Racing: Rock Of Gibraltar set for stud but O'Brien to unleash fresh talent

It started with Mick Easterby's Middlethorpe on the soft ground of Doncaster back on 21 March and, on the same Town Moor terrain on Saturday, Tom Tun consigned the 2002 turf Flat season to the wing mirrors.

It is for a winged horse that the twitching campaign will best be remembered, Rock Of Gibraltar, who completed a record seven successive Group One victories in Europe and would have made it eight had the fates not been hanging on to his legs in the Breeders' Cup Mile in Chicago two weeks ago.

Before the day is out we should have word on whether the Rock is to stretch his glorious career into a third season. The response, sadly, is almost certain to be in the negative. Rock Of Gibraltar's name has already appeared in Coolmore's list of stallions for 2003, the phrase "fee to be arranged" attached. His place in racing history is already established.

While Godolphin may breathe a sigh of relief at his departure it would quickly need to be followed by a gasp. For while the Rock is on his way it now appears Aidan O'Brien will next year fight the Dubai team on their fertile land of the older horse territory.

O'Brien's dual Derby and Breeders' Cup Turf winner High Chaparral, Hawk Wing, Black Sam Bellamy, Sholokhov and Milan form a formidable Irish battalion with which to wage conflict.

There will also be plenty of maiden three-year-olds in the yard after the virus paid a month-long summer visit to Ballydoyle. "As we missed the middle third of the season we have a lot of unraced or once-raced horses," O'Brien said yesterday, 25 hours after Alberto Giacometti had presented him with the Criterium de Saint-Cloud in Paris.

The horse named after the Swiss sculptor was ridden by Mick Kinane, who, yesterday, claimed his 12th Irish jockeys' title and first since 1999. It should have been a tight climax at Leopardstown as Kinane and Johnny Murtagh went into play on 76 apiece, but the former set the tone when he rode the first two winners and later gained hat-trick.

The victor in the British equivalent, for the fifth time, is Kieren Fallon, who, with gross competence, finished on 144, 18 ahead of Richard Hughes. Once again we are talking just Irishmen here.

Fallon's immediate reaction to his success was that it was a moderate figure. He has resolved to break the 200 barrier once again in 2003.

The portents for the National Hunt season ahead also came from over the Irish Sea at the weekend, most notably on the banks of the Lagan at Down Royal. This was the seat of defeat for both See More Business and Florida Pearl in the Champion Chase and perhaps an omen that a new guard, led by the Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Best Mate, is about to take over.

Moscow Flyer, the Arkle Trophy victor last spring, also won at the Ulster track and remains the rightful favourite for the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Another emerging Irish talent, Davenport Milenium, who is favourite for the Champion Hurdle in some places, will show his capabilities when the ground is better.

Florida Pearl's demise should not have produced great wailing. After all, it represented a hat-trick of defeats in this race on his seasonal reappearance. Yet it may be that time is getting to the old hero, as he was a forlorn figure at Willie Mullins's Closutton yard yesterday.

The trainer could barely disguise his criticism of Saturday's jockey, Barry Geraghty, whom he felt had Florida Pearl much too close to the pace. "He's quite stiff and sore and he's lost a fair bit of weight, consistent with doing too much in a race on that sort of ground," Mullins reported. "He had a very hard race.

"Just going on that far out in ground that heavy for his first run just took its toll. Our horse and See More Business certainly didn't hang about after Florida Pearl jumped to the front at the ninth. The way I saw it, they cut each other's throats and you can see that in the horse this morning. He's tired now and I hope it does not just mark him for the rest of the season.

"We're going to stick to the same plan all being well [the Durkan Chase at Punchestown followed by Kempton's King George VI Chase]. He has age on his side but you hate any horse getting that sort of drilling."

Bay brings back the big times for Bowen

The Pembrokeshire stable of Peter Bowen gained one its biggest pay days when Swansea Bay sprang a 14-1 surprise in the Badger Brewery Handicap Chase at Wincanton on Saturday.

The £29,000 first prize went to a gelding who, six months ago, had the yard wondering if he could win any sort of race over fences. But Swansea Bay's latest victory was his sixth from seven starts over jumps, confirming once again Bowen's skill at producing a sequence of wins from his charges.

"I bought him at the sales as an unbroken three-year-old as he was a half-brother to Gower-Slave, who won a lot of races for us," Bowen said later. Another big earner for the yard was Stately Home, who notched up 11 wins in the 1996-97 season.

Timmy Murphy enjoyed his first winner since returning to the saddle after a well-documented spell in prison when Santenay took the main hurdle contest at Wincanton.

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