Galileo/Danehill is "Nick of the Moment"

With the game triumph of Roderic O’Connor in Saturday's Irish 2,000 Guineas (gr. I) following hot-on-the-heels of the smooth victory of Golden Lilac in the Poule d'Essai des Pouliches-French 1,000 Guineas (gr. I) one week ago, and Frankel’s runaway English 2,000 Guineas (gr. I) win three weeks ago, the cross of Galileo and mares by Danehill has become the classic “nick of the moment."


Galileo defeats Fantastic Light in the 2001 King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes (gr. I)


Of course, with Galileo succeeding his sire Sadler’s Wells as Europe’s leading stallion, and Danehill daughters having already produced 157 stakes winners worldwide, it’s tempting to credit the combination's success as being merely a natural consequence of the quality of the components.

A look at the raw statistics available on the TrueNicks Enhanced Report demonstrates that not to be the case, showing that the cross between Galileo and mares by Danehill has resulted in 10 stakes winners from 62 starters. This is 16% stakes winners to starters, twice the stakes production strike rate that Galileo has enjoyed when bred to all other mares, and nearly three times the percentage of stakes winners achieved by Danehill mares that have starters by Galileo when bred to all other sires. It is also worth noting that the stakes production rate of the Danehill mares that have visited Galileo is within half a percent of that achieved by Danehill mares when bred to all other stallions, which indicates, initially at least, that Galileo did not have the advantage of covering Danehill mares that were especially distinguished.

Surprisingly, given its current standing, the Galileo/Danehill nick made a very tame initial foray. There were actually only two starters by Galileo out of mares by Danehill in Galileo’s first Northern Hemisphere crop – suggesting there were no particularly great expectations from the union – and they were the minor winners Galilean and Senora Galilei. Instead, and rather ironically in view of the fact of his eventual limited impact in Australia, the first stakes winners on the Galileo/Danehill cross – Banc de Fortune and Miss Galilei – came in his first Southern Hemisphere-sired crop (they being two of only four starters on the cross in that crop).

It was Galileo’s second crop, foals of 2004, that yielded a quick change in perception of the potential of the union. Teofilo (TrueNicks) (out of Speirbhean, and a brother to one of the first crop winners, Senora Galilei) swept through an undefeated five-race juvenile campaign that saw him capture the Tyro Stakes, Futurity Stakes (gr. II), National Stakes (gr. I), and Dewhurst Stakes (gr. I, video below) to earn honours as Europe’s champion 2-year-old. Injury prevented Teofilo – the only starter for Galileo out of a Danehill mare from the 2004 Northern Hemisphere crop – from racing at 3, but as we will see, the message he’d sent had been taken to heart.


Teofilo triumphs over Holy Roman Emperor in the 2006 Darley Dewhurst Stakes (gr. I)


In the meantime, the Galileo/Danehill cross continued to enjoy a modest measure of success from its limited opportunities. In the 2005 foal crop, from four Galileo/Danehill starters came Cima de Triomphe, hero of the Italian Derby (gr. I), and stakes-placed Via Galilei. The Galileo/Danehill quartet also included Slaney Wave, a non-winning brother to Teofilo, and one wonders how the cross would have developed had Slaney Wave, not Teofilo, been the 2004 foal from Speirbhean. Perhaps there would have been no Frankel, no Golden Lilac, and no Roderic O’Connor!

When considering Teofilo, Slaney Wave, and Senora Galilei, it give us pause to consider the vagaries of genetics when it comes to pedigree theories such as Thoroughbred nicking. At a molecular level, there are clearly some variants within performance genes that Danehill had, and it is probable that these variants either support or enhance similar or complementary performance genes carried by Galileo. Thus, the concept of Thoroughbred nicking is a sound one, even if there are rare occurrences of such a strongly defined affinity as this. However, it is also clear with the number of attempts seen to date that not all Danehill mares inherited these performance variants to pass on to their foals and, equally, those that do still have the varies of Mendelian inheritance, gene interaction with environment, and the environment itself to contend with – hence the varying abilities of three full relations.

Galileo’s 2006 and 2007 crops yielded, respectively, seven and six starters out of Danehill mares. From 2006 came the two-time group III winner Cuis Ghaire, and stakes-placed Acteur Celebre. The following year’s crop saw no stakes winners bred on the cross, although three of the six starters were stakes-placed. The cross did enjoy more success with its Southern Hemisphere born foals, however, with the 2006 foal Sidera earning group stakes honours in South Africa, and the 2007 foal Reem winning at stakes level in the UAE.

We mentioned earlier that the success of Teofilo, racing as a 2-year-old of 2006, had sent a message to European breeders, and that is very apparent when we look at the Galileo foal crop of 2008 (conceived in the year immediately following Teofilo’s 2-year-old season). That crop produced a total of 166 registered foals, of whom 17 were out of mares by Danehill. To date, 12 of these have started and 11 are winners. Remarkably, the three stakes winners bred on the cross – Frankel, Golden Lilac, and Roderic O’Connor – are now classic winners, and we’d have to wonder when there were last three individual classic winners in the same season by an individual sire out of mares by the same broodmare sire.


