Super sire, Galileo, with (l-r) Harry Taylor, Alan Newman, Tony Stafford

Monday Musings: Remembering a True Legend of the Turf

Reassuringly he was always there; then, half-watching Racing TV the other day, suddenly he wasn’t. People of my generation always used to ask, “Where were you when the news came through that JFK was assassinated?” For the record I was in a little street in Bow, East London, with just about my first proper girlfriend and her family, writes Tony Stafford.

Bloodstock people of all ages now will relate their whereabouts at the time of the passing of the greatest stallion of all time. Galileo, aged 23 and sire of 91 Group and Grade 1 winners at the time of his death late last week is no more. No longer is that the figure either, Bolshoi Ballet making it 92 in New York on Saturday completing an Aidan O’Brien / Ryan Moore Grade 1 double with Santa Barbara, now respectively Derby and Oaks winners after all.

Galileo’s legend though will continue to develop, with a couple more crops of those whole-hearted, ultra-genuine performers yet to grace the track, mostly from Coolmore Stud and Ballydoyle who monopolised his progeny from the time Teofilo and others showed him to be a sire for all seasons and more importantly all ages. Messrs (and Mrs) Magnier, Tabor, Smith and of course the whole Aidan O’Brien family owe him a massive debt of gratitude.

Having had him as my equine hero for a decade and a half and as the password on almost all my electronic devices such as they are, it was gratifying that on a visit for the Champions Weekend in September 2018 along with Harry Taylor and Alan Newman I got to meet him.

Minutes later we were allowed into the Coolmore museum and saw the life-size and oh so realistic embodiment of his sire Sadler’s Wells whose apparently never-to-be broken tally of records has indeed been shattered by this phenomenon.

Typically Alan gave him a cuddle and for months afterwards would show anyone within reach the pictures, asking, “Who do you think this is?” I, of course, would have been tempted to say, “Surely it’s you!” but most people are less unkind.

I remember sitting in the late George Ward’s Ascot box, along from the Royal Box – a fair way along if I’m honest – telling the heroic combative boss of Grunwick, the company that produced the Instaprint and Tripleprint photo services long before cameras did the same job instantly, about him.

George had been through an awful front-page making ordeal with the unions decades earlier but came through it and got interested in racing, becoming a major sponsor and a leading light in the Racehorse Owners Association.

I told him, “George, you have to send a mare to Galileo, he’s only €30k!” He said, “That’s too rich for me, I’ve just a few ordinary mares.” Fair enough and of course by the time the next lot of nominations were considered his fee had already increased notably.

Sadly George died soon afterwards and now the equine object of my admiration, long since designated as having a “private” fee is gone, too.

One quote I saw (and a figure too that was often bandied about) was that you needed to stump up €500k to unlock the golden gates to his magical semen. But such was the flexibility of John Magnier’s marketing skills that the way to Galileo’s heart (as far as breeders’ mares were concerned) could often be through foal shares. The mare had to be pretty good in most cases but the numbers also needed to be kept up, so “private” had to be the way to go.

I could imagine breeders sitting down around a table at Royal Ascot, Longchamp or Newmarket sales asking each other: “How much did you pay?” I bet they always erred on the high side!

A slow computer early this morning limited my intended analysis of the Coolmore stallion roster 2021 but as far as I could tell, from 24 of the 26 other sires listed to be standing as Flat stallions this year, their combined fees amounted to just about half a million Euro – equivalent to one top-priced (no deals) Galileo.

Two exceptions are the highly-promising pair Wootton Bassett, a relative newcomer, but now raised to €100,000 and No Nay Never, up to 125K after his progeny’s exploits in his first few years’ activity. Two nice Wootton Bassett winners over the past weekend will keep him in breeders’ headlights.

Their upward momentum is reminiscent of a similar hike for No Nay Never’s sire, Scat Daddy, another shrewd buy from Coolmore, running in Michael Tabor’s colours in the US towards the end of his career. He had just been promoted to a fee of $100,000 at their Ashford Stud, Kentucky, base after a brilliant start when he had an accident at the farm. His untimely death came with a stunning book of mares waiting in vain for his services.

There can be little doubt he would have been a realistic US-based counterpart to Galileo if the evidence alone of the unbeaten Triple Crown winner Justified is considered. Two other sons of Scat Daddy, plus two of No Nay Never, grace the present Coolmore Ireland roster. Caravaggio, by Scat Daddy, has made a great start with his first two-year-olds this year and Coolmore has taken the hint - he will be based at Ashford in 2022.

Also at Ashford is the other Triple Crown hero of the modern age, American Pharoah, while the horse that came nearest to a UK Triple Crown, which would have been the first since Nijinsky in 1970, Camelot stands at only €45k in Co Tipperary. He is the sire of Santa Barbara, who thus on Saturday belatedly joined the four other Group 1 winning three-year-old fillies at Ballydoyle. Needless to say Alan has pictures with both Triple Crown winners, but I didn’t make that trip.

Two of the five, Empress Josephine and Joan Of Arc, both Classic winners this year, are daughters of Galileo. As far as my haphazard researches allow, I believe seven sons of Galileo are standing at Coolmore and Churchill, the 2,000 Guineas winner of 2017, is already off to a flying start with eight individual winners in his first crop.

Apart from the Flat-race squad, Coolmore NH has a further 18 stallions between Castle Hyde, Grange Stud and The Beeches where six more sons of Galileo ply their trade, so to speak. Classic winners Capri, Soldier Of Fortune and Kew Gardens are among them along with Order of St George, a dual Gold Cup hero from Ascot.

Two non-Galileos working away there are his fellow Sadler’s Wells horse, Yeats, the four-time Gold Cup winner and the multiple Group 1 winner, Maxios (by Monsun), busiest of the lot last year with 298 mares successfully accommodated. At €7k a pop, his new increased price, that’s good business.

If there is to be a sire to step into those size 14 shoes – not really but you get the illusion! – it has to be St Mark’s Basilica (Siyouni-Cabaret/Galileo). Now I know why, straight after that epic Eclipse win at Sandown that brought a best in the world rating of 127 to eclipse (ha!) Palace Pier, one insider said, “They are hoping he might be the one to replace Galileo.” He better not lose from now on then, but I fail to see why he should.

Back in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s when Robert Sangster, Vincent O’Brien and his son-in-law John Magnier were going hard in the bloodstock business in the US having acquired Coolmore from Tim Vigors, the great Northern Dancer was commanding fees of $1 million.

Such was his allure that when Henryk De Kwiatkowski was looking for mares to send to his Horse Of The Year, Conquistador Cielo, he paid 3.8 million dollars for a mare in foal to Northern Dancer. She lost the foal – and he didn’t pay the extra for foal insurance. Conquistador Cielo, subject of a $36 million syndication proved to be pretty rubbishy as a stallion but Henryk had another horse, by Northern Dancer, who did turn out pretty good at the same time. That was Danzig and he at one stage was getting quite close to the magic million too. Pity I didn’t find a mare to send to him (for free!) when I was offered the chance.

As the Old Testament would say, Northern Dancer begat Sadler’s Wells; Sadler’s Wells begat Galileo; Galileo begat Frankel, Teofilo, Minding, Love and many more champions besides. There are legacies and legacies, but none like Galileo’s. Rest in peace, we’ll never forget you and I can’t wait to see you standing next to your dad in the Coolmore museum. I’m sure Alan will let me know when the star attraction is ready for viewing.



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1 reply
  1. 10 Things You Didn't Know about Geegeez Racecards
  2. Richard
    Richard says:

    Great tribute, well done. At least there will be so many of his offspring in the covering sheds…

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