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Jon Walley

European Race Report: Galileo Shines

Published in the Aug. 4 issue of The Blood-Horse
Many European horsemen felt Giant's Causeway was an unlucky loser of last year's Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I). Michael Kinane momentarily lost his reins deep in the stretch and that was enough for Tiznow to prevail. The assorted members of the Michael Tabor/John Magnier juggernaut may have cursed their luck as they re-crossed the Atlantic, but they'll be at Belmont Park in late October with a horse who could well humiliate Point Given.

Aidan O'Brien has said Galileo could "gallop on water" and it was hard to doubt the trainer after the unbeaten sophomore had humbled his elders in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes (Eng-I) at Ascot July 28. In fact, there was only one elder, Godolphin's Fantastic Light, winner of the Emirates World Series last year, who was capable of giving him a race. Bookmakers countenanced only two possible winners, 1-2 Galileo and 7-2 Fantastic Light, with Prix du Jockey-Club (Fr-I, French Derby) hero Anabaa Blue next best at 18-1.

Godolphin and Tabor/Magnier both entered a pacemaker in the field of 12 for the 12 furlongs and the former's Give the Slip did the lion's share of the work until early in the stretch. Galileo, racing sixth into Tattenham Corner, had Fantastic Light, two years older and giving 12 pounds, behind him at that point and with two-thirds of the race run was sitting handy on the rail under Kinane in third. It looked a reprise of the Epsom and Irish Derbys (both group I) when Galileo burst clear at the quarter-pole to win easily.

Racecaller Mark Johnson incorrectly called Fantastic Light and Frankie Dettori in a pocket at the quarter pole, but they appeared to be going nowhere as Galileo opened big daylight. Suddenly, a furlong out, the "royal blue" of Godolphin were alongside the "dark blue" silks of Susan Magnier and the battle was joined, if only briefly.

Kinane was no doubt surprised to find a challenger late in the piece, but Galileo responded immediately, drawing clear to win by two lengths with troubled French challenger Hightori a length back third. Final time on the "good to firm" going was 2:27.71, third fastest King George in 51 runnings. The crowd was a record for the King George, 38,410.

Kinane, who went to the Irish High Court for an injunction when he failed to have a two-day suspension that would have ruled him out of King George Day overturned, said: "He is without doubt the best horse I have ridden. Fantastic Light is battle-hardened--he's been down the road and back again--but it only took my horse three strides to react. I've never seem him (Galileo) tired--that's why he's so great. I've never seen that before in a horse and I ride them every day."

Sheikh Mohammed congratulated Coolmore boss John Magnier in the winner's circle afterwards. Magnier knows that glory is transient and he said to the Dubaian: "When your horse came up there, I said that's the end of it (Galileo's undefeated, five-race winning streak). It's only one day."

Later he talked further of his sporting instincts, matched by those of Sheikh Mohammed: "If you're lucky enough to have a good horse, you have obligations to the tracks, the fans, and the media. There will be pressure for us to go to Leopardstown (Irish Champion Stakes, Ire-I, Sept. 8) and we will have to do that. The people at Leopardstown and the Curragh are most helpful to us and that is where we race all the time."

O'Brien said Galileo could drop back to a mile for the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (Eng-I, Sept. 29) after Leopardstown, but the Classic was the ultimate target. By Europe's perennial champion sire, Sadler's Wells, out of Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (Fr-I) heroine Urban Sea, Galileo is hardly bred for the dirt, but O'Brien won't lose sleep over that.

"I wouldn't worry about him handling the dirt...the important thing in America is tactical speed, and he has plenty of that."

Fantastic Light, second in the King George last year to Montjeu, remains favorite for the "Arc" despite defeat in his last seven starts at 12 furlongs. Dettori said the weight concession told late in the Ascot straight, but the Sheikh Maktoum homebred may not stay a truly-run 1 1/2 miles. Still, he gave Galileo his "first proper race," according to O'Brien, and those who were there know they already have seen the European race of the year. October 27 at Belmont can't come soon enough.

(Chart, Sporting Life)