Curragh challenge next for mighty Galileo

The Derby: Ambitious programme mapped out for O'Brien's classic winner as enormous crowd witnesses giant in the making
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The Independent Online

The gilded path for Galileo was rerouted yesterday, but the future for Saturday's Derby winner has by no means been devalued.

Sandown's loss will be the Curragh's gain with the announcement that, after a night of contemplation, Galileo would run in the Irish Derby in preference to the Eclipse Stakes.

The final two legs of an audacious campaign are still in place, however. The fates willing, Galileo will attempt to prove himself over a mile in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot, and then, more significantly, he will take on the best of the West in their own back yard. Beating America's finest on dirt over the 10 furlongs of the Breeders' Cup Classic in New York in October would represent a staggering achievement even for the immense victor we saw on the Surrey Downs on Saturday.

It is a progressive departure, but not one the traditionalists applaud. The established route of the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes and Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe has been rejected. The diminution in significance of mile-and-a-half races increases and the Derby may become the new St Leger, a race for quirks of the breed.

"After speaking to everybody it is looking as if the Irish Derby is more likely," Aidan O'Brien, Galileo's trainer, said yesterday. "Indeed it's a strong possibility and, if he runs in that, he obviously won't go for the Eclipse.

"Naturally we will be taking things one day at a time, but after the Irish Derby he will drop back in trip for the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes."

This modification should allow Mick Kinane to fill in a notable omission from his list of achievements. The jockey has ridden in his domestic Derby 18 times without success, finishing second on three occasions. "Galileo is an exceptional horse," he said yesterday. "I thought they had gone slow, yet the time of the race was unbelievable. He probably made it all up in the straight by accelerating so much."

It was, in fact, the second fastest time in the race's history, which backs up O'Brien's assertion that Galileo is essentially a speed horse.

If Galileo can win at the top level over a mile and a mile and a quarter on both grass and dirt then he will be a superhorse. One which can command a super price at stud. It is not a point lost on his joint-owners, Michael Tabor and John Magnier.

Their toppers were on the floor in Saturday's press conference as they sandwiched O'Brien. Magnier was not obviously delighted, which led you to wonder if he ever would be again in his life.

There were two glasses of champagne on the table and no prizes for guessing who was not having one.

Aidan O'Brien does not drink. He does not take holidays. And he does not play golf. He loves horses. And he loves his family, not necessarily in that order. Anything else is an unwanted indulgence.

At 31, the winners have been flowing for several years, but this was a victory constructed in the traditional manner of Ballydoyle. O'Brien may have won the Irish 1,000 and 2,000 Guineas this spring, but the manner was rather disquieting. There were packs of his horses in both races and the most favoured did not succeed. Here, though, there was one runner and one winner, the horse they have been talking about in McCarthy's bar in Fethard since there was snow on the ground. This was the way Vincent O'Brien, his predecessor, used to do it.

Aidan O'Brien is most serious about the business of training racehorses, but when he is in the presence of his main owners he looks what he is: a young man in the company of business tigers. Magnier had bought breeding rights to Golan, Saturday's runner-up, in the lead-up to the race. He has breeding shares also in Storm Cat, the world's other great stallion. Breeding must always be a random science, but Magnier has taken a lot of the fluke out of it.

In this he has been helped beautifully by a bewhiskered old chap who, these days, fumbles his way around the Coolmore Stud. And he never asks for a rise. Sadler's Wells is 20 now, and his hegemony, as well as the old boy himself, is almost exhausted. Galileo's success was Sadler's Wells' 46th individual Group One winner of his stud career. It was a world record.

Victory came before an old-fashioned Epsom crowd, a throng estimated at 150,000. The glee of the organisers at this figure rather obscured the fact that many of the visitors were on the Downs to watch and hear the various talents of Hear'Say, Atomic Kitten and Steps. You could not count all of them as racing nuts. That would be like the band at the Cup final claiming they had attracted an audience of 100,000.

This was, in effect, two events dressed up as one. It did not mean there had been a resurgence in popularity of the Derby. Nor did it mean that racing has re-established itself as a big dog in the sporting feast. Among Saturday's crowd the best-backed horse was the one ridden by the best-known racing figure under the television aerials. Frankie Dettori and Tobougg rewarded each-way punters with a flying finish into third.

Frankie, of course, will have to be cloned, and they might have to find a test tube too for Galileo.

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