Galileo A Brilliant Racehorse and Simply Stunning at Stud
There are few times when a horse dies that it merits more than a passing comment, but last weekend the great Galileo was put down following an injury to his foot which did not respond to treatment. At 23 years old, Galileo may not have been the oldest horse around, but he was certainly one of the best, if not the best – and therefore deserves considered comment and praise for his life time achievements in the equine world.
Galileo will be remembered by the bloodstock breeding world as the most prolific stallion of our time. He stood at the Coolmore Stud in Ireland and had mares visit him each spring from around the whole world. His services did not come cheap however, his stud fee since 2008 was always advertised as ‘private’, but mare owners, (the wealthy ones) were said to have paid up to 600,000 euros for the privilege of getting their mare in foal to him. On the other side though, a foal or yearling by Galileo would always stand out in any catalogue at any sale in the world and would command a huge price and profit. The reason – well quite simply, his progeny won the world’s top races – 92 Group 1 races to date and still counting, an extraordinary number; and that is not counting the fact that he was a terrific racehorse of his generation. He was a dual Derby winner for starters!
On his sire’s side, Galileo was descended from equine regal stock. His father was Saddlers Wells and his grandfather was the revered Northern Dancer. His dam’s line was not so shabby either. He was out of Urban Sea. She won the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe before producing two derby winners herself, Galileo and Sea The Stars. She was only one of two mares ever to both win and produce a son or daughter to win the Arc – Sea the Stars. Urban Sea’s sire line was totally USA based – her sire was Miswaki who sire in turn was Mr Prosector.
And so, it was on March 30th 1998, a colt foal was born who was to become Galileo. He was the third foal produced by Urban Sea. He was bred by David Tsui and Coolmore Stud in partnership and was to race in the colours of Sue Magnier and Michael Tabor and trained at Bally Doyle with Aidan O’Brien, who at the time was relatively new to the ranks of trainers.
As a two year old, Galileo only ran the once in a maiden at Leopardstown. He had to contend with sixteen other runners with his virtually all time jockey, Michael Kinane. At the two furlong marker, Mick Kinane asked his steed for an effort to win the race which he did by a massive fourteen lengths. Galileo had arrived and had been noticed. At three, he was to be campaigned at the top level. He was given a little ‘prep race’ in early May, back at Leopardstown, a listed contest which he won with ease before stepping up to Group company later in the month, again at Leopardstown, but with Shamus Heffernan on board for the only time in his career as Kinane was unavailable to take the ride. Again he won, although had to fight a little harder for this victory.
Next up was The Epsom Derby in early June 2001. This was a strong renewal of the race with 2000 Guineas winner Golan fancied as well as others who had performed well in the earlier Derby Trials. Throughout the race, Mick Kinane, now back on board kept Galileo just behind the leaders until into the straight when he was asked to win. He cruised past Golan, Mr Combustible and Tobougg to take a 3 and a half length win. Three weeks later, Galileo presented his credentials once again, this time at the Curragh for the Irish Derby, which again he won with ease. It was Kinane’s first Irish Derby win after seventeen attempts. Next up was Ascot for the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth stakes. This was the sternest test for Galileo as it was thought to be one of the strongest renewals of the race with Fantastic Light, already winner of four Group 1 races and Annabaa Blue, winner of the French Derby in the line-up. The race ended in a dual between Frankie Dettori riding Fantastic Light and Kinane on Galileo in the final furlong with Frankie getting the better of Galileo for a few strides before the great horse pounced and won by two lengths.
In the autumn, in the Irish Champion Stakes, the two, Fantastic Light and Galileo locked horns once again. Being a ¼ of a mile shorter than the Derby distance, and more suited to Fantastic Light, this was a contest where the two horses vied for position up the straight, and in a thrilling finish, Fantastic Light just held Galileo to win. With a blemish now on his illustrious career, Galileo was then sent to Belmont Park in The United States for the Breeders Cup Classic, a race run on dirt rather than the turf. As a ‘prep race’ for this, Galileo ran out a secure winner at Southwell all-weather track before travelling to Belmont Park. This was not to be the swan song everyone hoped for. Galileo raced behind the leaders for the whole race, and at the end was unable to quicken and so ended in sixth place. The winner was Tiznow. After the race, having won 6 of his 8 runs, it was announced that Galileo would retire to stud at Coolmore.
Well, with the demise of both Northern Dancer, (Died in 1990) and Saddlers Wells, still alive, but coming to the end of his stud career, the new ‘Coolmore’ mantle was being passed to Galileo. For the first few years at stud, Galileo was shuttled between Ireland and Australia, so stood in both northern and southern hemisphere time zones. It was not until 2012, it was decided that Galileo would stand only in Ireland. This was partly due to his father Saddlers Wells dying the previous year. Galileo was sent to stud for a fee of 50,000 Irish Punts in 2002, which changed a year later to 60,000 euros. Although with a drop in fee in the interim years, Galileo’s last published stud fee was in 2007 when he stood at a fee of 150,000 euros. Ever since then, his fee has been marked as ‘private’.
Galileo’s dominance as the leading sire in England and Ireland and then Europe started in 2008. Although before 2008, Galileo had sired no fewer than seven classic winners and a further nine individual Group 1 winners; his name was made when a son of his Frankel won every one of his fourteen races and was unbeaten. He was sire of the year in 2008 as a result. Galileo went on to be sire of the year again – every year from 2010 to 2019. The list of his progeny is endless as is the list of his classic winners. He sired five winners of the Derby, including New Approach, Australia, Ruler of the World, Anthony Van Dyke and Serpentine. He is the sire of 92 individual Group 1 races, and still counting. There is little argument that Frankel is Galileo’s best off-spring, a prolific unbeaten race horse but also a champion sire in his own right.
There are just so many brilliant sons of Galileo, far too many to name individually here, but we can all be sure that Coolmore Stud will continue to stand many of them in the years to come. Galileo also proved to be a strong brood mare sire as well. Breeders found that even mixing his blood with sprinters, the resulting progeny was more often than not a success. Coolmore even paid 6 million guineas for sprinter Marsha at the December sales in 2017, specifically to send her to Galileo. In the sale ring, Galileo sons and daughters have usually made seven figures, they have been so sought after, but his top price was 5 million guineas for a colt paid for Al Naamah in 2013 at Tattersalls in Newmarket.
Galileo has surpassed both his father and grandfather in the winners he has sired by some margin, both prolific winning producing machines of their time. We may never see the likes of him again in the thoroughbred breeding world, and perhaps the last word should go to his connections who simply said of him “that he was a true gentleman of a horse and very professional with it. Of his stock, they all seem to have a genuiness about them which made him the sire he became.” Who will take up the Northern Dancer – Saddlers Wells – Galileo mantle now. Frankel perhaps?