01/27/2004 12:00AM

High Chaparral: Tougher road, same result

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High Chaparral was everybody's pick to win the 2002 Breeders' Cup Turf at Arlington Park, and he did not disappoint, scoring an easy odds-on victory and earning an Eclipse award as North America's best turf horse.

The situation had changed in 2003 - or so the thinking went. was a year older, and before the Breeders' Cup, his season comprised only three starts. High Chaparral won two of them, and finished third in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, but some said High Chaparral had declined. And less than three weeks after the Arc, High Chaparral flew from Ireland to defend his Breeders' Cup Turf title in the Southern California heat, where he would race on a firm course that might not suit him.

Sloughing off the obstacles, High Chaparral plunged across the finish line of the 2003 Breeders' Cup Turf in a dead heat with Johar, finishing a head in front of European rival Falbrav. Monday night, he was rewarded with his second straight Eclipse Award as champion turf horse.

Two North American starts, two Eclipses for High Chaparral, who has been whisked off to the breeding shed. He is the first horse to repeat as Turf champion since John Henry, who won the award in 1980 and 1981, and 1983 and 1984.

The Eclipse voting was surprisingly lopsided. Despite tying in his only U.S. start, High Chaparral garnered 138 of 248 possible votes. Storming Home finished a distant second with 73, and Johar received just 17 votes. Besides his Breeders' Cup win, Johar's season included a win in the Grade 2 San Marcos and a second in the Grade 1 Clement Hirsch. Johar raced in the Japan Cup after the Breeders' Cup, finishing 16th over a boggy turf course he didn't like, and voters might have held that race against him.

Storming Home could have cinched the Eclipse with a win in the Breeders' Cup Turf, where he was favored, but he had a rough trip and finished seventh. Storming Home's resume included wins in the $400,000 Jim Murray, the Grade 1 Whittingham, and the Grade 1 Hirsch, but his season's defining moment came in the Arlington Million. There, Storming Home had swept to the lead and was yards from victory when he bolted toward the grandstand, throwing jockey Gary Stevens in a spectacular fall. Storming Home was disqualified from first to fourth.

Voters clearly were delighted by High Chaparral's repeat performance in the Breeders' Cup Turf, and for that, the trainer Aidan O'Brien deserves special credit.

High Chaparral, by Sadler's Wells and out of the mare Kasora, was bred in Ireland by Sean Coughlan. Coughlan campaigned High Chaparral until the fall of 2002, when High Chaparral was sold to Michael Tabor and Mrs. John Magnier. High Chaparral is standing stud at Coolmore Ireland.