06/09/2001 12:00AM

Galileo takes Epsom Derby

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EPSOM, England - Galileo proved he is the best 3-year-old in Europe with a scintillating 3 1/2-length victory over Golan in the $1.4 million Epsom Derby Saturday.

In providing his sire Sadler's Wells with his first Epsom Derby winner, Galileo extended his undefeated record to 4 for 4 and gave trainer Aidan O'Brien his second classic victory in two days. On Friday he won the English Oaks with Imagine.

Galileo's time of 2:33.27 for the 1 1/2 miles over good-to-firm turf was the second-fastest Epsom Derby. At about 3-1, Galileo and Golan were co-favorites in the 12-horse field. Tobougg finished third.

The normally reticent O'Brien was not the least bit shy about declaring the Breeders' Cup Classic as a goal for Galileo. The O'Brien-trained Giant's Causeway finished second in the Classic last year.

"It's my dream to see him go next in the Eclipse Stakes [1 1/4 miles at Sandown on July 7], then drop him down to the one-mile Queen Elizabeth II Stakes and then go for the Breeders' Cup Classic," he said.

When asked why he thought Galileo would handle dirt, O'Brien said, "He's so natural, the dirt would make no difference. He'd gallop on water if he had to.

"I would like to let this horse show his full potential. Even though he's by Sadler's Wells out of an Arc winner [Urban Sea], speed is his forte. He enjoys himself going fast."

And fast is how Galileo ran when Michael Kinane asked him to go when they were third approaching the quarter pole. In a matter of strides, Galileo had the Derby wrapped up.

"This was a race I could enjoy," Kinane said. "I was always in control, and I knew when he quickened that nothing would beat him."

Galileo, owned by Mrs. John Magnier and Michael Tabor, gave Tabor a place in history beside Paul Mellon as the only men to own both a Kentucky Derby and an Epsom Derby winner. Thunder Gulch won the 1995 Kentucky Derby winner for Tabor.