Racing: Bittersweet day for Rock and Chaparral

Breeders' Cup: Derby hero triumphs after Fergie's tough diamond loses little in defeat on a day clouded by tragedy
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The Independent Online

There was defeat and destruction here in the Breeders' Cup Mile yesterday, the end of Rock Of Gibraltar's Group One sequence and the ultimate end for poor Landseer.

The Rock survives with his reputation intact after a stretch run that will live long in the memory, a Dancing Brave moment as he came from somewhere downtown to pass all but the French horse, Domedriver.

The abiding, savage recollection of Breeders' Cup XIX, though, will be the demise of Landseer, who shattered a cannon bone on the entrance to the straight and had, as they say round here, to be euthanized. It was a cruel centrepoint for racing's Olympics.

There was later the rekindling of High Chaparral's Derby-winning talent in the Turf, but it was a sombre and reduced celebration after Kinane had forced the son of Sadler's Wells right down to the wire.

Neither of the Mile horses trained at Balldoyle by Aidan O'Brien exhibited any sign of physical or mental deterioration as they circled amid the yellow, purple and lilac blooms of the paddock behind the main clubhouse. Their glossy hides moved with a considerable degree of calm. Rock Of Gibraltar's ears were erect, as if solid. In the crowd there was evidence of Irish support, bright red jackets and baseball caps bearing the legend of "The Rock".

The first bend was always to be the crisis point of the Mile, such was its proximity to the stalls. Rock Of Gibraltar missed the kick and was then steadied by Kinane. That left just two behind.

Halfway down the far side, the favourite's red and white silks could be seen being reined back to last position. It was a perilous strategy which leant on the hope that the partnership would get a clear run in the straight. That died with Landseer, who was ahead, galloping to destruction.

The French 2,000 Guineas winner was probably travelling as fast as he had in his life when his cannon bone shattered on the turn into the straight. It made the act of pulling him up all the more difficult, all the more horrible as the lower portion of his off fore swung around, held on by little more than skin.

"I was in full flight, going forwards nicely," Edgar Prado, the jockey, said. "It happened so quickly. I heard a crack. I tried to pull him up, but he was in a full run. I feel terrible for the horse."

The scramble caused by the stricken Landseer caused an explosion, a scattering of horses, in the middle of the field. Kinane briefly swerved the melée and began to flash past horse after horse as Rock Of Gibraltar produced a stunning run through the gears. Back at his home in Wilmslow, the Rock's owner, Sir Alex Ferguson, who was watching on television, may have felt that he was going to be rescued for the second time in a sporting day by a late incursion.

However, Ferguson, who takes defeat as happily as he accepts poison, had actually lost interest in the result. Rock Of Gibraltar's finishing position became an irrelevance. "He's numb," Mike Dillon, Ferguson's racing manager, said. "All he can think of are the horse, John [Magnier] and Michael [Tabor, owners of Landseer]."

The manner of defeat made Rock Of Gibraltar's failure even harder to take. A run of seven successive Group Ones was arrested by a failure in racing justice and possibly caused by the death of a stablemate. "I had to bide my time," Kinane said, "and I was just getting going turning into the straight when Landseer had his injury and that cost me momentum when I was going forward. I suppose the winner had a handy position on the inner and that's what made the difference. He's still a great horse ­ the best I have ever ridden. The best horse didn't win today."

Rock Of Gibraltar now retires after 13 career starts to the Co Tipperary pastures of the Coolmore Stud, where his next profession will be the attempt to recreate runners as good as himself. He takes with him a host of glorious images.

The sickened Ballydoyle troops reassembled 90 minutes later for the Juvenile, in which they sent out three runners. There was to be no mercy. The Irish triumvirate occupied the last three places going round the first turn and from there there could be no rescue. Hold That Tiger ran an extraordinary race, scrubbing around at the very rear of the field until Kieren Fallon persuaded him to engage in the business of horseracing halfway down the back.

From that moment he too started to fly around the outside of the field, passing all but Vindication and Kafwain. He will be back Stateside, presumably after intense stalls schooling, for the Kentucky Derby. A price of 10-1 is available with Coral. "He was not as streetwise as the American horses," Fallon said, "but he faced the dirt and the next time out he will know a lot more. He flew home and could be a [Kentucky] Derby horse."

The tide was still against the Europeans in the Filly & Mare Turf, which was led for much of the way by Godolphin's hulking filly, Kazzia. She gave way at the top of the stretch and was passed by both Islington and Gossamer. But she was passed even more quickly by Starine and Banks Hill as the Newmarket fillies plugged on to finish third and fifth respectively.