Racing: Chaparral triumphs but O'Brien rues a calamity

Breeders' Cup: Victory in the Turf is overshadowed as pilot error is blamed for Rock Of Gibraltar's record-breaking run ending in the Mile

By Richard Edmondson
Monday 28 October 2002 01:00

Chicago is used to violent occurrences, most famously for the day when seven members of the Bugsy Moran gang were lined up against a garage wall and shot by mobsters dressed as cops. The date, 14 February, sealed its place in infamy.

The racing equivalent occurred north-west of downtown here at Arlington Park on Saturday as Breeders' Cup XIX served up the event's usual compound of exhilaration and calamity.

High Chaparral's victory in the Turf, in which he found the heart to overtake The Tin Man at the top of the stretch before surging clear, is the pleasant image to store away from racing's Olympics. More powerful though are the flashbacks from the Mile, which witnessed the end of Rock Of Gibraltar's perfect season, the end of Landseer's life.

Even old Al Capone himself would probably have been sickened by the sight of the French 2,000 Guineas winner galloping on three legs at full pelt after shattering a cannon bone.

Landseer's death meant it was not easy to dwell on the defeat of Rock Of Gibraltar. The word from Ballydoyle yesterday was that the Rock could run in Hong Kong in December or even be kept in training next season, yet the odds must be that Saturday's valiant stretch run will be the last time we see his sleek form flashing across the racecourse.

There will never be an end to the argument about whether it was the favourite's wide draw or the huge question asked of him by Michael Kinane which contributed most to Rock Of Gibraltar's failure.

Those behind his three-quarters-of-a-length conqueror, Pascal Bary's Domedriver, were keen to point out that the best horse had actually won. It was almost as if they had not seen the race, which was in fact the truth as all the connections were trapped in an elevator as Thierry Thulliez struck on his first ride in the series.

Rock Of Gibraltar was in a bad place too for much of his race, initially at the very back and then around the outside. "Everything had to go well for him for the second half of the race, but he ended up trapped," Aidan O'Brien, the trainer, said.

"We've had a great season with him and things have been working great, and today was just one of those days that didn't go perfect. Everything is made of flesh and blood and it doesn't happen the same every time. Today it just didn't work for him.

"We all saw the acceleration that he really has. Everyone has to handicap horses on what they can do, how many pounds and lengths. I thought what he did in the last two furlongs was unbelievable. It was just a pity for him that he didn't win. It was just one of those days. That was always his forte. He can relax at any pace and have an unbelievable burst of speed at the end."

High Chaparral apart, a positive could be taken from Hold That Tiger's run in the Juvenile. The two-year-old appeared a dreadful misnomer at the start of his race as he came out of the gate and round the first bend with all the venom of a rabbit.

From then on, though, he knuckled down and did it all in one breath, ultimately staying on to be third behind Vindication. The Americans will be seeing more of the chestnut.

"You'd have to be impressed with him," O'Brien said. "We came here hoping to find a horse maybe to come back for the Kentucky Derby. I think if I was riding him myself I would probably have pulled him up before coming down the back. Kieren [Fallon] didn't beat him up so I think he would have had a good experience and would only come on for the run. He's obviously a really good colt and I think he's a horse to look forward to for next year."

Hold That Tiger's experience highlighted a considerable European weakness at this series. The start. At home, the visiting horses are taught to settle in contests which build to a crescendo. In the United States, the whole orchestra plays from the outset. You need to start quickly.

"The pace of the races is so fast early and I think it takes a couple of runs early before they really grasp it," O'Brien said. "I think the horse last year, Johannesburg [who won the Juvenile at Belmont Park] was unusually very, very fast and that's how he got away with it. Obviously I would say we have to sharpen up.

"The way the American horses break and the way they run those first two furlongs, well you can do all the schooling until you're blue in the face, but it's very hard to teach them to do that in a race."

It had all been a considerable impact on the emotions, not least after the Mile, when O'Brien was choking back the tears. "It was just one of those things, just one of those days," the trainer said. "It was a big pity about Landseer. When that happens, what can you say, it's terrible.

"Obviously, it was great that High Chaparral won. It was good to go home a winner." It was good to go home at all.

Late switch forced on C4

Channel 4's new lunchtime racing programme starts today with the the first race at Bangor. A late change was forced when the original 12.45 contest failed to attract enough runners for each-way betting on the first three.

The half-hour terrestrial programme, which starts at 12.30pm, will instead now feature a handicap chase, originally due off at 3.20. Plans for jockeys to wear special identifying caps had to be shelved due to the late switch.

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