10 June 2001

Seeing Galileo in full flight gives racing addicts the ultimate fix

THERE is an image that will endure. It is of Galileo, head and neck set in perfect balance as his long limbs whirl him relentlessly clear of his Derby field. This horse is as good as they said he was. And that is very good indeed.

Two minutes 33.27 seconds is no great period on which to base a reputation. But it remains the second-fastest Derby clocking. Take into consideration the steady early pace set by the Barry Hills’ stablemates Mr Combustible and Perfect Sunday and you can conclude that when Michael Kinane let loose Galileo up the Epsom straight, he was travelling faster than any of the 221 Blue Riband winners that have gone before. And it looked it.

“What he has got,” said trainer Aidan O’Brien, “is bags and bags of speed. He has this tremendously high cruising speed and he gets into his cruising speed very quickly. And when he takes off he is exceptional.” He had been talking at lunch in Tipperary last Tuesday. Now his words were becoming reality. The blue silks of Kinane were clamped in for urgency and Galileo was speeding clear as if he wanted to run a hole in the wind.

It was in every sense the culmination of a dream. For Kinane and O’Brien, for all the staff who tend Galileo every day at Ballydoyle, for `Superdaddy’ sire Sadler’s Wells, for John Magnier’s Coolmore operation, for co-owner Michael Tabor and all the punters who followed his fearless lead. But dreams have their fears before realisation. It’s worth recording Aidan’s fears now.

“Off the record,” he had said in that almost whispered County Wexford voice, “the one thing I would fear is that despite his pedigree, he might not stay the trip. He just has so much speed, unbelievable speed that maybe he will not see it out. But I would not want you to write that because I don’t want even a hint of it to get into Michael Kinane’s mind. He needs to take his position and let’s see what we will see.”

It is now a matter of unhappy personal record that having been privy to this particular thought from the 31-year-old genius of Ballydoyle, and having always believed that Classic form is what you should follow, I then waded in to back 2,000 Guineas winner Golan when I saw him offered at 3-1 yesterday morning. The sight of Golan struggling to keep his position off Tattenham Corner and then battling ineffectively on to be second may have hurt financially, but the image of Galileo in full flight is what gives us racing addicts the ultimate fix.

Golan is a smashing horse. He is tough, talented and brave. But on lightning fast ground and round the helter-skelter cambers of Epsom he finds it all a battle. Galileo is living proof that 300 years of selective thoroughbred breeding has not been in vain. To watch Galileo in full gallop is one of the wonders of the world. It is power without weight, force without strain, speed without noise. It is beauty in the beast.

Derby day is a huge, huge occasion and the 2001 running was proof that thanks to United Racecourse’s energetic management, Vodafone’s sponsorship and (let’s not be partisan) BBC’s promotion, it is back much nearer to its old glory days. Once more people complain of traffic jams, Golan’s trainer Michael Stoute only just made it.

But all the hype, all the funfairs and hoopla, all the million pound prize money depend on there being a real sense of wonder at the base. That the Derby winner may be a horse to set the mind afire. It cannot happen every year but when it does it lifts the occasion beyond betting and the good time. It returns it to its roots, which in Galileo’s case means the green grass and horse-friendly fields of Ireland. He was born there, reared there, trained there and his jockey Michael Kinane comes from one of Ireland’s most multitudinous riding families and his Japanese lad Kaname Tsuge must surely be an honorary Irishman now.

Kinane, 41, won the 1993 Derby on Commander In Chief, and his worldwide honours extend to the Melbourne Cup, the Japan Cup, the Arc de Triomphe and practically every other big race in the book. O’Brien was winning his first Derby but having taken five consecutive jumping titles in Ireland before heading the list for the last four seasons on the Flat, Epsom triumph was only a matter of time.

At Ballydoyle he handles the most blue-blooded bunch of young thoroughbreds in the most extensive private training facility on the globe. But those opportunities add the pressure to deliver. “We have to get it right,” he said last week, “we do everything for these horses. We try and get them as fit as we can without damaging them physically and mentally. Everyone works very hard. The thing with most of them, especially with Galileo, is not to make a hash of it.”

Despite the quiet voice and round schoolboy glasses, this modesty should never be taken for lack of either confidence or ambition. O’Brien, like his legendary Ballydoyle predecessor and namesake (but no relation) Vincent O’Brien, is a perfect example of genius being the infinite capacity for taking pains.

A farmer’s son and devoted family man, he and his wife Ann Marie have four children, he works for his horses with an almost religious belief that one day he will see the ultimate. “You have to be dreaming,” he kept saying in the press conference. He was happy to be candid. Galileo is the horse of those dreams.

The nature of Flat racing means that there may only be a handful of times to see this Derby winner in full flow before he retires to the sultan’s life at stud. Once there he is unlikely to be a wilting violet. For as he was led away, nostrils hardly dilated, from the winner’s circle yesterday he suddenly spotted an attractive looking grey filly being led up for the next race. Galileo raised his head and whinnied lustily. After yesterday, he is entitled to a whinny or two.

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