Mile Preview: Rock on a Roll

The Rock of Gibraltar is recognized the world over as a symbol of strength and stability. Guarding the meeting point of the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, the Rock of Gibraltar's reputation is one of an impregnable fortress. While its ownership has been in dispute for centuries, it has remained in British hands since the early 1700s.

Rock of Gibraltar, the 3-year-old colt, is the Thoroughbred version of that same strength, stability, and invincibility. Beginning last October, the son of Danehill has rattled off seven consecutive group I wins--all five this year at a mile. No other horse in the history of pattern racing in Europe has put together such a string of victories.

His Coolmore connections have pre-entered him in both the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) and the NetJets Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT). With one European championship firmly in the hip pocket, why not shoot for the moon during the World Thoroughbred Championships?

However, it is in the Mile where Rock of Gibraltar could be among the shortest-priced favorites on the day. The form he has so consistently set all year shows the "Rock" is for real.

His stablemate, Landseer, who got within a nose of him last year at two, but could only get to within 13/4 lengths of him this year, has already shown up America's best turf horse, Beat Hollow. In the Shadwell Keeneland Turf Mile (gr. IT), Landseer, another 3-year-old son of Danehill, rumbled past Beat Hollow, then held off stone-closer Touch of the Blues.

Rock of Gibraltar defeated last year's Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT) winner and subsequent champion Banks Hill in the NetJets Prix Moulin de Longchamp (Fr-I). He beat Hawk Wing in the Sagitta Two Thousand Guineas (Eng-I) to start the season, and Hawk Wing went on to win the Coral Eurobet Eclipse Stakes (Eng-I) and ran second in the Vodafone Epsom Derby (Eng-I) and two other group I events.

Three-year-olds have won six of the 18 Miles to date, four colts and two iron fillies (Miesque and Ridgewood Pearl). The two European-based male sophomores to pull the trick were Last Tycoon in 1986 and Royal Academy in 1990. But for every success, there have been more flops: heavily backed 3-year-old colt disappointments include Warning, Zilzal, Arazi, and Mark of Esteem.

Not all on the European continent have been scared away by Rock of Gibraltar. A third 3-year-old by Danehill, the filly Dress To Thrill, is also unbeaten this year. Older horse Domedriver, among others, will take a shot.

The Bobby Frankel-trained Beat Hollow, despite his recent defeat, still remains America's leading hope. His win over the Arlington turf course in the 11/4-mile Million (gr. IT) could be in his favor. Yet most Mile winners contain within them a certain burst of acceleration that separates the exceptional Thoroughbred from the also-ran. It remains to be seen if Beat Hollow has that certain something against pure milers.

Forbidden Apple, the beaten favorite in the Kelso Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. IIT) at Belmont, will try, try again after a seventh-place finish in 2000 and a runner-up effort in the Mile last year in New York. He was beaten in the Kelso by the late-running Green Fee, who has risen from claiming company to graded stakes winner in a four-month period for trainer Dan Peitz.

Half-brothers Aldebaran and Good Journey, both from the Private Account mare Chimes of Freedom, have what it takes to win the Mile. Good Journey joins the fray rested off back-to-back graded wins at a mile in the Firecracker Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. IIT) on July 4 and the Atto Mile (Can-IT) on Sept. 8. Aldebaran has run second in three grade I races this year, all on dirt, but has plenty of back class on the grass.