First step to celestial heights for Galileo

The King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes, due to be run for the 51st time at Ascot on Saturday, is the big one. The Open golf, Wimbledon, an Ashes Test, the Tour de France. A midsummer all-comers' contest that has more often than not in its half-century of existence identified the horse of the year ⓠcertainly more regularly than the autumn championship pretender in France, the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. It is the occasion that produced a legitimate contender for the race of the century, a race that is certainly the one most people living would name as such, the epic struggle 26 years ago when Grundy beat Bustino.</p>Six days hence the 2001 running is scheduled, and with it comes the possibility of another seminal moment. The unbeaten three-year-old Galileo, consummately easy winner of Derbys at Epsom and the Curragh, will be entering the crucible of open-age competition for the first time. The colt has swept all before him in his five races, but before he can be mentioned in the same breath as Nijinsky or Shergar he must defeat the best of the older brigade over this classic mile and a half. If he can crush a horse like Fantastic Light, a battle-hardened five-year-old who has won 10 of his 22 races and produced a career-best effort last time out to capture the Prince of Wales's Stakes at the Royal meeting on this course with a tremendous burst of speed, we can acknowledge not just a very, very good horse, but a great one.</p>The sub-plots in this Group One head-to-head between the two great superpowers are of pride and revenge. Galileo, trained by Aidan O'Brien at Ballydoyle, runs for the Co Tipperary-based John Magnier-Michael Tabor axis at Coolmore Stud and Ballydoyle stables, Fantastic Light for Sheikh Mohammed's Newmarket- and Dubai-centred Godolphin operation.</p>This season the Irish have been in the ascendant, with eight Group One wins to Godolphin's four. The Godolphin team have the outstanding modern King George record, Saeed bin Suroor having saddled four of the last six winners: Lammtarra, Swain (twice) and Daylami. But Fantastic Light had to settle for second place last year behind Tabor and Magnier's breathtakingly easy winner Montjeu.</p>A double helping of humble pie is a possibility here, but it was the Godolphin colours which were the first to be planted in the Ascot turf this time round. "All the hype over this race aside," said their racing manager, Simon Crisford, "the facts are that Galileo is the undisputed best of the three-year-olds and Fantastic Light is the best of the older horses. We're up for the challenge, they've picked up the gauntlet. Game on." The increasing globalisation of racing, with large purses up for grabs, has encouraged the retention in training of horses beyond their three-year-old careers. Fantastic Light, who raced in five countries on three continents in taking last year's World Series (the £750,000 King George is the second leg), is a typical Sheikh Mohammed late developer, in the mould of durable idols like Singspiel, Swain and Daylami.</p>His task on Saturday, in a contest where the young generation get their most generous weight concession of the season, will be merely to rescue the campaign for his side and scupper the world title aspirations of the opposition. "By our standards it has not been a great year," said Crisford. "In the first part of the season, when the focus is on three-year-old racing, not having a Classic contender puts you out of the game. But this race is what Godolphin is all about, as our record might indicate. Our horse is in great shape and is a proven, durable contender, who has been on the circuit for four seasons, can take the rough with the smooth and is better this year than last. But whatever the result, racing will be the winner."</p>Both Galileo and Fantastic Light are superbly-bred products of serious investment in massive bloodstock business empires. And the search for the next generation of star runners and potential stallions went on as egos collided last week at the yearling auctions in Kentucky. Sheikh Mohammed spent some $16 million, Coolmore nearly $10m.</p>No one has yet identified the blueprint for a champion, embryonic or otherwise. Fantastic Light, bright bay with a distinctive crooked blaze, is a shade under 16 hands, nearly half a ton of rangy athleticism with a professional mind that has been, this year, absolutely up for it. Both his parents underachieved on the track considering their $2m apiece cost, but have made up for it at stud. Galileo, also bay, with an arrow-shaped mark on his face, is cast from a neater mould but with depth and power and a tremendous swagger to his walk and is, at home, a perfect gentleman. Both his sire and dam were exceptional performers.</p>Callow, brilliant youth or the hardy old pro? The age statistics are split down the middle: 25 three-year-old winners, 25 older horses. So is opinion on the Newmarket gallops. "Fantastic Light," said Henry Cecil. "He's proven, and improving. Perhaps Galileo is just much the best of an ordinary crop of three-year-olds." For Sean Woods, the Big G is the one. "They've put the gun to his head at the top level twice and he's hardly come off the bridle."</p>Galileo will start odds-on favourite: of 18 in that category, 12 have won, though the shortest of the lot, Santa Claus at 2-13, got beat.</p>Galileo would be the seventh dual Derby winner to triumph, after Nijinsky, Grundy, The Minstrel, Troy, Shergar and Generous. Fantastic Light would be the third horse to run second and then win, after Aureole and Pentire.</p>Sport rarely sticks to the script and, horses being horses, one of the big two might have an off-day, or lose a shoe, or get boxed in, and there will be at least half-a-dozen other high-class runners ⓠFrench Derby winner Anabaa Blue, for one ⓠready to stick their oars in. But anticipation is sweet, and the showdown will draw nearly 40,000 of the faithful to Berkshire. Crisford's opinion of the identity of the winner is right. </p>
Arts and Entertainment
tvStrictly Come Dancing Christmas Special 2014:
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Life and Style
fashion
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there