December 5, 2021

Galileo, champion and legendary sire, dies

Galileo has passed away but his breed-shaping legacy endures (Photo courtesy of Coolmore)

Galileo, a blueblood champion on the racecourse and a supersire on the international stage, has passed away. Coolmore announced that its flagship stallion had to be euthanized Saturday, at the age of 23, “on humane grounds owing to a chronic, non-responsive, debilitating injury to the left fore foot.”

By Sadler’s Wells and out of 1993 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1) winner Urban Sea, Galileo became the first Epsom Derby (G1) winner trained by Aidan O’Brien.

Europe’s champion three-year-old colt of 2001, Galileo stayed unbeaten through his first six starts, including a classic double in the Irish Derby (G1) and a memorable victory over Fantastic Light in the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Diamond S. (G1). Fantastic Light gained revenge in an epic duel in the Irish Champion S. (G1), where tactics arguably proved decisive. Galileo’s racing career concluded with an anticlimactic sixth when trying dirt in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1).

But the Galileo-Coolmore-O’Brien juggernaut was just beginning. At stud, Galileo transmitted not only his outstanding physical ability but also mental strength to his progeny. Thus he furnished a constant stream of top-class performers.

Leading Galileo’s record tally of 92 Group 1 winners is undefeated world champion Frankel, now the sire of reigning Epsom Derby hero Adayar and Irish Derby scorer Hurricane Lane.

Galileo himself ranks as the all-time top sire in Epsom Derby history with five winners of the blue riband – New Approach (2008) (in turn the sire of 2018 Derby victor Masar), Ruler of the World (2013), Australia (2014), Anthony Van Dyck (2019), and Serpentine (2020).

The joint-leading sire of winners in the Irish Derby, Galileo tied the record of six set by Gallinule and matched by Sadler’s Wells. Aside from Australia who doubled up at Epsom and the Curragh, Galileo is responsible for Soldier of Fortune (2007), Cape Blanco (2010) (later a U.S. turf champion), Treasure Beach (2011), Capri (2017) (later winner of the St Leger [G1]), and Sovereign (2019).

Galileo has also stamped his seal on the Arc in recent years. Multiple champion filly Found topped a Galileo (and O’Brien) trifecta in the 2016 Arc, with globetrotting celebrity Highland Reel and Ascot Gold Cup (G1) winner Order of St George. Galileo’s son Nathaniel sired the great Enable, a two-time Arc star who was runner-up in 2019 to Waldgeist, himself by Galileo. Last year’s Arc winner, Sottsass, is out of a Galileo mare.

As that summary just begins to hint, Galileo is exerting an influence through both his sons and daughters. Coolmore notes that an amazing 20 sons of Galileo have sired Group 1 winners themselves.

Inbreeding to Galileo promises to become an ever more notable feature of pedigrees. Jim Bolger, who recognized Galileo’s stud potential from the start, has fittingly enough pursued this angle to good effect already. His current multiple Group 1 winner Mac Swiney, whose signature scores came in last fall’s Vertem Futurity Trophy (G1) and the May 22 Irish 2000 Guineas (G1), is inbred 2×3 to Galileo. He’s by New Approach and out of a mare by Galileo’s unbeaten champion son Teofilo, whom Bolger regarded as English Triple Crown-caliber before his career-ending injury.

Galileo had the genetic raw material for such a quest, since he sired European classic winners of every stripe. His daughters Minding (2016) and Love (2020) captured both the 1000 Guineas (G1) and Oaks (G1) in their years.

Galileo got top milers like Gleneagles and Churchill, who each turned the 2000 Guineas (G1) double at Newmarket and the Curragh in 2015 and 2017, respectively, as well as stayers like Kew Gardens (2018) who became his third St Leger winner. Galileo’s French classic roster includes Intello, The Gurkha, Golden Lilac, and recent Prix de Diane (French Oaks) (G1) queen Joan of Arc, who previously missed in the Irish 1000 Guineas (G1) to fellow Galileo filly Empress Josephine.

Galileo’s conquests extended further afield. Among his five Breeders’ Cup winners are the aforementioned Found (2015) and Highland Reel (2016) as well as Magician, his 2013 Irish 2000 Guineas hero who famously stretched out to take the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1). Mondialiste was twice a Grade 1 winner in North America. Galileo’s son Adelaide captured Australia’s weight-for-age championship, the Cox Plate (G1) in 2014, and his daughter Igugu was South Africa’s Horse of the Year in 2010-11.

Other standouts by Galileo include Magical, who unfortunately missed the classics but developed into a multiple champion and conqueror of males in several majors; Ulysses; Circus Maximus; full brothers Japan and Mogul; Magic Wand, who earned her Group 1 laurel in Australia but placed at the top level on three other continents; Rip Van Winkle; Rhododendron; Misty for Me; Decorated Knight; and Frankel’s full brother, Noble Mission.

The very first classic winner by Galileo, 2006 Irish 1000 Guineas victress Nightime, has excelled herself as a broodmare. The dam of Zhukova, who shipped from Ireland to thrash males in the 2017 Man o’ War S. (G1), Nightime has since produced last year’s top-rated horse, Ghaiyyath.

Galileo also factors as the broodmare sire of dual French classic star St Mark’s Basilica, who just ran away with last Saturday’s Eclipse S. (G1), and this season’s record-setting Oaks romper Snowfall (out of a sister to Found); fellow classic winners Saxon Warrior (out of champion Maybe), Night of Thunder, Magna Grecia (St Mark’s Basilica’s brother), Galileo Gold, Qualify, and unbeaten La Cressonniere; multiple Group 1 veteran Barney Roy; the brilliant U S Navy Flag and his sister Roly Poly, both out of Misty for Me; Australian champion The Autumn Sun; American champion Sistercharlie (a half to Sottsass); and versatile Grade 1 performer Lea.

Coolmore impresario John Magnier deserves the last word:

“It is a very sad day, but we all feel incredibly fortunate to have had Galileo here at Coolmore. I would like to thank the dedicated people who looked after him so well all along the way. He was always a very special horse to us and he was the first Derby winner we had in Ballydoyle in the post M V O’Brien era. I would also like to thank Aidan and his team for the brilliant job they did with him. The effect he is having on the breed through his sons and daughters will be a lasting legacy and his phenomenal success really is unprecedented.”

Postscript: Galileo’s number of Grade/Group 1 winners was updated to reflect the victory later Saturday by Bolshoi Ballet in the $1 million Belmont Derby (G1).