Galileo soars high into the stratosphere

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The Independent Online

Walking round the course here yesterday morning, in the peace before the thrumm of hooves on turf would drown out the hum of traffic on the Dublin-Limerick road, I asked Michael Kinane, due to ride Galileo in the 136th Irish Derby, at which stage of the race he would notice the roar of the crowd. From this most focussed and serious of professionals the answer was short and to the point. "I won't," he said. But a few hours later, in the immediate aftermath of the electrifying victory that gave Galileo his place in the thoroughbred pantheon, he was more than content to take heed of the waves of adulation and affection tumbling off the grandstands.

In an uncharacteristic display of emotion Kinane, the 11-times champion of Ireland who had just won his country's premier race for the first time after 17 fruitless attempts, milked the moment, raising his clenched fist again and again as Galileo was led back down the track to be unsaddled. Each gesture brought a fresh burst of frenzy from the faithful, an absolute confirmation to the bushy-browed one that the albatross round his neck had flown.

"It's nice to finally get it over and done with," he said. "Sometimes, you build it up a bit in your mind and it gets out of proportion." It is perhaps ironic that little of Kinane's legendary strength, skill and tactical awareness really needed to come into play as Galileo, who had put up such a brilliant performance to win the Derby 22 days previously, trounced the Italian Derby winner, Morshdi, by four lengths with another British-trained raider, the Epsom runner-up, Golan, the same distance away in third. It was a sixth European Classic win this year for the partisan crowd's other racing hero, the Ballydoyle training wizard Aidan O'Brien.

"The horse was always in complete control," Kinane said, "and I just had to hang on tight."

It was apparent throughout the 12-furlong contest that Kinane's self-deprecating words were in essence true. Never worse than fourth place as the outsider Pugin, Ballydoyle stablemate Ice Dancer and the third British challenger, Mr Combustible, took the field of 12 along at a fierce pace, the jockey came into the straight sitting motionless as most of his rivals were starting their Steve Redgrave impersonations.

Two furlongs out Galileo's elegant white-marked head, with the trademark crossed noseband that helps to curb his exuberance, poked between the leaders, his stride lengthened as he changed his lead with a dancer's grace, his black-stockinged legs devoured the ground in a way that was beautiful and suddenly only daylight was second. The only slight moment of concern, apart from wondering whether Kinane might permanently crick his neck from looking round for non-existent dangers, was when Galileo momentarily jinked away from the rail, though hardly enough to interfere with his inexorable rhythm.

The marching band of the Garda Siochanna, who provided stirring music before and fanfares during the sports, was to blame, apparently. "He had noticed them as he cantered to the start," Kinane said, "and he spotted them again as he came up the straight. He has such intelligence and presence." That quality had been noted at the start, as Galileo, who – like most present – had sweated badly on a muggy, overcast day, stood like a rock by the stalls as his lads gave him a last-minute wash and scrape. The bay colt, a son of the perennial European champion stallion Sadler's Wells and, in his neat, quality shape a true scion of the Northern Dancer clan, is the 14th horse to complete the Epsom-Curragh Derby double, the first being Orby in 1907. The world is now his oyster, although beyond the fact that his final target will be the Breeders' Cup Classic at Belmont Park, New York, in November, his card before that has yet to be filled in. Whatever happens, he must now enter the crucible of all-aged competition, with the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes, the Irish Champion Stakes and the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes all in the frame. But after yesterday's seminal performance, in the Nijinsky, Shergar and Generous league, it is difficult to believe that even a horse like the admirable Fantastic Light could get him off the bridle.

"All options are open," said O'Brien, who was accompanied to the post-race press conference by his family and had, perhaps as a talisman, let each of his young children – Joseph, Sarah, Anna and Donnacha – touch greatness by patting Galileo after the race. "Any distance would be a possibility. He is so quick at home, finds it easy to go fast, that I had serious doubts about him being a mile and a half horse, as horses with his pace rarely are."

Galileo, who runs in the navy blue of the John Magnier-Michael Tabor alliance, was bred at Magnier's Coolmore Stud in Tipperary and so his connections have known him from day one. "He's been a bull's-eye from the start," said O'Brien, "never suggested that he would be anything but a champion. I just can't explain how easy he has always found it, and what a natural athlete he is."

Philip Robinson, the rider of Michael Jarvis-trained Morshdi, went further. "He's a freak," he said. "My horse ran a blinder, but where I had two gears, he had three or four."

The showdown between Galileo and Sir Michael Stoute's Golan never looked like materialising. The Derby runner-up was doing his best work at the end, but eight lengths is a long way to excuse. His rider, Kieren Fallon, tried, though. "He was drawn wide and never really travelled out there," he said. "It was only when he got among horses in the straight that he began to fly." But not fast enough to catch an earthly manifestation of Pegasus.

IRISH DERBY

1. GALILEO (M J Kinane) 4-11 fav; 2. Morshdi 20-1; 3. Golan 4-1. 12 ran. (A P O'Brien). Tote: £1.50; £1.10 £3.80 £1.50

RF: £14.10. CSF: £15.33. Trio: £19.30.

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