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Sunday, 10 November, 2002, 10:33 GMT
Rock star of Flat show
Grandera makes his winning challenge against Hawk Wing and Best of the Bests in the Irish Champion Stakes
The Irish Champion Stakes produced a great finish

His final race ended in defeat, but there is no doubt that the star of the 2002 Flat season was Rock of Gibraltar.

The Rock, trained by Aidan O'Brien and joint-owned by Sir Alex Ferguson, won his first five races of the campaign.

In doing so, he broke Mill Reef's long-standing record for consecutive Group One victories, setting a new mark of seven.

Top performers
Champion jockey: Kieren Fallon (144 winners)
Champion trainer: Aidan O'Brien (2.8m)
Champion owner: Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum
Top conditional jockey: Paul Hanagan (81 winners)

He so nearly made it eight at the Breeders' Cup with a breathtaking final burst but was just denied.

One man who would not be denied was Kieren Fallon, who retained his jockeys' title (his fifth) despite several bans and losing the support of some key owners earlier in the season.

Also retaining his trainers' title was O'Brien, despite losing a big chunk of the season because of a bout of coughing in his yard.

But unlike 2001, the season was not dominated by O'Brien and the sport's other training giant, Godolphin - in 2002, the little guys fought back.

The early part of the season went to form with O'Brien and Godolphin sharing the four early summer Classics.

But in September Tim Easterby scooped the St Leger with Bollin Eric, his first ever Classic runner and the first Yorkshire-trained winner for 30 years.

Mick Kinane on Rock of Gibraltar is congratulated by co-owner Sir Alex Ferguson after winning at Royal Ascot
Rock of Gibraltar set a new Group One record

It was also a first Classic success for jockey Kevin Darley, who went on to ride his 2,000th winner later in the season.

And there was a memorable afternoon at Ascot when Where Or When won the QEII Stakes and Soviet Song triumphed in the Fillies' Mile.

The former is trained by Terry Mills, whose victory fulfilled a 30-year dream, and the latter owned by the Elite Racing Club, a syndicate of 10,000.

Rock of Gibraltar aside, High Chaparral was the star of Ballydoyle, winning both the English and Irish Derby and taking the Breeders' Cup Turf.

For Godolphin, Sakhee was the undoubted disappointment and the 2001 Prix de l'Arc winner goes off to stud after a damp squib of a season.

But there was some compensation when stablemate Marienbard caused something of an upset to claim this year's Arc.

And Grandera wrapped up the World Series to extend Godolphin's stranglehold on the event.

There was no Galileo/Fantastic Light rivalry this year although O'Brien and Godolphin were involved in one of the best finishes of the season.

That was when Grandera got up to pip Hawk Wing and Godolphin second string Best of the Bests in the Irish Champion Stakes.

Mark Johnston enjoyed another good season, passing the 2m mark in prize money for the first time.

His successes include Yavana's Pace, a 10-year-old who became the oldest horse to win a Group One race in Europe.

Racing made front-page headlines when two BBC programmes alleged corruption within the sport.

But there were also happier times for the sport, such as the first Royal Ascot to be extended to five days, to mark the Queen's Golden Jubilee.

Organisers insisted it was a one-off but have since announced that it was such a success that it will be repeated next year.

2002 Classic winners
1,000 Guineas: Kazzia
2,000 Guineas: Rock of Gibraltar
Oaks: Kazzia
Derby: High Chaparral
St Leger: Bollin Eric

There was an emotional end to the season when Media Puzzle won the Melbourne Cup.

He was ridden by Damien Oliver, whose brother Jason had been killed in a riding accident the previous week.

There were other occasions for mourning - with legendary trainer Major Dick Hern and high-profile owners Lord Weinstock (owner of Diamond Stakes winner Golan) and Prince Ahmed Salman among those who died during the season.

And there was tragedy when Rebecca Davies, a stable girl with James Given, was killed in an accident on the gallops.

Mill Reef's trainer Ian Balding announced his impending retirement while Chris Rutter celebrated the end of his 20-year riding career with his first Group One win on Air Wave.

But retirement was not a word considered by the connections of Persian Punch.

The popular 10-year-old put some disappointing mid-season races behind him to score his 10th Group victory last month.


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