Racing: Rock unshakeable as he matches feat of great Mill Reef

Glorious Goodwood: Sir Alex Ferguson's three-year-old earns another £150,000, taking the colt's winnings close to the million pound mark

By Richard Edmondson
Wednesday 15 January 2014 03:31
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The need for a referendum on the Rock Of Gibraltar is over. By statistic and visual impression the bay colt of Ireland is now officially one of the very great horses of the modern era, a colt with six consecutive Group One victories to his credit.

The only other animal to achieve this feat was a horse called Mill Reef, two words which endure as hallmarks in this sport, over 30 years after the winner of Europe's top middle-distance races last galloped in anger.

Rock Of Gibraltar is a different animal in that his successes this season have come exclusively at a mile. The brilliance, however, is symmetrical, and in the Sussex Stakes here yesterday he suggested he is getting better with each engagement.

A breathtaking victory was achieved against a disturbing backcloth. Aidan O'Brien, the colt's trainer, said his champion would come on for this outing after a small break, which is worrying for those who might come up against the dynamite hooves in future.

The master of Ballydoyle further added that sickness has been sweeping through his yard and he would be unsurprised if Rock Of Gibraltar showed debilitating signs in yesterday's aftermath. In that instance, the worst case scenario would be that the Rock would never roll again. That was worrying for all of us.

The majority of the three-year-olds at the Co Tipperary stable are now in the infirmary. That means that neither Hawk Wing nor Sophisticat will be fulfilling imminent engagements. A rare cloud has gathered over the clear blue sky of Ballydoyle.

The ramifications of that are to come, but for now we can glory in the most recent achievement of Rock Of Gibraltar. Sir Alex Ferguson, the fast horse's joint-owner, had flown in from a Manchester United pre-season fixture in Norway bearing the thought that his possession might be damaged goods. He would have been assuaged as soon as the odds-on favourite entered the parade ring.

The Rock emerged with a human chaperone on each side. There were traces of moisture at the top of his legs. He was ready to go. Elsewhere, No Excuse Needed was baring his teeth. That was about as aggressive as he got. Noverre, last year's Sussex Stakes winner, looked mournful. He had good right to be. He circled with a white face and four white socks. Later it was to be the white flag.

O'Brien rubbed out as many of the imponderables as he could by sending out Sahara Desert as a pacemaker. Noverre followed him initially and then Richard Hannon's Reel Buddy came to the front with a persuasive effort in the straight. The unbelievers among us thought this might have been a decisive move, but then the eye tracked back to Michael Kinane. He was so confident from so far out.

The jockey looked back through his legs, disdainfully checking out the opposition he knew was not already beaten. It is rare for a jockey to do this and not win a race. It is the ultimate sign of confidence. But then Kinane knew what was on his side. "I was amazed at him going down [to the start] today," the Irishman said after piloting a late run which took him to a two-length victory.

"He wanted to have a buck and a kick. He was just so full of himself. He was so well and so happy to be here. It's very hard to find that quality in horses. He loves to come and do his work.

"No matter how quick the others go Rock Of Gibraltar is always in control. That was a great performance. He is the ultimate racehorse."

O'Brien was relieved to welcome back his winner. He was just relieved to welcome back a healthy athlete. "We took a big chance running him today and we'll have to see how he is," the trainer said. "Today the big risk was that he wouldn't be 100 per cent, he would be well beat and they would have said the three-year-olds were not up to scratch. They look to be a decent bunch this year.

"He's in the two Group Ones at York over a mile and a quarter [the International Stakes] and five furlongs [the Nunthorpe Stakes] and it is unusual to have a horse that you wouldn't mind running in either. He was proving hard to pull up today. He's just top class and has come through all his tests. It's very rare to have a horse that doesn't mind any distance or going."

In the last race yesterday, the Charlton Stakes, Zuhair won the contest for a remarkable fourth year in a row. He left some modest early-season form behind as he swooped late to collect the sprint.

Today's offering on the West Sussex downs is dominated by the Goodwood Cup, which, in recent years, has been dominated itself by Mark Johnston, the winner of four of the last seven runnings.

The Middleham trainer's representatives this afternoon are And Beyond and Double Honour, who was second last year and again has the title holder Persian Punch in his way. Most dangerous of all though could be Godolphin's HATHA ANNA (3.20), who was fourth on his seasonal debut in the Ascot Gold Cup.

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