06/17/2002 11:00PM

Rock of Gibraltar can't stop winning


ASCOT, England - Rock of Gibraltar, the European miling sensation, won his fifth straight Group 1 race with a 1 3/4-length score Tuesday in the St James's Palace Stakes on opening day at Royal Ascot.

Rock of Gibraltar is the first horse to win five straight Group 1's in Europe since 2000 Breeders' Cup Classic runner-up Giant's Causeway. A sixth would match the record set by Mill Reef.

Showing good speed at the furlong pole, Rock of Gibraltar outfinished Landseer. The winner went off as a 4-5 favorite. Both horses are trained by Aidan O'Brien.

Rock of Gibraltar is owned by Sir Alex Ferguson, manager of the English soccer powerhouse Manchester United. He began his string of Group 1 wins at 2 with scores in the Grand Criterium and Dewhust Stakes, then started his 3-year-old season with victories in the English and Irish 2000 Guineas. Among those he beat Tuesday were the winners of the French, Italian, and German 2000 Guineas.

Only one horse had previously won the English 2000-Irish 2000-St James's triple - Right Tack in 1969.

O'Brien won his third successive St James's Palace Stakes following wins by Giant's Causeway and Black Minnaloushe. He will most likely run Rock of Gibraltar next in the Sussex Stakes over a mile at Goodwood in late July.

"He's very dependable. You can set your watch by him," winning jockey Mick Kinane told the BBC.

O'Brien told The Racing Post: "He was a champion at 2 and you don't see many of those get better at 3. This is a serious horse."

Bowman, trained by Andre Fabre in France, was the buzz horse before the race but was never competitive and finished sixth.

In the Group 3 Coventry Stakes for juveniles, the O'Brien-Kinane team rolled on, as Statue of Liberty, a Storm Cat half-brother to Lemon Drop Kid, battled to a game neck win over fellow Irish invader Pakhoes.

Statue of Liberty was the fourth winner in six years for O'Brien in the Coventry. Regarded by his connections as a similar type to Johannesburg, he will stick to sprint races this year.

In the day's opener, the Queen Anne Stakes, trainer Sir Michael Stoute won a Royal Ascot race for the third year running. No Excuse Needed held on by a short head from the fast finishing Tillerman. He could also join Rock of Gibraltar in the Sussex Stakes next month. Stoute won the Queen Anne with Kalanisi in 2000 and Medician last year.

Kyllachy, who has been so impressive in the sprinting division this season, was many people's best bet of the meeting in the Group 2 King's Stand Stakes. But he encountered trouble and could only finish a close third behind Dominica.

Dominica, a filly and the only 3-year-old in the field, gave trainer Marcus Tregoning and jockey Martin Dwyer their first Royal Ascot winner. She will be aimed later in the year at the Group 1 Prix de l'Abbaye, also over five furlongs.

A marathon for Ladies Day

The highlight of Thursday, Ladies Day at Royal Ascot, is the marathon 2 1/2-mile Ascot Gold Cup. Seventeen runners are entered, and this year's race looks to be a classic running.

Royal Rebel, last year's winner, is out to defend his crown, and he will be joined by Persian Punch and Jardines Lookout, second and third last year. The likely favorite, though, is Vinnie Roe, an emerging star in the long-distance ranks, who is attempting the trip for the first time.

Persian Punch, one of the toughest horses in training, runs in the race for the sixth time, but has yet to win it. Should he win, his huge public following will bring the house down.

* The Group 2 Ribblesdale Stakes over 1 1/2 miles for 3-year-old fillies encourages a quick reappearance by runners from the Epsom Oaks (June 7). The Epsom third, Shadow Dancing, is one who will try, as will Red Rioja (5th), Alexander Three D (7th), and the Aidan O'Brien pair Kournakova (11th), and Maryinsky (12th).

Historically, though, Oaks runners have not fared well in the Ribblesdale. Bright and Clear, runner-up for Barry Hills in the Italian Oaks four weeks ago, could be the one to benefit.