, and two listed winners.

The weakening influence of Opera House in the next generation is confirmed by the results of his daughters. They have produced so far only three black-type winners, including the winner of the Hanshin Juvenile Fillies (Gr.1) Major Emblem.

Despite the decreasing influence the results of Opera House in Japan must be judged positively. The share of black-type winners among his progeny is not high, but Sadler’s Wells and his blood, including Galileo, is not generally much successful on fast and firmer Japanese courses and the results of Opera House, who placed twice among the top ten of Japanese stallions and in 2000 placed the fourth position in the championship, are quite exceptional in this regard.

Miloslav Vlček

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