How a colt called Galileo became the horse of a lifetime

Galileo, ridden by Michael Kinane, is one of the most impressive Epsom Derby winners for years. Photo: Martin Lynch/

With the Irish flat season getting under way for 2016 at the Curragh on Sunday, Donn McClean salutes the phenomenal stallion who has dominated racing there for years and has just become only the second horse to be inducted into Irish Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association’s Hall of Fame.

When Galileo was inducted into the ITBA Hall of Fame earlier this year, it was just another accolade bestowed on a horse of a lifetime.

There were accolades from the start. Galileo was given every chance in life, a son of Coolmore’s peerless stallion Sadler’s Wells (the only other horse to be inducted into the ITBA Hall of Fame) out of David Tsui’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Urban Sea, who would become one of the most prolific broodmares of the modern era. Add to that the fact that he was trained during his racing career by Aidan O’Brien, and that he was ridden in all but one of his races by Michael Kinane, and it would have been surprising if Galileo had not been successful.  

But this successful? As successful as he was? As successful as he is?  Even with all that in his favour, you could still only have dreamed.  

Galileo didn’t make his racecourse debut until October of his juvenile year, a bout of coughing keeping him off the track until then. Of course, his reputation had preceded him, so when he walked into the parade ring at Leopardstown on that winter’s day at the end of October in 2000, the bookmakers chalked him up at 2-5.

Can you name the four trainers who’ve completed racing’s ultimate double?
Click here

But confidence ebbed.  The ground was heavy and the opposition packed promise. All the top Irish yards were represented. By the time the stalls opened, you could have backed the Aidan O’Brien-trained colt at even money.

But those who did never had a moment’s worry. Galileo eased his way through the ground under Kinane, hit the front well outside the furlong pole and coasted to a bloodless victory, 14 lengths clear of his closest pursuer.

Then the dreaming started in earnest.

Galileo was not prepared for the Guineas as a 3-year-old, Aidan O’Brien preferring instead to tread the Derby path that Sinndar had trod the previous year: Ballysax Stakes, Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial, Epsom Derby. He duly danced in in the Ballysax, then stayed on strongly to land the Derrinstown.  

That was the only occasion on which Kinane did not ride Galileo. The champion jockey was on duty in France, busy riding Rose Gypsy to victory in the French 1,000 Guineas. So Seamie Heffernan deputised on Galileo at Leopardstown, and gave him a copybook ride.

Recipients of the ITBA Hall of Fame award




Sheikh Hamdan


Jim Bolger


Denis Brosnan


Sir Edmund Loder


No inductee (special award given in respect of Urban Sea)


Sadler’s  Wells  


Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum


Tim Hyde


Liam Cashman


Michael Osborne


David Pim


Stan Cosgrove


Alan Lillingston


Sonia Rogers


John Magnier


Mr and Mrs Walter Haefner


The Aga Khan

Kinane was back on board at Epsom, however, when Galileo beat the Guineas winner Golan by three and a half lengths. It was a landmark victory, not just because he was one of the most impressive Derby winners we had seen in years, the best in 10 years according to Timeform, but also because he was Aidan O’Brien’s first, and Ballydoyle’s first since Golden Fleece in 1982.

Galileo followed up in the Irish Derby – providing Kinane with his first Irish Derby – when he had Golan even further back in third place than he had been at Epsom, before he lined up against older horses for the first time in his life in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes at Ascot.

There was drama before the race and drama during the race. The pre-race drama centred on Michael Kinane, who succeeded in getting a High Court order that would allow him ride in the race. The order prevented the Turf Club from upholding a two-day ban imposed on the rider earlier that month for careless riding, the first ban he had picked up in a year and a half.

The duels with Fantastic Light

It was a cracking King George. There were six G1 winners in the line-up, and the drama unfolded in the home straight, as it came down to a dual between Galileo and the Godolphin horse Fantastic Light, the Hong Kong Cup winner, the Tattersalls Gold Cup winner, the Prince of Wales’s Stakes winner.  

Fantastic Light had to go wider than ideal as Galileo wheeled into the straight one horse-width off the inside rail, before the pair of them engaged in toe-to-toe combat that lasted for half a furlong. In the end, it was the younger horse who proved the stronger, forging forward inside the final 100 yards to record a famous victory and keep his unbeaten record intact.

Six weeks later, in the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown, the Godolphin horse exacted his revenge.

It was a home game for Galileo, but he was dropping back down to 10 furlongs, probably Fantastic Light’s optimum, for the first time since he had won the Derrinstown. Also, this time, it was Galileo who had to go wide into the home straight as Fantastic Light stuck to the inside rail.  Both horses ran their lungs out, but Fantastic Light prevailed by a head that was at once both thrilling and agonising, thereby inflicting on Galileo his first defeat.

It is interesting to listen to Michael Kinane speak about Galileo now.  He says that that race bottomed Galileo, that he had to dig deeper into his reserves than he ever had had to dig before. Galileo did go to Belmont Park for his swansong. He ran in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.  But that was his first run on dirt, at the end of a long, hard season, and he could never get competitive. He finished just sixth behind Tiznow and Sakhee.

The beginning of his enduring legacy

That was the end of Galileo’s racing career, but it was just the beginning of his enduring legacy. Numbered among his first crop of foals were Irish 1,000 Guineas winner Nightime and St Leger winner Sixties Icon, who was chased home in the fifth Classic by two more sons, The Last Drop and Red Rocks. And Red Rocks went on to win the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Churchill Downs two months later.

Jim Bolger was an early Galileo fan. He said that he used to have to race against him often enough, so he got to see plenty of him. He used to watch him in the paddock, and he always thought that he would make a stallion.

Fellow Hall of Famer Bolger followed through too. He sent Affianced to Galileo and he bred Irish Derby and Coronation Cup winner Soldier Of Fortune. He sent Speirbhean to him, and he bred champion 2-year-old Teofilo. He bought Derby winner and Champion Stakes winner New Approach, a son of Galileo, at Goffs as a yearling.

When you start listing Galileo’s offspring, it is difficult to know where to stop. You can start with Frankel, that’s probably a good place to start, and you can list Rip Van Winkle and Australia and Gleneagles and Found and Magician.  

When Order Of St George won the Irish St Leger last September, it was the 50th time that a son or daughter of Galileo had landed a G1. And, when Galileo was crowned champion sire in Britain and Ireland last year, it was the sixth time in a row, and the seventh time in total, that he had won the title.

A measure of Galileo’s prolificacy lies in the fact that, on the evening on which he was inducted into the ITBA’s Hall of Fame, three of his offspring – Found (3-year-old filly’s award), Order Of St George (3-year-old colt) and Minding (2-year-old filly) – were also honoured.

That’s three more accolades then.

View Comments
blog comments powered by Disqus

More Jockeys, Owners and Trainers Articles

By the same author