Frankel dominates the 2011 QIPCO English 2,000 Guineas (gr. I)


Looking back, it’s not actually terribly surprising that the Galileo/Danehill cross has taken some time to find its feet, or at least to have serious numerical opportunity. The oldest Danehill mares – generally not as well-bred as his later daughters – were only 11 years old when Galileo retired to stud, and at that time there were really no pointers to encourage wholesale testing of the nick. The record of the cross of Galileo’s sire, Sadler’s Wells, with Danehill mares certainly didn’t offer any encouragement. In fact, at that time, it was actually a cross that had distinctly limited opportunity, with only 14 starters. This is understandable, as there were a number of factors that potentially militated against testing Sadler’s Wells with mares by Danehill, among them being the shortage of Danehill mares qualified enough to visit Sadler’s Wells in his prime; concerns about the resulting 2x4 inbreeding to Northern Dancer; and from a conformation standpoint, worries about a “worst of both worlds” result which could see a foal inherit light bone from Sadler’s Wells combined with Danehill’s tendency to sire offspring that were back-at-the-knee. The 14 starters on the Sadler’s Wells/Danehill cross did produce two stakes winners, but they can’t have been an influence on any decision-making process involving Galileo’s runners to date, as that duo, Bullet Train (a three-quarter-brother to Frankel) and Precious Gem, didn’t earn their black type winning status until 2010. It’s also worth noting that Bullet Train and Precious Gem are also the only two stakes winners for Sadler’s Wells out of mares by Danzig and his sons, although the sire did get 2007 group III winner Liscanna out of a mare by Danehill Dancer, a son of Danehill.

If the cross of Sadler’s Wells himself with mares descending from Danehill and Danzig was unspectacular, the same can be said of most other variations on the theme, other than the cross of Galileo with Danehill mares cross. There are 122 starters from the cross of all other sons of Sadler’s Wells and mares by Danehill, for just six stakes winners (by comparison, Galileo’s stud-mate Montjeu has just one stakes winner from 30 starters out of mares by Danehill). The union of Galileo with mares by sons of Danehill has resulted in just one stakes winner (group III scorer Prima Luce) from 27 starters, and trying other sons of Sadler’s Wells with mares by Danehill sons has generally proved an exercise in futility, with one stakes winner (Australian black type scorer Scenic Fair) from 79 starters. Clearly there is something unique to a considerable proportion of Danehill mares that suits Galileo from a genetic and biomechanical standpoint.

A look at the TrueNicks Enhanced Report, using Frankel as an example, reveals some other interesting background. As well as outperforming the sire and broodmare sire in percentage of stakes winners, the Galileo/Danehill cross has been a strong influence for quality, supplying seven of Galileo’s 41 group or graded winners (17%) and five of his 21 group or grade I winners (nearly 24%), although it has provided only a little better than 6% of Galileo’s starters. Four of the stakes winners are colts, six are fillies, but all four of the stakes-winning colts are group I winners, three of them achieving that distinction at 2 (Frankel and Roderic O’Connor at 2 and 3). In addition to conferring precocity, the nick also appears to convey a measure of speed. The average winning distance for the offspring of Galileo and Danehill mares is 8.58 furlongs – 9.10 furlongs for the colts, 7.96 furlongs for the fillies (slightly shorter than the average distance over which they have raced) – compared to an average winning distance of 10.21 furlongs for the offspring of Galileo with all other mares.



Click here to view the TrueNicks Enhanced report for the Galileo/Danehill nick

Miss Galilei has shown the most stamina out of the stakes winners for the cross, scoring a listed win over 1½ miles in South Africa. Of the group and graded winners, Cima de Triomphe’s Italian Derby (gr. I) win came at 11 furlongs, but most of them have been best at around a mile (although Teofilo was injured before he could attempt a distance in excess of seven furlongs, and Frankel, Golden Lilac, and Roderic O’Connor have yet to be tested over further than the Guineas trip). Of course, Danehill sired top-class winners across the complete range of distances, and so the data almost certainly reflects the understandable tendency to breed Galileo to Danehill mares with some speed in the background: there is no doubt if bred to stouter versions the offspring would have good prospects of staying Derby distances.

One thing is certain, the Galileo/Danehill cross is going to have plenty of opportunity in the future. There are 19 foals out of Danehill mares in Galileo’s 2009 foal crop, and a further 25 foals bred the same way from his 2010 crop. It will be very interesting to see how many Danehill mares have visited Galileo when the 2011 breeding season closes out and how many more are bred to him in 2012 on the back of this classic treble.

In the past, the team at Coolmore – the home to both Galileo and Danehill – could be considered to have brought about the appearance of genetic affinities by breeding one of their leading sires to high class daughters of another, with the inherent class of the immediate ancestors being more responsible for positive outcomes rather than a particularly strong genetic sympathy between the elements of the cross. Here Coolmore seem to have the best of both worlds, with a true genetic affinity occurring between two of their best stallions to ever stand in the Golden Vale of Tipperary. What’s more, with Galileo himself only 13 years old, and the youngest daughters of Danehill only seven, this should, as they say, “run and run.”

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