TDN Horses of the Year: Big Rock

Big Rock storms home at Ascot on British Champions Day | Racingfotos

   Continuing the profiles of the favourite horses of TDN Europe's editorial team in 2023, Emma Berry selects the French raider who took QIPCO British Champions Day by storm.

I'd been impressed by Christopher Head since the day I first visited his stable in July 2019 and found him on the end of a broomstick sweeping the floor outside the rented boxes of the five horses he had in training at that time.

His ascent has been rapid, and by now his string must be 20 times that size. And, yes, he has a surname that would open doors in France and beyond, but it is hard not to respect the progress made within the short time Head has been training. In 2023, his first Classic win with Blue Rose Cen (Ire) (Churchill {Ire}), who had also been his first Group 1 winner in the previous season's Prix Marcel Boussac, was followed by his first Group 1 success outside France.

Big Rock (Ire) first caught the eye with his dominant performance in the G3 Prix La Force at Longchamp. Off he went in front, and when Padishakh (Fr) came for him in the straight, he kicked again, repelling that challenger and ultimately winning eased down. This he repeated, even more impressively, when winning the G3 Prix de Guiche at Chantilly, with Aurelien Lemaitre simply having to coax him with hands and heels to put five lengths between himself and Horizon Dore (Fr). The runner-up would go on to record four straight stakes wins including two Group 2s.

Big Rock stepped up to the G1 Prix du Jockey Club and, for much of the race, the front-running son of Rock of Gibraltar (Ire) looked as though he would once again have things all his own way before Ace Impact (Ire) set sail from the back of the pack.

Chalk and cheese in their running styles, the trail-blazing Big Rock and stalking Ace Impact set the French scene alight this year. While the latter continued to storm through his season unbeaten, deploying a similarly devastating late turn of foot to win the Arc before retiring to stud, Big Rock thrice ran into just one that would get the better of him. They were good ones, mind. Inspiral (GB) took his scalp the next time in the G1 Prix Jacques Le Marois, and then Sauterne (Fr) in the G1 Prix du Moulin. But then came Ascot.

There is often much gnashing of teeth in the build-up to QIPCO British Champions Day, which is usually accompanied by typically wet autumn weather, making the ground testing. It was no problem for Big Rock, however, who coped with the soft ground just as he had done in his five-length romp at Chantilly in May, turning his seasonal finale into a procession.

This time it was a six-length pasting he gave his rivals in the G1 Queen Elizabeth II S., making all to rout a quality field that included the multiple Group 1 winners Tahiyra (Ire), Nashwa (GB), Paddington (GB) and Chaldean (GB). A dazzling performance to cut through the gloom of the day.

Big Rock looks a big star in the making for his late sire who had his own dazzling brand of magic over a mile, and the Yeguada Centurion homebred has a strong pedigree to recommend him once he makes it to stud. His Aga Khan-bred dam, by Sea The Stars (Ire), is out of a half-sister to one of that stallion's best sons, the dual Derby winner Harzand (Ire). But before we even think about his stallion career, let's applaud his owner Leopoldo Fernandez Pujals for allowing him to race on and enjoy Big Rock back on the track in 2024.


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