01/28/2003 12:00AM

Apt motto for champ: Carpe diem

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It took High Chaparral about 2 1/2 minutes to earn his Eclipse Award as the nation's outstanding turf male of 2002.

In his only appearance in the United States, High Chaparral dominated the Breeders' Cup Turf at Arlington Park on Oct. 26, winning in a field that included championship hopefuls With Anticipation and Denon.

High Chaparral's victory, combined with a Breeders' Cup loss by Rock of Gibraltar in the Mile, was enough to convince voters that the Irish-based 3-year-old was the top turf horse of the year.

High Chaparral, a Sadler's Wells colt bred in Ireland by Sean Coughlan, raced for Michael Tabor and Susan Magnier and was trained by Aidan O'Brien. He was outstanding throughout his 2002 campaign, winning 5 of 6 starts and earning $3,510,155.

Along the way, he won two minor stakes in Ireland in the spring - the Ballysax Stakes and Group 3 Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial - before scoring convincing wins in two of Europe's top races

On June 8, High Chaparral won the Epsom Derby by two lengths, winning in a field that included another well-regarded Irish raider, Hawk Wing. Three weeks later, High Chaparral reappeared in the Irish Derby at The Curragh and stormed home by an impressive 3 1/2 lengths.

High Chaparral joined Sinndar (2000) and Galileo (2001) among recent winners of both races, but he is the only one of the trio to go on to be named Eclipse Award champion.

High Chaparral had his campaign interrupted in the summer, when he suffered from a virus that plagued many of the horses in O'Brien's yard. The illness kept him out of training until August, cost him a chance at a few lucrative stakes, and forced O'Brien to reschedule his campaign for the second half of the year.

High Chaparral was not ready for the September preps for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, but he did start in that Oct. 6 classic in Paris. Sent off as part of a 2-1 entry, he was well placed in midstretch, but he could not hold off the late run of Marienbard and finished third.

O'Brien later questioned whether he had High Chaparral "mentally sharp" enough to win the Arc. Regardless, the Arc was an ideal prep for the Breeders' Cup Turf. Confidently ridden by Mick Kinane, High Chaparral stalked the pace to the end of the backstretch, moved closer to the leaders on the final turn, and displayed an impressive rally through the stretch to beat With Anticipation by 1 1/4 lengths.

It was a championship performance from a colt who will stay in training this year as a 4-year-old.