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War Front - Deed I Do, by Alydeed - Irish Hill Century Farm
Irish Hill Century Farm - Stillwater, NY | 2010 | Entered Stud 2017 | 2019 Fee $7,500 S/N

Taking Stock: The Interconnectedness of Galileo and O’Brien


Aidan O’Brien | Sid Fernando photo

By Sid Fernando

Aidan O’Brien deftly maneuvered his silver Land Rover inside a covered round pen at Ballydoyle where a group of yearling fillies was being ridden single file against the perimeter wall. He drove surprisingly close to them, circling inside of them, observing and exchanging words with the riders, motioning with his right hand as he steered the vehicle with his left. “Alright Christopher, good man, good man; okay Eddie, good man, good man; alright James, good man, good man,” he said, on and on to each rider. The yearlings had arrived at Ballydoyle only two weeks ago after the breaking process at John Magnier’s Coolmore, and they were already comfortable with O’Brien’s SUV next to them. They were in the early stages of preparation for their 2-year-old seasons and were a little behind the four sets O’Brien had supervised from the Land Rover in larger outdoor paddocks earlier that morning. O’Brien knew them all, as he did every rider by name. Each horses’s pedigree was written on the saddle cloth, with the initials of the sire and the dam’s full name. Naturally, there were a lot of “Gs” for the Galileos.

In 2001, Galileo (Ire) (Sadler’s Wells) became the first of O’Brien’s six G1 Epsom Derby winners. The bay colt also won the G1 Irish Derby and the G1 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes on his way to being crowned the champion 3-year-old of Europe. “He was so genuine, it was unbelievable,” O’Brien recalled.

From his Coolmore base, Galileo has since become one of the greatest stallions of all time, just as O’Brien has become one of the sport’s greatest trainers from his nearby Ballydoyle headquarters. Each year O’Brien seems to send out an endless stream of group winners for the trio of Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor, and Derrick Smith, including the winners of a record 28 Group 1 races in 2017–a good many of them sons or daughters of Galileo. In other words, the stallion and the trainer have relied upon and benefitted from each other in their second act together.

Galileo surpassed his own sire’s formidable record of 73 Grade/Group 1 winners in October and recently got his 75th when Godolphin’s Line of Duty (Ire) won the GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf earlier this month at Churchill Downs. The stallion stands for a private fee but he’s easily the most expensive sire in the world, more than Darley’s Dubawi (Ire) (Dubai Millennium {GB}) in Europe, Shadai’s Deep Impact (Jpn) (Sunday Silence) in Japan, and Claiborne’s War Front (Danzig) in the U.S. Because O’Brien has trained many of his best, including current Coolmore stallions such as dual Derby winner Australia, G1 English and Irish 2000 Guineas winner Churchill, champion 2-year-old and Irish and English Guineas winner Gleneagles, seven-time Group 1 winner Highland Reel, Epsom Derby winner Ruler of the World, G1 French 2000 Guineas winner The Gurkha, and the speedy Group 2 winner Gustav Klimt, he has firsthand knowledge of their makeup.

“Galileos are, like, very strange horses, meaning that they try so hard,” O’Brien said. “And always with the Galileos, all you’re trying to do is slow them down and relax them. With most other horses, it’s the complete opposite. But Galileos, they never remember what happened yesterday. Say they got really tired– and when a horse gets really tired, they feel a bit of pain–some horses get very clever to that and they don’t want to go back there anymore. So what happens is that when they start controlling that, you can only train them to a certain level because they won’t let you push them any further. But with Galileos, they will give their absolute 150% every day. It’s very strange. It’s a mental trait, not a physical trait. Of all the horses we’ve ever trained, we’ve never seen it in another horse before. It’s a gene that will carry on. It’s a pure remind of him.”

A Pilgrimage

It was Galileo who had brought me to Ireland a week ago–for the first time, by the way. I’d never seen Coolmore’s iconic sire Sadler’s Wells (Northern Dancer) in the flesh and didn’t want to miss his legendary son, who at age 20 is closing in on his sire’s 294 stakes winners with 289 to date. The son has already passed the father by number of group winners, 190 to 168. When our son, a Florida-based college senior, said he wouldn’t be home for the Thanksgiving holiday, my wife and I decided on short notice to visit Galileo, which meant an overnight six-hour flight from New York to Dublin followed by a two-hour drive to Cashel, a historic little town in County Tipperary. From there it was a 20-minute trip to the speck of a village that is Fethard, where Magnier’s historic and sprawling property is discreetly situated without a sign at the main gate. Ballydoyle is just 10 minutes from Cashel, and is likewise devoid of signage.

