09/08/2002 11:00PM

Rock of Gibraltar sets record


Rock of Gibraltar survived a crack on the face from a whip to take the Prix du Moulin de Longchamp on Sunday and become the first horse to win seven successive European Group 1 races.

Dispelling fears that he might not be fully fit because of the coughing that brought Aidan O'Brien's Ballydoyle yard to a near standstill this summer, Rock of Gibraltar, a 3-year-old son of Danehill, was his usual invincible self as he accelerated under Michael Kinane to catch Banks Hill, a daughter of Danehill, at the sixteenth pole on his way to a half-length victory.

Richard Hughes, substituting for the injured Olivier Peslier aboard Banks Hills, accidentally hit Rock of Gibraltar with his whip as the winner was ranging up alongside. The incident stopped him for a stride or two but he quickly recovered to assert his superiority. Sent off as the 3-5 choice with his pacesetting entrymate Sahara Desert, his time for the mile was 1:39.30 on good ground.

O'Brien wasted no time confirming Rock of Gibraltar's ultimate goal this year to be the Breeders' Cup Mile, but added that he was considering the one-mile Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot on Sept. 28 as well. If Rock of Gibraltar runs at Ascot he would again face Gossamer, the Irish 1000 Guineas winner who finished fast to get up for third, 1 1/2 lengths behind Banks Hill. Banks Hill, who led for a half-furlong before being corralled by Rock of Gibraltar, is unlikely to run again before defending her Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf title.

In victory, Rock of Gibraltar surpassed the record of six consecutive Group 1 victories set by Mill Reef in 1971-72. Owned jointly by Susan Magnier and Manchester United soccer manager Alex Ferguson, he has now won 10 of 12 lifetime starts for earnings of $1,668,037.

Grandera wins Irish Champion thriller

It would have seemed impossible for the 1 1/4-mile Group 1 Irish Champion Stakes to come up with a more thrilling finish than the heartstopper produced last year by Fantastic Light and Galileo, but the blanket finish of Grandera, Hawk Wing, and Best of the Bests did just that. No sooner had Hawk Wing put his head in front than Frankie Dettori put Grandera's nose down on the line.

Grandera has now accumulated 28 points in the World Series Racing Championship, 16 points ahead of his nearest challengers. As his next two races are expected to be the Cox Plate in Australia on Breeders' Cup Day and the Hong Kong Cup on Dec. 15, a victory in either could clinch a fourth consecutive World Series championship for Godolphin.

Earlier at Leopardstown, the Dermot Weld-trained filly Dress to Thrill booked her ticket to Keeneland's Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup with a one-length victory over Marionnaud in the Group 3 Matron Stakes in which Sophisticat was sixth.

The win by 25-1 Invincible Spirit, in the six-furlong Group 1 Haydock Park Sprint Cup on Saturday by, is another indication of the weak sprint division in Europe. With Group 1 winners Continent sixth and Landseer 13th, American sprinters have nothing to fear from Europeans in this year's Breeders' Cup Sprint.