Mick Kinane and John Hammond led the tributes to Montjeu after one of the greatest racehorses of the modern era and the sire of three Epsom Derby winners died, aged 16, following a short illness.
Winner of six Group One races, including the King George and Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, the son of Sadler's Wells developed into one of the world's leading stallions for Coolmore.
A statement from Coolmore said: ”Montjeu, the highest-rated racehorse ever by the great Sadler's Wells, has died this morning at Coolmore Stud after a short illness which was due to complications from an overwhelming septicaemia.”
Montjeu retired to stud at the end of 2000 after a racing career that also saw him land the 1999 French Derby and the Irish equivalent.
Coolmore's statement continued: “The sire of three Epsom Derby winners, including last year's brilliant winner Pour Moi, as well as Camelot, the favourite for this year's edition, Montjeu was one of the best stallions in the world and in 2011 he sired 15 individual Group/Graded winners in the northern hemisphere, which was the equal of Galileo.
“Montjeu will best be remembered for his incredible wins in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe and King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes as well as his runaway victories in the French and Irish Derbies.”
Montjeu's victory in the 2000 King George was undoubtedly the most impressive in the mid-summer spectacular at Ascot for many a year. The previous year's Arc winner only had six rivals to beat, as the Classic generation stayed away.
In truth, it was a sub-standard renewal – but it wasn't meant to be a walkover. However, it felt like one. Sent off at 1/3 – the shortest-priced favourite since Nashwan – he had 11lb plus in hand on official figures.
Big-race rider Kinane sat patiently on the colt, and when asked to quicken two furlongs out, the horse cruised home stylishly. Kinane didn't need to do much; the horse guided him home that day.
Kinane said: “He was a really outstanding racehorse. That King George win was pretty good all right. He treated them with contempt that day and it was just a privilege to be on board.
“He had some other good performances in the Irish Derby and the Arc, and he's obviously going to be sadly missed.
“He had an aura about him and a few issues, and the great horses he's sired have all had that as well – that's what's made them great.
“His fillies have been much better of late as well and I think he's going to end up being an outstanding broodmare stallion.
“He's going to leave a big hole in racing.”
His Arc win was equally spectacular – although markedly different in its execution. On the day he was simply awesome and the reception afforded him after he cut down the heroic Japanese superstar El Condor Pasa said it all.
El Condor Pasa was still five lengths clear off the home bend but with clear water finally in front of him, Montjeu, under an ice-cool Kinane, found unlikely acceleration in the clogging terrain, catching his rival 75 yards out for a half-length win that simply took the breath away.
Chantilly-based trainer Hammond branded Montjeu as an “eccentric genius”.
“It's really sad news,” he said. “If he was a human being I'd describe him as an eccentric genius, I think that's what he was.”