The grand horse didn’t disappoint. At a little over 16 hands, Galileo is taller than his 15.2-hand grandsire and 16-hand sire, but he’s not a big horse by any means and appears smaller in height than he is. Perhaps that’s because he has some of the unmistakable resemblance and swagger of that little big man from Windfields, Northern Dancer, who transformed the European racing landscape the moment his son Nijinsky set Europe alight from Ballydoyle for Aidan O’Brien’s legendary predecessor, Vincent O’Brien. The last English Triple Crown winner, Nijinsky, was a larger, scopier horse than most of the Northern Dancers, who as a group were smaller, more rounded and muscular, and faster than their taller and stretchier European contemporaries that their gear-changing abilities frequently left flat-footed in pattern races. This was the primary North American tribe at the forefront of the transformative “international racehorse” of the 1970s and 1980s, and they came relentlessly from Ballydoyle after Nijinsky and included among many others such Classic winners as The Minstrel, El Gran Senor and Sadler’s Wells for Vincent O’Brien and his ownership group of Robert Sangster and Magnier, Vincent O’Brien’s son-in-law.

Historically, the sequence of Northern Dancer/Sadler’s Wells/Galileo as Classic winners and Classic-siring breed shapers is unparalleled, though it’s fair to include Sadler’s Wells’s “other” Coolmore-based son Montjeu (Ire), who died prematurely at age 16, in the conversation. It’s rare enough to find three successive generations of breed-shaping stallions in one hemisphere to begin with–Raise a Native/Mr. Prospector/Fappiano and Nearco/Nasrullah/Bold Ruler are two sets; Northern Dancer/Danzig/Danehill, with Redoute’s Choice (Aus) (Danehill) and Fastnet Rock (Aus) (Danehill), straddle two hemispheres, and Northern Dancer/Danzig/War Front has more to come–but with the advent of Galileo’s Juddmonte-based son Frankel (GB), four successive Classic winners as top sires is a possibility. Plus, with Galileo’s accomplished young sons at Coolmore, there’s every chance to continue the streak with others, and O’Brien is convinced that Australia in particular will be one of them. “Australia is going to be an unbelievable stallion,” O’Brien said. “They have the courage. Then, you have Churchill. One of them is going to strike big. It’s going to happen. With the Galileos, it’s a mental trait, and so many of them have it.”

O’Brien believes that Galileo’s daughters are just as effective in passing on their sire’s traits, and he points to one of his stars this year, 2000 Guineas winner Saxon Warrior (Jpn) (Deep Impact {Jpn}), who was produced from the fast Galileo mare Maybe (Ire), as an example. “The trait is so strong that the Galileo comes out,” O’Brien said. “Saxon Warrior would absolutely kill himself stone dead for you. He wasn’t a mile-and-a-quarter horse at all; he was a miler. But he kept trying, and he never relented in any way. He was so genuine. If we had kept him to a mile, he probably would have never been beaten.”

That Saxon Warrior, who enters stud in 2019 at Coolmore, was tried repeatedly at up to a mile and a half is part of the Coolmore ethos, O’Brien noted. “What’s changed with ‘the lads’ is that they don’t want [their horses] to go to stud with false pretenses anymore,” O’Brien said. “They want to expose every horse. They’re thinking of the big picture, so they want to expose them–see what their limitations are. Because when you know that, you can let the pedigree progress. They have so many stallions standing, so they need to go through them and find out who’s the best.”

That type of thinking extended to Galileo himself, who was sent to the U.S. to compete in the GI Breeders’ Cup Classic on dirt after a demanding European campaign. Galileo ran a creditable sixth in the race behind Tiznow in 2001.

For all of his accomplishments, Galileo still has one hole in his resume: He doesn’t yet have a graded winner on dirt. O’Brien is fully aware of this and said he’d like to fill that gap. “I’ve been thinking about this a lot,” O’Brien said. “I’ll tell you why the Galileos will suit the dirt when we get them. They’re so determined when they get to the front. They will not relent. But you need to get the right horse and give him the right preparation.”

In fact, O’Brien said he’s thinking about a Galileo for Coolmore for the 2019 Kentucky Derby. “I’ve been trying to think, like, how can we have a Kentucky Derby horse this year, and I’ve been thinking that it has to be a Galileo if we are going to do it. It’ll take a run or two for a horse to learn from coming from the grass to go to the dirt, but it’s not impossible. We just have to pick the one for the program. I haven’t picked one yet, but we’re getting close and we’ll decide in the next couple of weeks.”

That’s an exciting thought to ponder, because if Galileo and O’Brien can add a Kentucky Derby to their long list of European Classics, it would be a stunning achievement. As it is, the trainer and the stallion that are so interwoven together have accomplished more than most as a unit, with yet more to come. It’s why O’Brien spends this time of year schooling his yearlings as they approach two. “What happens now will affect their entire careers,” he said, as he drove his Land Rover from where the young horses were stabled to the Giant’s Causeway yard at Ballydoyle, where his best 3-year-old colts will be domiciled. More than a few Galileos will be there when the season starts.

Sid Fernando is president and CEO of Werk Thoroughbred Consultants, Inc., originator of the Werk Nick Rating and eNicks.


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