European Race Report: King Kong

Published in the July 7 issue of The Blood-Horse
Michael Kinane, 11 times Ireland's champion jockey, got a gorilla off his back July 1 at the Curragh. Successful around the world and in every Irish group I race except the Budweiser Irish Derby (Ire-I), the 42-year-old rider had his home fans roaring as he brought Galileo home to win the 136th edition.

Three times second but never a winner from 17 mounts in the 12-furlong classic, Kinane said: "I've had a few heartaches and the one closest to home is often the hardest to get, but today I knew I had the right horse."

So did the punters, sending Galileo to the gate the 4-11 favorite in the field of 12 to become the 14th sophomore to turn the Epsom (Eng-I) and Irish Derby double. A 3 1/2-length winner in England, Galileo's connections, trainer Aidan O'Brien and owners Sue Magnier and Michael Tabor, didn't know if Epsom second Golan would reoppose at the Curragh until late in the week.

Trainer Michael Stoute said the firm ground in England, not the fact Golan failed to act down the Epsom hill, had compromised his chances and when heavy showers materialized late in the week, easing the ground, the rematch was on. Epsom fourth Mr Combustible also made the trip but the betting featured only Galileo and 4-1 Golan, with Sheikh Mohammed's 8-1 Exaltation the only other runner at less than 20-1. Exaltation and Sheikh Ahmed's Morshdi were supplemented to the race for Ir£90,000, 10% of the purse.

With the going "good" for the first 10 furlongs and "yielding" for the final quarter-mile, the runners made their way to the start on a sticky, humid afternoon. Five minutes early to post, most jockeys dismounted, Kinane pulling some grass to wipe the sweat from Galileo's neck. At the break, Pugin led Mr Combustible and Morshdi, with Galileo sixth on the rail and settling down, and Golan and Kieren Fallon among the last three on the outside.

Into the 2 1/2-furlong straight, Morshdi made his bid outside as Mr Combustible faded. Galileo had moved steadily through the field on the rail and was waiting to pounce.

Gaining the lead approaching the quarter-pole, Galileo stormed to the front at will, felt one left-handed smack before the furlong pole, and was being eased down to claim the £510,865 ($551,430) winner's purse by four lengths from 20-1 Morshdi, with Golan the same distance back in third.

Morshdi, the Italian Derby (It-I) winner, earned £180,000 ($194,293) for second to delight Newmarket trainer Michael Jarvis. "I thought he'd be in the first four so second is a bonus," he said. "When he made his challenge, I thought if the winner stops a little, he'll be running on, but the winner didn't stop. His target is the St. Leger (Eng-I)."

Golan, in whom Coolmore Stud bought the breeding rights from Lord Weinstock for a reported $15 million before Epsom, was drawn one at the gate and never got in a serious blow.

"We didn't want to get stuck out there," said Fallon. "They went very quick and I wanted him handier so I could ride a proper race, but he didn't travel."

O'Brien won the Irish Derby with Tabor's Desert King four years ago, but he wouldn't be in the same league with Galileo, who came home in 2:27.10, the second-fastest Irish Derby clocking after St. Jovite's 2:25.60 in 1992.

O'Brien said Galileo, a son of Sadler's Wells out of Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (Fr-I) winner Urban Sea and now unbeaten after five starts, has the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) as his year-end target. He could well shorten up in between, to as little as a mile for the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (Eng-I, Sept. 29), but earlier the trainer had noted the Irish Champion Stakes (Ire-I, 10 furlongs Sept. 8) would be "an ideal prep."