06/15/2002 12:00AM

Rock of Gibraltar heads Royal Ascot opener


Royal Ascot, Great Britain's most prestigious racing meet, begins Tuesday, lengthened this year to a fifth day to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. The opening-day card has four group stakes, topped by the Group 1 Saint James's Palace Stakes.

Rock of Gibraltar, winner of the English and Irish 2000 Guineas, is likely to be a prohibitive favorite in the Saint James's. Trained by Aidan O'Brien, Rock of Gibraltar is primed for his fifth consecutive Group 1 victory.

There are two potential threats to him: Bowman and Dupont. Bowman, trained by Andre Fabre, was third, beaten only 1 3/4 lengths, in the French Guineas. Dupont is likely to be overlooked in the betting, despite winning the Italian and German Guineas.

The meet's opening stakes, the Queen Anne, features Best of the Bests from the Godolphin barn, Frenchmans Bay, and the improving Desert Deer.

The Kings Stand Stakes, at five furlongs, is a traditional showcase for Europe's speediest horses and is headed this year by Kyllachy.

Rounding out the Tuesday card is the Coventry Stakes, a Group 3 for 2-year-olds.