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Book Review

Rock of Gibraltar Ultimate Racehorse and Fabulous Prize in a Battle of Giants
by Martin Hannan
Cutting Edge Press, 272 pages, November 2004

Racing fans in North America remember Rock of Gibraltar as the huge favorite in the 2002 Breeders' Cup Mile who finished a disappointing second after a troubled trip. Fans in Europe know him as "the monster", who set a world record with seven consecutive Group 1 wins including two Classics. Some may recall that he was owned by Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson. However, there was a lot more to the Rock's story than what he did on the racecourse. In his latest book, award-winning sportswriter Martin Hannan set out to reveal the secret war that took place behind the scenes.

Hannan starts off by telling us his personal story on how he got acquainted with "Rocky." Given the horse's popularity beyond the racing world, Hannan also makes an effort to explain the racing game so that the rest of the story is easier to understand. Concepts such as Group races, handicap weights, and breeding are touched on, along with a brief history of the Thoroughbred breed..

Hannan takes us step by step through Rock of Gibraltar's racing career, as trainer Aidan O'Brien and jockey Mick Kinane suffered some disappointing results early on. As a 2-year-old, Rocky was clearly not a stable star but a second stringer in the stable of high-priced horseflesh at Ballydoyle. It was early in his 3-year-old season that the superstar came into form. As well, his ownership seemed to change hands before each race, with Sir Alex Ferguson being listed first and thus the Rock raced in the red and white colors of Manchester United. Ferguson brought over a lot of crossover fans, as supporters of superpower United cheered on the Rock as their own.

To the casual sports fan, this was an amazing story. But to those involved, it was about to turn into a nightmare. Upon the Rock's retirement, Ferguson assumed he owned half the horse and thus, would earn half of whatever he earned at stud. Coolmore boss John Magnier saw it differently, claiming that no part of the horse was ever sold to Ferguson, despite Ferguson being named as the owner of record. The two former friends suddenly became bitter enemies, as a "cold war" was fought over the ownership of the Rock as the high-priced stallion he had become. Much of the fight did appear in the public eye, especially with Magnier gradually buying up shares in United, Ferguson's employer. Clearly a high-stakes power play was in effect, with both combatants exchanging favoritism with the public and the press.

Hannan attempted to dig up as much detail as he could, but through the whole process Ferguson and Magnier remained silent and have kept that silence to this day. Ferguson and Magnier settled out of court, and thankfully this experience did not cause Ferguson to leave the sport. Instead, he hired another trainer and continues to race horses, albeit none as classy as The Rock.

This is clearly an amazing story that any follower of racing will enjoy. You get to read a lot about Rock of Gibraltar, one of the most popular, dominating horses in recent years to grace the Turf. As well, you get a nice insight into Coolmore, one of the most powerful Thoroughbred racing and breeding operations the world has ever seen. And as a bonus, fans of Manchester United get to learn a bit more about Sir Alex Ferguson, a celebrity in his own right. Hannan's book belongs in every racing history buff's bookshelf, as Rock of Gibraltar certainly made history both on and off the track..

Rock of Gibraltar has a list price of $35.00 and is available from Amazon.com for $23.10.

Rating:     5/5

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