Updated on 09/16/2011 8:33AM

BC Countdown - Mile: He's got it all - except a Cup win


He is trained by the most successful young trainer in the business. One of his owners is the world's most potent breeder-owner and the other is Europe's most famous soccer manager.

He is by the world's most sought after young stallion, and he has been adopted as a mascot by a nation fighting for the right to determine its sovereignty.

The charismatic Rock of Gibraltar is far and away the leading light of this year's Breeders' Cup. The winner of seven consecutive Group 1 races, the last five at his preferred distance of a mile, he will be a short price when facing 13 opponents in a crowded Breeders' Cup Mile.

And yet, Rock of Gibraltar, the brilliant son of the Danzig stallion Danehill, has never been considered the best horse in trainer Aidan O'Brien's powerful Ballydoyle yard. As a 2-year-old he finished sixth in a Group 3 race at Royal Ascot, won by stablemate and BC Mile opponent Landseer. In May, abandoned by O'Brien's first-call rider Michael Kinane in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket, he won the race anyway at 9-1 with Johnny Murtagh in the saddle. Kinane came home second aboard his stablemate, the 3-2 favorite Hawk Wing.

The betting public wised up after that, sending him off at odds-on in four Group 1 miles, each of which he won with a certain aplomb as Kinane resumed his place on the Rock's back, a position that he has not since relinquished.

Alex Ferguson knows a thing or two about world-class athletes. As manager of Manchester United, the powerful English soccer club that tends to dominate matters in the English premier league, Ferguson is the man who has nurtured such diverse and temperamental talents as movie star Eric Cantona, "Mr. Posh Spice" David Beckham, and Ruud Van Nistelrooy, after whom one of O'Brien's Breeders' Cup Juvenile candidates, Van Nistelrooy, is named.

Ferguson bought into part of Coolmore boss John Magnier's share of Rock of Gibraltar last year on the advice of his racing manager, Mike Dillon, the public relations director for the British bookmaking firm Ladbrokes. Ferguson got a taste of what a special athlete Rock of Gibraltar is when he saw the bay colt carry his red and white colors to victory in the Grand Criterium last October.

"I couldn't believe the way he accelerated," Ferguson said in the Longchamp winner's circle. And in that simple sentence, Ferguson summed up what makes Rock of Gibraltar a rock-solid racehorse.

In every one of his seven

Group 1 triumphs, Rock of Gibraltar has quickened past his opponents with an acceleration that comes naturally. It was only in the Coventry Stakes last June, when he ran sixth to Landseer, that he failed to show his acceleration, but that was because he was twice blocked for a run.

Since then it has been smooth sailing for the Rock, who has cruised to victory time and time again. Great athlete that he is, he even managed to avoid coming down with the virus that stymied so many of O'Brien's horses this summer.

But there was a mild hitch in Rock of Gibraltar's campaign at the beginning of the autumn.

That came on Sept. 28 when O'Brien, undecided as to whether he should run Rock of Gibraltar or Hawk Wing in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot, sent them both 300 miles across the Irish Sea from their Ballydoyle home in County Kildare with the express intention of running only one of them.

As the ground came up soft that day, it was Hawk Wing who ran. After the day's last race, Rock of Gibraltar was given a workout over Ascot's right-handed uphill one-mile course, on which Hawk Wing had just been beaten into second in the QEII by Where or When.

Following his lead horse, the listed-quality Twentytwoandchange, the Rock stretched clear a furlong from the line in a good-looking move. But wasn't that a strange way of preparing the world's most accomplished racehorse for his grand finale?

An unflappable O'Brien took the question in stride in the post-work interview.

"He's a lovely horse and nothing ever bothers him," O'Brien said.

That attitude is something any Breeders' Cup contestant needs to achieve victory on Saturday afternoon: the ability to ward off the attentions of thousands of eager people.

O'Brien's confidence in Rock of Gibraltar has grown throughout the year. So much so that he briefly considered running him in sprints, and only on Tuesday night decided on the Mile over the more daunting prospect of the Classic.

Ferguson will not be at Arlington to see his horse run on Saturday, as he will be preoccupied with Manchester United's home match vs. Aston Villa. Neither will the residents of Gibraltar, who next week will vote on whether they wish to remain under the jurisdiction of Britain or be turned over to Spain.

In their campaign to remain aligned with Britain, a majority of Gibraltarians have adopted Rock of Gibraltar, the Thoroughbred, as their poster boy.

On Saturday, a majority of the dollars wagered on the Mile by an expected crowd of 45,000 will also be riding with Rock of Gibraltar, a horse whose talent, looks, connections, and record make him the sexiest horse in the Breeders' Cup.