It tugged at my heart, as it must have for many whose lives have been impacted by Thoroughbreds, to read of Galileo’s passing at the age of 23.

Of course, he cemented his legend status long ago. Today I saw a replay of his first race, shared in honor of his brilliance that was evident from the start as he reached the wire ten lengths in front. It was almost too easy for him, and the heights he reached and the mark he left on racing and the lives of people who knew him, only grew from there. He excelled as a sire, as one could hope a horse from such a top-notch family would.

In May 2012, he was fourteen years old and well established as a stallion, in the midst of a seven-year run as Britain and Ireland’s leading sire. I point out this time frame specifically as it when I was fortunate to have my path intersect with his at Coolmore Stud in Ireland. I was there for a course, Horse Health and Management in the Emerald Isle, and part of the curriculum was visiting the renowned farm. Our instructor for the course had a professional background with horses and managed the itinerary and assignments, and another instructor who was not horse-oriented traveled with us to manage other aspects of the course that were not related specifically to what we learned, like travel arrangements and if there were any issues with those or with people in the course. It stands out in my mind that though she did not have a horse background, it awed her to be in Galileo’s presence. I think that alone speaks to what people saw in him.

I was naturally awed as well. He was led down a tranquil path and led back and forth several times near the stallion stalls which looked like individual barns, small, but not connected as one unit. He had a small protrusion from a colic surgery but it did not diminish his looks or the effect of his presence. In fact, it seemed a reminder of what he had endured and that is was good he was still alive and well. My primary impression of him besides the awe, which probably evoked it, was how he carried himself. Self-assured. Calm. Almost stately. I would say, like many great horses do, he almost sensed that he was a cut above many. And if horse herd hierarchy has anything to do with it and being descended from a multitude of superior horses that imparted that sense of dominance, he probably did sense that in the way a horse would, not with arrogance like a human may but just that unshakeable notion of his place in the world.

I will always be grateful that visit with Galileo was possible. And for that, I respect any request Coolmore made, but I couldn’t help but be curious why they told all present from my class not to share the photos of him we took that day, as I have seen others visit and share photos. And our instructor made it a condition of passing the course, to ensure we honored it, saying she would immediately fail anyone who did. Hearing the request directly from the stallion manager was all I needed to hear, and to this day I have kept those photos unshared publicly and likely will continue to do so. Yet as I look back on that it strikes me now if anyone did decide go ahead and share those photos, the consequences of failing a class that occurred in another country could well have been more significant than a bad grade on a college transcript. It could well have meant effectively unenrolling from the course and having to go home early and not via the flight already paid for. Not worth it!

A few years later, I went back to Ireland by myself for the first time, in a visit coinciding with Irish Champions Weekend, two stellar days of racing at Leopardstown and the Curragh. Galileo’s son Churchill won the Vincent O’Brien National Stakes, a Group 1 race for 2-year-olds. It was the colt’s first attempt at a Group 1 race, and as I look back at his race record, I think how amazing it was to be there one day to see a horse of his caliber. That type of runner is every bit of what people hope for and frequently got from Galileo.

Churchill won all but his maiden at age two, and burst through with a victory in his second career start. He was not quite the same at age 3, winning twice in seven starts, but he was a horse that anyone would be glad to have in a racing stable.

Not long after that trip to Ireland, I began freelance work editing the Stallion Register for BloodHorse. While the idea was to proofread as quickly yet as accurately as possible, the first time each year I worked there I came across a page featuring Galileo, it was a marvel at how long the list of current year’s stakes winners would be for him. For most stand-out stallions, 3 lines of black-type winners looked significant. Galileo’s list for the year would reach paragraph status, without fail. I think the way I paused to note that was a link back to seeing him in Ireland, and encapsulated a small bit of the awe I felt seeing him.

So one part of his story came to an end on July 10, 2021. And because of the awe he evoked in me on several levels, that is why I felt the tug at my heart that reading of his passing left. There is a void from such an ending.

But also there is the knowledge, as evident as the way Galileo carried himself that strongly suggested he knew his greatness, that such a being leaves a tremendous legacy that will endure beyond the time he physically existed. In fact, his son Bolshoi Ballet showcased that, as no doubt his descendants will for years to come, by winning the Grade 1 Belmont Derby Invitational Stakes the day his sire passed.

I know that feeling of gratitude at being in Galileo’s presence will remain with me.