12/21/2002 12:00AM

Looking back, over there! Over there!

Email

The Chinese Year of the Horse became the Thoroughbred Year of the Rock as Rock of Gibraltar had a history-making season in which he won five Group 1 races before being upset in the Breeders' Cup Mile.

Though Rock of Gibraltar was the biggest international story of 2002, there were a number of other worthy milestones.

March 13: Istabraq, the only remaining jumper in Aidan O'Brien's yard, is eased after the second hurdle when pursuing an unprecedented fourth straight Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, a streak that had been interrupted when the 2001 National Hunt Festival was canceled because of foot and mouth disease in Britain.

March 23: Street Cry gives the Maktoums and Jerry Bailey their fourth Dubai World Cup in seven tries, pounding 10 outclassed foes, including Sakhee, into submission. On the same Nad Al Sheba card, Caller One takes his second successive Dubai Golden Shaheen, and Grey Memo wins the Godolphin Mile. They will be the only American trained horses to win races overseas in 2002.

March 30: The Queen Mother, Britain's most highly visible racing fan and one of its more successful jump racing owners, dies at the age of 101, ending eras on both the political and racing fronts.

April 6: Jim Culloty completes a famous double as he rides Bindaree to victory in the Grand National Steeplechase. On March 14 he had partnered Best Mate to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

April 7: Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner and world champion 2-year-old Johannesburg is caught on the line by Rebelline in the Gladness Stakes, a most disappointing prep for the Kentucky Derby, in which he will finish an ill-prepared eighth.

May 4: Rock of Gibraltar wins the 2000 Guineas for his third straight Group 1 victory.

May 18: Keltos, trained by Carlos Laffon-Parias, scores the single most impressive mile victory of the year, winning the Group 1 Lockinge Stakes by 3 1/2 lengths. Most European handicappers rate his performance higher than anything Rock of Gibraltar achieves this year.

May 22: Legendary British trainer Dick Hern, trainer of Brigadier Gerard, Nashwan, and Dayjur, dies at the age of 81.

May 25: Rock of Gibraltar makes it four Group 1 wins in a row in the Irish 2000 Guineas.

June 2: Sulamani upsets hot favorite Act One in the Prix du Jockey-Club (French Derby). Firm ground specialist Sulamani is immediately announced by trainer Pascal Bary to be a candidate for the Breeders' Cup Turf.

June 8: High Chaparral gives Aidan O'Brien his second straight Epsom Derby, but most observers rate his effort below that of the last two winners, Galileo and Sinndar.

June 18: Royal Ascot is the setting for Rock of Gibraltar's fifth straight Group 1 triumph when he takes the St. James's Palace Stakes by 1 3/4 lengths from his O'Brien-trained stablemate Landseer, winner of the Poule d'Essai des Poulains (French 2000 Guineas).

June 22: British sportsman Gerald Leigh, owner-breeder of Barathea, Bosra Sham, Act One, and Gossamer, dies after a long battle with cancer.

June 29: Brazilian-bred Oh Take sweeps to victory in the Carrera de las Estrellas Classic, the Argentine equivalent of the Breeders' Cup Classic. Owned by Nelson Bunker Hunt, Oh Take, a son of Latin American, will soon be shipped to Ron McAnally's barn at Santa Anita. Oh Take is one of five Estrellas Classic runners now in the United States, the others being runner-up Rodion, third-place Star Cross, Fire Storm, and Climay, as the devalued peso makes Argentine horses a bargain. On the same Palermo card, Miss Terrible takes the Estrellas Juvenile Fillies, the fifth in what will become her own Rock of Gibraltar-like streak of seven successive Group 1 victories.

June 30: Following in the footsteps of Sinndar and Galileo, High Chaparral becomes the third horse in three years to complete the Epsom Derby-Irish Derby double.

July 20: Nashwan, the only horse to win the 2000 Guineas, Epsom Derby and King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes in the same year - 1989 - dies at the age of 16.

July 22: Ahmed Salman, owner of The Thoroughbred Corporation and Point Given, War Emblem, Royal Anthem, Spain, Lazy Lode, and Oath, dies in Riyadh of a heart attack at the age of 43, just one year after his brother Fahd had died under similar circumstances.

