There are many reasons why horse racing draws in such big crowds: the stories, the betting, the entertainment. But one thing that constantly draws more and more attention to the sport that we love is the rivalries we see renewing themselves year after year. In this article, I will take you through and perhaps remind you of three of the greatest rivalries that our sport has ever seen.
Galileo vs Fantastic Light
In 2001, the racing world was gifted two magnificent duels between two of the greatest horses we have ever seen; Galileo and Fantastic Light. The former was the younger of the two, an unbeaten duel Derby winner, whereas Fantastic Light was a five year old and had previously won five times at the highest level.
The two of them first met in the 2001 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot, where they locked horns in an epic battle that saw Galileo come out victorious. Galileo was sent off as the 1/2 favourite and Fantastic Light started at odds of 7/2, and after the older horse joined the Derby winner a furlong from home in the Ascot showpiece, they went level for a number of strides before Galileo asserted and went clear to win by two lengths.
A rematch was scheduled for the Irish Champions Stakes in September at Leapordstown, this time the Godolphin-owned Fantastic Light would come back with a vengeance. Under orders to ride more positively this time, Frankie Dettori sent Fantastic Light to the lead two furlongs from home, and the pair were almost immediately joined by Mick Kinane on Galileo. The two horses fought it out head to head right up to the line where Fantastic Light prevailed by a head to gain his revenge.
A third race between the two superstars was due to take place in the Breeders Cup Classic at Belmont Park in New York, however Fantastic Light’s owners, Godolphin, opted instead to send their horse to the Breeders Cup Turf and would run their Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner, Sakhee, against Galileo. This proved to be a smart decision as Fantastic Light won the Breeders Cup Turf, whereas Galileo could finish no better than sixth in the Classic.
Maybe had his owners decided to send Galileo to the Breeders Cup Turf instead we might have had that rematch between the two champions. In regards as to what the result would have been we will never know, but rest assured it would have been one incredible race.
Willie Mullins vs Gordon Elliott
Two giants of the National Hunt world; Gordon Elliott and Willie Mullins can both boast fantastic records and multiple big race successes. They have both won a Grand National and have enjoyed multiple winners at the Cheltenham Festival. But with two stables of such a high calibre containing a multitude of talented horses, it is no surprise that both Mullins and Elliott have clashed on multiple occasions, but their escapades of the 2016/17 season stand above all else.
At the very start of the season, news emerged that Gigginstown House Stud would be withdrawing all of their horses from Willie Mullins’ Closutton base and dispersing them amongst five other trainers, with Gordon Elliott becoming their main trainer. This was met with mixed reviews, and many believed that this alteration would basically hand Elliott the Irish Trainer’s Championship – but if there’s one thing we learned from last season, it’s that it isn’t over until it’s over.
Both stables were dealt a number of injuries to their top horses throughout the season, which didn’t make life easy for either of them. For Mullins, he lost his superstar Vautour at the start of the season and had other stars ruled out of their major races due to a variety of injuries and niggles, in particular Faugheen, Min and Annie Power were notable setbacks. Gordon Elliott was not let of easily though, as he too saw two of his stable stars ruled out of their big race targets through injury: Don Cossack and Don Poli.
Despite these absentees, these two top trainers were still able to each assemble a classy team to take to the Cheltenham Festival, with both Mullins and Elliott winning six races apiece; although the latter took the title of leading trainer based on the number of placings that his horses won.
Gordon Elliott stayed in the lead of the Irish Trainer’s Championship for much of the season, but Mullins fought back leading up to and during the Punchestown Festival, and even the €400,000 lead that Elliott held at the beginning of the week was not enough to hold back the imposing machine that is the Willie Mullins stable.
An epic tussle between two juggernauts of the sport drew a lot of new attention to racing, and both stables look set to go head to head once again in this upcoming season. If the clash is anything like it was last year then we are in for a fantastic few months of racing action.
Coolmore vs Godolphin
When it comes to owners, surely there are no two bigger operations than that of Godolphin and Coolmore. Both of these establishments are renowned for making stallions; Coolmore have brought us the likes of Galileo, High Chaparral and Sadler’s Wells, whereas Godolphin (Darley) own great stallions such as Dubawi, New Approach and Helmet
This aim that both owners hold, to create the ultimate stallion, makes the rivalry even greater as it allows us, the racing public, to watch the greatest horses do battle time and time again in order to prove who the best is.
Godolphin, run by the Maktoum family, was established in 1992 and has been an international success since 1994. On the other hand, Coolmore Stud has been an international business thanks to the work of John Magnier since the 1970s when they began to buy into American stallions, namely Northern Dancer.
Both Coolmore and Godolphin want to be the best racing business in the world, they want to make stallions, they want to be successful. Since both establishments have got such large strings of horses, it means that their paths will often cross on the big stages such as the Derby and Royal Ascot, although I might add that Godolphin still have yet to win a Derby whereas Coolmore have had an excellent record in the race since their first success with Galileo in 2001.
Some of the most iconic clashes between the two owners include Galileo and Fantastic Light, Ribchester and Minding, and Harry Angel and Caravaggio. Each of those clashes has provided a race to savour.
With Godolphin and Coolmore refusing to use each other’s stallions it seems as if this rivalry may last for a long time to come, but it can’t help but make you wonder what would happen if these two giants of our sport were to mix their stock.
Article By Niamh Townsend