Racing: Triumph for Ferguson as Rock surpasses Mill Reef

By Richard Edmondson
Monday 16 December 2013 03:09
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If only, Sir Alex Ferguson might muse, all his superstars were as reliable as Rock Of Gibraltar. The great horse, and he is most definitely great at the very least, will not be banging his hoof on the manager's door this morning even though he broke one of the most stern racing records in victory in the Prix du Moulin at Longchamp yesterday.

It takes, now just as much as it did back in the early Seventies, some horse to leave Mill Reef behind but Rock Of Gibraltar has done just that by recording a seventh successive Group One victory. He is now a legend in his own running lifetime.

While Mill Reef's triumphs were achieved in middle-distance events and included an illustrious treble of the Derby, King George and Arc of 1971, Rock Of Gibraltar is a miler, purely and dazzlingly. His six previous wins at the highest level were gained in the Grand Criterium and Dewhurst Stakes last season and this term in the the 2,000 Guineas and the Irish equivalent, the St James's Palace Stakes and Sussex Stakes. The aim now is the Breeders' Cup Mile in Chicago on 26 October, but the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot on 28 September could give British racegoers one last opportunity to see this truly remarkable horse in action.

Manchester United are away to Charlton Athletic, on the other side of London, that day but as Ferguson said yesterday: "It is difficult to explain what sort of excitement this horse gives me but there is one difference with football. I give the orders there but where racing is concerned I leave it all to Aidan [O'Brien, his trainer].

"I had a mixture of trepidation and apprehension beforehand, but then he gave a buck and a kick which was the signal that The Rock was in good form. When I first got the horse I just hoped that he might reach Group One standard, so to win seven is fantastic."

Certainly, if Rock Of Gibraltar was to be beaten then all the factors were in place yesterday. O'Brien's Ballydoyle stable has been a field hospital these last few weeks as a sick wind has blown through the Co Tipperary yard and the ravages have been evident on the stable's runners.

Sophisticat and Landseer were comprehensively beaten in the Matron Stakes in Ireland and Haydock's Sprint Cup respectively on Saturday, and there was defeat also, albeit narrowly, for the mighty Hawk Wing in the Irish Champion Stakes.

Hawk Wing's win ratio now looks rather pallid and it may be that, unlike Rock Of Gibraltar, his spirit is beginning to buckle under the weight of assignments at the top level.

However, he remains a colossal talent, an animal which O'Brien believes has not had the opportunity to roll out his true quality on the racecourse. Hawk Wing ran pleasingly and was beaten only a short-head by Grandera, yet it was not the display his pre-publicity merited.

It is almost certain that Hawk Wing will improve from this effort, but could it be that there is even more to come from Rock Of Gibraltar? It seems surreal that the leading horse of his generation is the only one to have escaped infection at his stables this summer. His indomitability is not, it seems, confined to the track.

The Rock has been the only three-year-old at Ballydoyle not to cough (at least not while anyone was watching) this summer, even though he is the one that looks as though he needs to give the others the benefit of an amputation at least. The nickname suits him.

The Moulin was not a difficult race to call from some way out as Michael Kinane sat snugly in behind an unnecessarily fierce lead set by his pacemaker, Sahara Desert. Banks Hill and Gossamer, the sole British challenger, were contenders for a while but that was only until Rock Of Gibraltar decided to shake his bones. After he did that, they were running for second.

"It doesn't matter whether they go fast or slow he can quicken off any pace,'' O'Brien said. "He is truly a great horse."

* Zafonic, the brilliant winner of the 1993 2,000 Guineas, has died in an accident at stud in Australia.

Prix du Moulin: 1. ROCK OF GIBRALTAR (M J Kinane); 2. Banks Hill; 3. Gossamer. 7 ran. 1/2, 1. (A P O'Brien). Pari-Mutuel: 1.60 (coupled with Sahara Desert), 1.10, 1.10, SF 2.10.

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