A piece of work intended to set Galileo Gold up for a trip to France actually paved the way for 2000 Guineas glory at Newmarket in 2016.
Hugo Palmer had sent his chestnut colt to the Craven meeting for a spin under Frankie Dettori in preparation for the French Guineas – but such was the feeling the son of Paco Boy gave the Italian, he immediately suggested an alternative plan.
It proved to be an inspired switch in targets and one that gave Palmer his first British Classic winner, having struck in the previous year’s Irish Oaks at the Curragh with Covert Love.
The Newmarket trainer said: “All winter the French Guineas had been the plan, and he had the English entry because why not.
“I remember he worked at the Craven meeting – Newmarket’s rules are you can gallop on the racecourse if you have a Group One entry and I remember feeling almost fraudulent because we’ve got a Group One entry, but we’re going run in France, not here.
“I asked Frankie afterwards if he thought he’d be competitive in the French Guineas and he said ‘why do you want to go to France, this will win any Guineas’. He worked really, really well – he really opened up and gave Frankie a hell of a buzz.”
It was a third win in the colts’ Classic for Dettori – a mere 20 years on from his first success through Mark Of Esteem – and after crossing over from the centre of the track to bag the rail, the 14-1 chance never looked like being caught once clear.
Massaat, runner-up to Air Force Blue in the Dewhurst, ran a blinder for first-season trainer Owen Burrows in second, with Ribchester flying the flag for Richard Fahey and the north in third.
The mile showpiece was supposed to revolve around champion juvenile Air Force Blue, but Ryan Moore never looked particularly happy on the Aidan O’Brien-trained favourite, who was sent off at 4-5 but beat just one home.
Of the race, Palmer remembered: “It was a really horrible April day, it was overcast, grim and cold.
“I remember the horse disappearing from view briefly from where I was standing and when he came back into view you could see Frankie’s bottom motionless and everyone else was just beginning to niggle.
“That was probably at about the three (furlong pole) and I remember thinking then ‘we might win this’. I watched almost in stunned disbelief – from that moment on there was never a moment when you thought he wasn’t going to win.
“It was smooth sailing straight to the line. I hoped and believed and dreamed it might happen, but those things you shut your eyes and dream of, you never really believe they will happen until they actually do.
“It was just a hugely exciting day and he took us on an exciting season.”
Palmer’s charge was second next time out in the Irish Guineas to Awtaad, before landing the St James’s Palace Stakes and finishing second in the Sussex Stakes in tussles with French Guineas winner The Gurkha.
Palmer said: “He didn’t lose much in defeat when things hadn’t completely gone his way in Ireland, then came back and won the St James’s Palace and he ran a huge race at Goodwood.
“Who knows, it’s amazing how sometimes luck falls you way, because he met The Gurkha twice, beat him a couple of lengths at Ascot and The Gurkha beat him a couple of inches at Goodwood. If they’d met in the French Guineas, you never know, he might not have been a Classic winner.
“My big regret was taking him to Jacques le Marois, he got very wound up in Deauville. It was too quick between races and he got very buzzed up. He was never the same horse again.”
As befits a Guineas winner, talk in the immediate aftermath was of whether he would go for the Derby, but after much deliberation it was decided to miss Epsom.
Palmer explained: “We did talk about it, my overriding lifetime ambition is to win the Derby and so it took quite a lot of restraint – when he crossed the line he was immediately Derby favourite.
“I just couldn’t believe a horse that had been too keen over six furlongs first time out and had got beaten as a result could ever stay a mile and a half. I had terrible visions of what happened to Dawn Approach happening.
“We did actually do a genetic test to see if there was anything that suggested he could stay that distance, and the test came back that, at least on their findings, there was no way a mile and a half was going to be within his compass, so that just kind of knocked it on the head really.
“If it had come back and there was a degree of uncertainty in the test, I think we’d have had to give it a swing. But he’s my only Royal Ascot winner to date and if we’d gone to the Derby and been beaten, it’s unlikely he’d have won the St James’s Palace, although Dawn Approach did of course.”
His four-year-old campaign was cut short after his return in the Lockinge Stakes at Newbury.
Palmer said: “He came back from the Lockinge with a low-grade soft tissue injury, that if he were a gelding he would probably have been able to very happily run in the following year’s Lockinge or similar – we could have tried other things with him. He was very fast and I wouldn’t have ruled out a July Cup with him or maybe a Prix de la Foret.
“But unfortunately he picked up that injury and as a Classic winner and a colt, the obvious thing was to retire him.
“It won’t be long and we’ll be looking at his yearlings at the sales this autumn, if they happen. He was a very good horse and is bred to be a stallion. He was very fast, a dual Group One winner and he’d have to have a chance.”
Nothing stands still in racing, of course, and Palmer, who is now firmly established as part of the training elite, is like everyone else hoping more big-race glory is around the corner.
He said: “That’s always the thing with training horses, you’re always dreaming, but we’ve got some lovely horses this year, so let’s just hope we can have the opportunity to run them.”