09/11/2017 7:51AM

Sparkman: Group 1 four-bagger pushes Galileo farther into stratosphere

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The Group 1 victories last weekend at the Curragh of Decorated Knight (Irish Champion Stakes), Hydrangea (Matron Stakes), Order of St George (Irish St. Leger), and Happily (Moyglare Stud Stakes) expanded the lead of their sire, Galileo, on the 2017 English/Irish sire list, and increased the total earnings of his offspring this year to more than four times those of second placed Dubawi. Happily’s victory also gave him his 68th Group 1 or Grade 1 winner, and his eighth top-level winner this year.

Galileo’s eighth consecutive sire championship (and ninth in the last 10 years) is assured.

Neither Galileo’s string of sire championships nor his number of top-level winners matches those of his sire, Sadler’s Wells - yet. Sadler’s Wells led the English/Irish sire list a record 14 times, the last 13 in succession, siring 73 Grade 1 or Group 1 winners. But those astonishing numbers were compiled by 23 magnificent crops of runners, and Galileo, who is only 19 years old, has sired 13 crops of racing age. There can be no doubt that Galileo will break his sire’s record for career Grade 1 or Group 1 winners, and if he lives long enough there appears to be nothing to stop Galileo from breaking his sire’s sire championship record as well. And it is certainly possible he will break Lexington’s record of 16 sire championships in a major racing country. 

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Although he sires a lower percentage of stakes winners from much larger books of mares than was common in the Sadler’s Wells era (11.8% to 14.7% for Sadler’s Wells), Galileo is also all but certain to surpass his sire’s total of 330 career stakes winners, since his total now stands at 278 with 15 or so likely from crops already on the ground or due next spring. The late Danehill’s world records of 354 career stakes winners and 89 Grade 1 or Group 1 winners may also be within reach.

Danehill, Sadler’s Wells, and Galileo are clearly the three best international sires of the last 30 years, and their comparative statistics are illuminating. Danehill’s and Sadler’s Wells’s numbers are very similar, the main difference being that Danehill shuttled regularly to Australia, where he first made his reputation, and Sadler’s Wells did not. As a result, Danehill had about 250 more foals than Sadler’s Wells, though he died much younger than Sadler’s Wells and thus did not have as many covering seasons.

As shown in the accompanying table, the percentages of stakes winners and Grade 1/Group 1 winners to foals of Danehill and Sadler’s Wells are very close, with a slight advantage in percentage of stakes winners to foals for Sadler’s Wells and the edge to Danehill in percentage of Grade 1/Group 1 winners. On balance, there is no doubt that Sadler’s Wells served superior books of mares in terms of racing ability and pedigree quality. But on the other hand, Danehill’s Australian sojourns meant that a number of his progeny won Group 1 races in places like Hong Kong, where the competition is not quite as fierce, on average, as in Europe and North America, where Sadler’s Wells recorded all of his top-level winners.

Galileo’s percentages do not quite match up, but he is very close in percentage of Grade 1/Group 1 winners, especially considering the much larger books he covers, which inevitably dilutes the overall quality of the mares covered, though obviously in his case quality remains very high.

Northern Dancer, sire of Sadler’s Wells and grandsire of both Galileo and Danehill (by Danzig), hails from a totally different era of the international breeding industry. He went to stud in 1965, and the pattern system was not instituted in the U.S. until 1973. Consequently, several of his best offspring, including his very best, English Triple Crown winner Nijinsky II, raced before there was such a thing as Grade 1 or Group 1 races to embellish stud records. Even the most cursory perusal of the list of Northern Dancer’s top horses before the pattern system reveals at least six horses (Nijinsky II, Fanfreluche, Lauries Dancer, One for All, True North, Lyphard) who won races that were clearly of Grade 1 or Group 1 status at the time. Adding those six to Northern Dancer’s list of Grade 1/Group 1 winners would increase his strike rate to foals to a phenomenal 5%.

As great as Galileo is - and he is a truly great stallion - his numbers do not quite match up to his immediate predecessors, his sire, Sadler’s Wells, and the globe-trotting Danehill.

And none of them match up to their paternal ancestor Northern Dancer, the greatest sire any of us are ever likely to see.