GALILEO – His Life and His Legacy

GALILEO – His Life and His Legacy

THE DAY after the 2001 Vodafone Derby the headlines of “Galileo the star turn” and “Galileo in orbit”, extolled the tale of his impressive victory over Golan, before a modern-day record attendance of 150,000.

However, some racegoers at “Britain’s biggest day out,” suffered long traffic delays, including Sir Michael Stoute and Frankie Dettori, who had to abandon their cars to complete their journey on foot. But for most, once on the downs, this Derby Day was reward enough.

Galileo, the star of the show, was a bay colt by Sadler’s Wells out of the ‘Arc’ winner Urban Sea; bred by Mr David Tsui & Orpendale in Ireland and owned by Mrs John Magnier and Mr Michael Tabor.

The colt arrived at Epsom via three wins at Leopardstown: a maiden victory at two, by a staggering 14 lengths, followed at three by an easy win in the Ballysax Stakes from the future English and Irish St Leger winners Milan and Vinnie Roe, and then finally, he took the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial Stakes, beating Exaltation.

On the face of it, the form was not quite good enough to win the Derby but, with his ongoing improvement in the hands of trainer Aidan O’Brien, he looked sure to be a major player.  The opposition was headed by the Michael Stoute-trained Golan, winner of the Two Thousand Guineas and ante-post-favourite. Other dangers included Perfect Sunday, winner of the Lingfield Derby Trial; Dilshaan, winner of the Racing Post Trophy, and Tobougg, winner of both the Prix la Salamandre and Dewhurst Stakes, and now ridden by Frankie Dettori.

Twelve runners went to post, with Golan and Galileo going off 11-4 joint-favourites. Rounding Tattenham Corner, the Barry Hills pair, Mr Combustible and Perfect Sunday, led the field, with Galileo just outside them in third. Two and a half furlongs out, Mick Kinane brought Galileo smoothly to the front, from where he accelerated away to win by three and a half lengths, with Golan and Tobougg running on to fill the minor placings.

In the joyous scenes that followed, it did not go unnoticed that Galileo was the first son of Sadler’s Wells to win the Derby, and despite the modest early pace, he did so, in the then, second fastest time (2 min. 33.27 sec.) in the history of the race. Memorably, the previous day, daughters of Sadler’s Wells filled the first three places in the Oaks – a feat not equalled since the daughters of Birdcatcher did so in 1852.

In the Irish Derby, Galileo retained his unbeaten record by beating the Italian Derby winner Morshdi by four lengths, with Golan a further four lengths away third. At Ascot in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes, Galileo received a hero’s welcome for his two-length defeat of the five-year-old Fantastic Light. However, when the pair was re-matched in the mile-and-a-quarter Irish Champion Stakes, Fantastic Light took his revenge by a head, albeit with Dettori being cautioned for his excessive use of the whip.

Galileo’s finale was in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Belmont Park, when second favourite to the Bobby Frankel-trained Aptitude. However, both ran unplaced to Tiznow (America’s ‘Horse of the Year’ in 2000), who not only beat Sakhee by a nose, but became the first horse to win the race twice. Galileo was afterwards reported as being unable to handle the dirt surface and was later retired to Coolmore Stud in Co. Tipperary.

Thereafter, his stock went from good to great, as he became Champion Sire in Great Britain & Ireland 12 times – in 2008 and from 2010-2020 inclusive. Up till his death in 2021, he had sired 17 British Classic winners including, a record five in the Derby: New Approach (2008), Ruler Of The World (2013), Australia (2014), Anthony Van Dyck (2019) and Serpentine (2020).

Amongst his many other Group 1 winners was Frankel, winner of the Two Thousand Guineas and unbeaten in 14 races. And in 2021, Frankel took over the mantel of Champion Sire in G.B and Ireland.

Mobiles view chart landscape

As a point to note, 40 years ago top stallions were usually limited to 40 mares per season and like Shergar were often syndicated as such. Galileo’s dominant position and influence in Thoroughbred breeding, albeit with Frankel waiting in the wings, is strengthened by having had at least three times the opportunities of earlier sires.     


For more Racing History see Michael’s Books for Sale.

Posted on: