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Muted cheers accompany Coolmore’s Breeder’ Cup

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

On the other hand, if you’re John Magnier and Aidan O’Brien, it’s certainly not the worst of times, and yet not the best. Not when the runners-up referred to above walk out of the starting gate, compromising their chances. Not when one of your runners breaks down in the stretch, interfering with your eventual second-place finisher, and has to be euthanized. Not when expectations run as high as they do in County Tipperary and fall short of the mark as they did in the Chicago suburbs on a nippy, overcast afternoon.
Such was the 2002 Breeders’ Cup World Thoroughbred Championships, making its first visit to Arlington Park.
The Coolmore forces mustered a win, courtesy of High Chaparral’s heels in the $2 million Turf. The noise emitted after he crossed the wire wasn’t so much exultant cheers as a huge sigh of relief. Rock of Gibraltar at least showed why he is held in such high esteem while finishing second in the $1 million Mile after stablemate Landseer snapped a cannon bone. And Hold That Tiger is still in his formative stage. Better to be left standing in the gate on the last Saturday in October than the first Saturday in May.
The afternoon was pregnant with the looming canonization of Rock of Gibraltar as a turf icon. Not that anyone in Europe needed to be convinced.
This was just for the Americans. Maybe not so much for the sporting public as for American breeders, who will ponder the “Rock” as a mate for their broodmares.
There had been plenty of media teasing about his trying the Classic, on a surface and at a distance he was unfamiliar with. But when the time came to pull the trigger, O’Brien opted for the Mile on grass and was reported to have said that the Classic had never seriously been considered.
Rock of Gibraltar’s reputation preceded him as his 4-5 odds attest. The public overlooked several in hammering down the odds on the “Rock.”
Among the forgotten were Dressed To Thrill, the Dermot Weld-trained filly, sent off at 32-1. Pat Smullen brought her home eighth.
Medecis was lodged in the frontal lobe of few punters. Co-owned by the Irish National Stud, where he will stand after his racing shoes are pulled for the last time, the 39-1 shot was next in after Dress To Thrill.
Landseer had some supporters, but his 14-1 price indicates that he was dismissed by many. But forget Landseer? Racing along in midpack while the
race was still anyone’s for the taking, the forgotten O’Brien became the tragic O’Brien.
“It happened so quickly,” said Edgar Prado, Landseer’s jockey. “I heard a crack. I don’t know if he stepped in a hole or what. I tried to pull him up but he was in a full run. It’s hard to explain. It happened so fast.”
The crack that Prado referred to was Landseer’s cannon bone fracturing.
Meanwhile, Michael Kinane was fast approaching, having put Rock of Gibraltar into overdrive. Landseer, taking his final lame steps, moved out into the favorite’s path.
“[Landseer] came over when I wanted to make my move and I lost my momentum,” Kinane said.
Rock of Gibraltar brought his own burden upon himself, having been last to leave the gate. He was still the caboose on the Mile’s 14-horse train down the backside, eliciting amazement from racecaller Tom Durkin.
Amid all this excitement, there was another forgotten one. The Irish-bred Domedriver, at 26-1, hugged the rail until straightening for home, when he split horses. He wrested the lead from Good Journey and Forbidden Apple in deep stretch, then only had to hope that the hoofbeats coming fast on the outside didn’t belong to Rock of Gibraltar.
They did belong to the “Rock,” but that was of no matter. Once clear, Rock of Gibraltar indeed showed his audience what the fuss was all about, but truth be told, Domedriver was moving just as fast under the wire.
Domedriver enjoyed a three-quarters length advantage over his pursuer. The race was timed in 1:36.92, which isn’t bad considering the yielding condition of the course. That was faster than Miesque (the second time), Steinlen and Ridgewood Pearl each needed in their victories over a course with give to it.
“On this course, if you can save the maximum amount of ground, it is a tremendous advantage,” said Pascal Bary, Domedriver’s trainer, who instructed jockey Thierry Thulliez thusly.
Domedriver returned $54.00 to win and keyed a $152.60 exacta with Rock of Gibraltar.
Team Coolmore then had about 90 minutes to repair to a watering station to blunt the Mile’s sting before attending to the trio imported for the $1 million Juvenile, a race that richly rewarded them last year.
The wagering public hugged Hold That Tiger, a half-brother to Belmont Stakes winner Editor’s Note, to its collective bosom tightest of the three at 5-1.
Only Whywhywhy and Vindication were better fancied. Meanwhile, Coolmore’s Van Nistelrooy, a $6.4 million yearling purchase last year, and Tomahawk, a relative bargain at $2.5 million, were sent away at 15-1 and 17-1, respectively.
Once the field was sprung, Hold That Tiger and Tomahawk meandered out with no urgency and trailed the field around the clubhouse turn.
Hold That Tiger was hard ridden by Kieren Fallon and finally began to make an impact rounding the far turn, as he ranged up on the outside. But Vindication was too far gone and came home first, five lengths in front of Hold That Tiger, with Kafwain between them. Van Nistelrooy and Tomahawk were fifth and eighth, respectively.
“It was a totally new experience for them, but they ran well,” said O’Brien, alluding to racing on dirt. “I would love to think [Hold That Tiger] could be a Kentucky Derby horse next year.”
The stage was then set for the Turf. With only seven rivals to outrun, what possible excuse could High Chaparral need? Or was the stage set for an
embarrassing upset by such as Ballingarry, a Coolmore castoff. His new trainer, Laura De Seroux, already had one winner on the afternoon.
The Irish and Epsom Derby winner broke with his field and was patiently ridden once around the oval, with half a lap remaining to the wire. Kinane, on High Chaparral, had The Tin Man and Ballingarry measured for also-ran status turning into the lane, but With Anticipation and the wily Pat Day were menacing on his outside flank.
High Chaparral’s response didn’t appear to be immediate, but when the gears meshed and the engines were engaged, Coolmore was on its way to the lion’s share of the $2 million purse.
“He is lazy,” Kinane said. “You really have to get after him. I expected Ballingarry to be setting a faster pace, but that didn’t happen, so when I saw that gray horse [With Anticipation] come up the outside, I knew it was really time to go to work on [High Chaparral].
“Then he really let it go. He’s the kind of horse that has loads saved. He’s so, so all class.”
The winning time was a reasonable 2:30.14, considering the ground.
High Chaparral, an Irish-bred son of Sadler’s Wells, paid $3.80 to win.
Ballingarry finished seventh, between two other Irish-breds. Golan, ridden by Fallon, was sixth, and Perfect Soul was eighth and last.

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