The loss of Europe’s greatest stallion, Galileo, on July 10 brought forth the question of where the exceptional racehorse and stallion ranks in the pantheon of the best of the breed. Although unquestionably the best sire in Europe, Galileo’s ranking among the greats will require more time to fully understand.
For a broader perspective on a sire, the internationally known bloodstock commentator Tony Morris wrote in his informative book Stallions that we needed to wait 25 years to properly assess a sire’s long-term influence on the breed. That is distinct from the ranking and perceived importance during a horse’s lifetime, when the immediate success of a stallion or a particularly fancy winner may shine a light on the horse that dims quite a bit over time.
In 1920, for instance, would anyone have expected that the influence of multiple leading sire Phalaris would far exceed that of his great predecessor St. Simon? Or that of any subsequent stallion? No. It was unthinkable and unforeseeable, but nonetheless, that is the bloodstock of today. The heirs of Phalaris.
Among the greatest of these is Galileo.
What we do know today is that Galileo rewrote portions of the record books with the excellence and volume of his better offspring. He sired winners of all the English, French, and Irish classics, including five winners of the Derby at Epsom. A winner of the English Derby in 2001, Galileo sired the Derby winners New Approach (2008), Ruler of the World (2013), Australia (2014), Anthony Van Dyck (2019), and Serpentine (2020).
No other stallion has sired so many, and that gift for classic expression among his many foals is likely to be the most telling of the many fine gifts that Galileo has left us.
To win a classic, especially the Derby, requires a horse to possess stamina, strength, courage, honesty, and the desire to win, along with a lilt of speed to meet the rising ground to the finish at Epsom. Galileo possessed all those and freely shared the same with his legions of sons and daughters.
Like his great sire Sadler’s Wells and world-renowned grandsire Northern Dancer before him, Galileo had a quality, not just in his physique, which was very fine, but in his manner and self-possession, that set him apart. Perhaps it is asking a bit much for a horse to have self-awareness, but with Galileo and some other elite Thoroughbreds, there is something in their character and in their interaction with others, both human and equine, that is akin to such a perception.
Certainly, when I visited Banstead Manor outside Newmarket to see the unbeaten champion Frankel, the big bay son of Galileo showed an awareness and command of his situation that was inspiring. A leading freshman sire and now the sire of two Derby winners this year in Adayar (English) and Hurricane Lane (Irish), Frankel is a key component of the future legacy of Galileo, and a significant part of the enduring legacy is that Frankel possessed so much of the ephemeral but ever-important quality: speed.
Without speed, a Thoroughbred is at the mercy of any racer who does possess it, and Adayar particularly showed that trait in leaving his opponents toiling at Epsom.
In addition to Frankel’s growing role in the Galileo legacy, 19 other sons of the great stallion have sired G1 winners around the world, largely in Europe, and mostly on turf. Will they spread round the world to dominate the breed and raise the influence of Galileo to an even greater level?
Time will tell.
For the immediate future, Galileo will have his final crop of foals born next year in 2022, and his final crop of classic performers will come in 2025. These and others will continue to swell Galileo’s number of stakes winners past 338 over the next few years.
And for those of us who watch and wonder, what if (unlikely as it is), what if the best is yet to come?