July 23: Lord Weinstock, owner of Troy, Sun Princess, Pilsudski and Golan, dies at the age of 77.

July 28: Ian Balding, who trained Mill Reef and others for Paul Mellon, announces that he will retire from training at the end of the 2002 season.

July 31: Rock of Gibraltar makes it six Group 1 victories in a row in the Sussex Stakes.

Aug. 10: Sakhee's bubble is burst when he fails to run down Wellbeing in the Group 3 Prix Gontaut-Biron. Europe's 2001 champion will not run again.

Sept. 7: In the most exciting race of the year, Godolphin's Grandera nips Coolmore's Hawk Wing by a nose in the Irish Champion Stakes with Godolphin's Best of the Bests just a neck behind in third.

Sept. 8: Rock of Gibraltar breaks Mill Reef's European record with his seventh straight Group 1 triumph, in the Prix du Moulin de Longchamp.

Sept. 13: French jockeys play musical chairs as Olivier Peslier parts company with trainer Andre Fabre to ride the Wertheimer family's horses, who are trained by Criquette Head-Maarek and Carlos Laffon-Parias. Out of a job, Olivier Doleuze announces that he will soon be departing for Hong Kong.

Oct. 6: Marienbard's victory in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe at the expense of Sulamani and High Chaparral is Godolphin's second straight in the race; Sakhee won in 2001. Hold That Tiger produces the single most impressive looking victory of the year as he comes from 14th and last at the sixteenth pole to win the Grand Criterium.

Oct. 26: Rock of Gibraltar meets his Waterloo as a poor start and an ill-judged ride by Michael Kinane costs him victory in the Breeders' Cup Mile, which goes to the Pascal Bary-trained Domedriver.

Nov. 2: Dalakhani, a full brother to Daylami, announces that he is a force to be reckoned with next year at 3 as he takes the Group 1 Criterium International.

Nov. 5: Dermot Weld scores his second Melbourne Cup victory with Media Puzzle. He had previously triumphed with Vintage Crop in 1993.

Nov. 24: Falbrav, Italy's best horse since 1988 Arc winner Tony Bin, surprises in the Japan Cup as he outduels Sarafan and withstands a claim of foul lodged by Sarafan's trainer and rider, Neil Drysdale and Corey Nakatani.

Dec. 10: Sheikh Mohammed uses the Gimcrack Speech to once again warn British racing authorities that they must increase prize money or the Maktoums will take their horses elsewhere. He also says that Godolphin will be racing less frequently in England as they pursue more valuable international prizes, and announces that he will have six horses in training for the first time in Japan in 2003. With Godolphin's British juvenile trainer David Loder having announced that he will retire from training after 2003, and Eoin Harty's 2002 juveniles a virtual washout because of a virus, the Godolphin operation appears to be at something of a crossroads.

Dec. 14: Freddy wins the Gran Premio Carlos Pellegrini, the Argentine equivalent of the Arc, at San Isidro. Like Oh Take, he is trained in Argentina by Brazilian Jose Alves.

Dec. 15: The U.S. is shut out on Hong Kong International Race Day for the fourth straight year as locally trained horses take three of the four big races and the French-trained Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud winner Ange Gabriel wins the 1 1/2-mile Vase. But the day has a sour taste to it when Domedriver, Ulundi, Nayyir, and Malhub are all late withdrawls.

The year cannot be wrapped up without making mention of Varenne. Trained in Italy by Jori Turja, he was the greatest trotter who ever lived, winning 62 of 73 starts between a mile and 1 3/4 miles for earnings of more than $4 million. In addition to twice winning the world's best trotting event, France's Prix d'Amerique, he won the 2001 Breeders' Crown at The Meadowlands, plus all of best trotting races in Italy and Sweden. He was retired at age 7 after being DQ'd from second in the Trot Mondial at Montreal on Sept. 26.

Rock of Gibraltar may rate as 2002's best Thoroughbred, but in the Year of the Horse, Varenne is the Horse of the Year.