European Race Report: Steady as a Rock

European Race Report: Steady as a Rock
Photo: Trevor Jones
Rock of Gibraltar winning the St. James's Stakes.
Published in the Aug. 10 issue of The Blood-Horse
By Richard Griffiths
If it's variety you're looking for, then the summer stamina test known as "Glorious Goodwood" is the place to go.

For five days, in front of a packed holiday crowd, high-class racing is blended with wickedly competitive handicaps in a setting as stunning as the coastal weather is variable. Sometimes Sussex Downs basked in sunshine, at others the skies were sealed with a black and rainy top.

There was no uncertainty, however, about what was the highlight of the week. It came on the second day when Rock of Gibraltar won the July 31 Sussex Stakes (Eng-I) with sumptuous ease. In doing so, he became the first horse since Mill Reef more than 30 years ago to achieve six group I races on the trot.

This is some horse, as testified by the fact that he is known commonly as "The Rock‚" in the same way another sterling performer from Aidan O'Brien's stable two seasons ago, Giant's Causeway, was tagged "The Iron Horse."

This was Rock of Gibraltar's first success against older horses, and the transition to all-age contests was seamless. His jockey, Mick Kinane, sat and waited until the final furlong before sauntering past the Godolphin colt Noverre to win by two lengths. It could have been much more. Noverre, of course, is a high-class colt in his own right and signaled his frustrations by trying to take a bite out of Rock of Gibraltar, just as he had done with Keltos in the Lockinge Stakes (Eng-I) earlier this season.

O'Brien, whose stable has been under a cloud with a virus, is now planning to get adventurous with The Rock, whose four winning starts this season have all been over a mile. The five-furlong Nunthorpe (Eng-I, Aug. 22) or 10-furlong Juddmonte International (Eng-I, Aug. 20), both at York, are the next possible options.

Therefore, he might take on the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes (Eng-I) winner Golan, whose stablemate Islington gave her late owner Lord Weinstock the second group I success in the fortnight since his death when winning Goodwood's Nassau Stakes on Aug. 3. In doing so, Islington put behind her a disappointing run in the Oaks (Eng-I) at Epsom in eye-catching style, pulling away from her field emphatically.

There was also a posthumous success for Prince Ahmed Salman when his The Thoroughbred Corp.'s Elusive City, a 2-year-old son of Elusive Quality, won the Richmond Stakes (Eng-II, July 30) over six furlongs. Having stepped up from an all-weather race at Lingfield, his trainer, Gerard Butler, may now make the ultimate step up to group I level with Elusive City for the Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket on Oct. 3.

Sheikh Hamdan had spent a reputed £2 million in purchasing Bandari in the build-up to the Derby (Eng-I). That had looked a duff buy when the colt trailed in 51 lengths behind the winner, High Chaparral, at Epsom.

That performance was so tame and unexplained that you could not blame Sheikh Hamdan's retained jockey Richard Hills opting for the owner's other runner, Izdiham, when Bandari made his return in the Gordon Stakes (Eng-III) on July 30.

In a smaller field, in a less intense atmosphere, Bandari returned to form in style, winning by seven lengths and providing huge relief to his trainer, Mark Johnston.

"I was terrified he would produce another bad run," Johnston said. "He's now had five spectacular wins and two disasters."

Races such as the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (Fr-I, Oct. 6) at Longchamp and the St. Leger (Eng-I, Sept. 14) at Doncaster are future options for the son of Alhaarth. b

Bits and Pieces
Eclipse Stakes (Eng-I) winner Hawk Wing will miss his next engagement in the Juddmonte International (Eng-I, Aug. 20) at York due to the coughing that has affected O'Brien's Irish yard...David Flores will captain the Rest Of The World team of jockeys in the Shergar Cup at Ascot on Aug. 10 because Frankie Dettori is required by Godolphin to ride Sakhee in Deauville on the same day...The Aga Khan's Khalkevi, winner of the Grand Prix de Paris (Fr-I), will miss the Arlington Million (gr. IT) and the rest of the season due to injury. By Richard Griffiths

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