04/28/2004 12:00AM

Persian Punch dies on track; was U.K. fave

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Risk Seeker's victory in the Group 3 Sagaro Stakes at Ascot on Wednesday was overshadowed by the death of the grand old stayer Persian Punch.

As Risk Seeker, an Elie Lellouche-trained French invader, passed the post an 18-length winner of the two-mile prep for the Ascot Gold Cup, the 11-year-old Persian Punch was being eased in some distress by rider Martin Dwyer 100 yards from the line. As Dwyer dismounted, Persian Punch collapsed in front of the grandstand, dead apparently from a ruptured aorta.

Recently voted by British racegoers as the seventh most popular racehorse of all time, Persian Punch experienced the best season of his career last year when he won the Group 3 Jockey Club Cup for the third time in addition to landing Group 2 victories in the Goodwood Cup and the Doncaster Cup. He also won the Group 3 Henry II Stakes three times and landed the Group 2 Prix Kergorlay in France. Among his more notable performances in defeat were two seconds in the Ascot Gold Cup and a pair of third-place finishes in the Melbourne Cup.

Trained throughout his career by David Elsworth, Persian Punch, a gelded son of Persian Heights, won 20 of 63 starts for earnings of $1,539,149, one of the largest bankrolls ever accumulated by a stayer.