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From Arazi to Zenyatta: 29 years of Breeders' Cup memories
By Jay Privman
As the 30th running of the Breeders’ Cup approaches at Santa Anita next weekend, it is safe to say that the event has succeeded far beyond even the imagination of its founder, John Gaines, who envisioned a single day of racing that would decide year-end championships, most notably Horse of the Year.
The Breeders’ Cup has morphed into a two-day extravaganza, now numbering 14 races after expanding to as many as 15. In terms of both days and races, it literally is twice its original size.
The Breeders’ Cup has altered the landscape of American racing. While it has lessened the importance of some of the major fall races that prior to 1984 determined Eclipse Awards, and encouraged the demise of the Washington D.C. International, it has clearly done what it set out to do, help decide – on the racetrack, more so than the ballot box – championships across a wide swath of divisions. It has made possible for American racing fans to see European stars like Miesque and Goldikova, who had little chance of coming here had it not been for the Breeders’ Cup. It was the forerunner of the single-day, multiple Grade 1 stakes cards now run regularly at tracks like Santa Anita and Belmont Park. And it has spawned similar carnivals the world over, from Meydan in March to Ascot in October.
No one with an ounce of honesty would admit that they saw that coming on Nov. 10, 1984, when the horses for the first race, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, came onto the track for the post parade shortly after 11 in the morning. No one knew what would take place that day, let alone over the next three decades. For while the Breeders’ Cup was highly anticipated in racing circles that fall, it wasn’t even the most significant equine event that took place in California that year.
Three months earlier, Los Angeles had played host to the Olympics, with the stadium jumping, dressage, and a good portion of the three-day eventing held at Santa Anita.
As a sports reporter at the time for the Los Angeles Daily News, I was lucky enough to cover that Olympics, including attending the closing ceremonies on Aug. 12 at the Coliseum. Less than three months later, the races of the first Breeders’ Cup were held at Hollywood Park. I was there. And I’ve been at every one since. Every person has his own special memories of what stood out at each Breeders’ Cup. These are mine:
Lights! Camera! Action! Marje Everett, the vice chairman of the board at Hollywood Park, desperately wanted to play host to the first Breeders’ Cup, and after securing the event, set about to make the biggest splash possible. Well connected in both the entertainment and political circles, Everett was able to get such A-list celebrities as Fred Astaire, Cary Grant, Gregory Peck, Frank Sinatra, and Elizabeth Taylor to turn out, along with former President Gerald Ford. The day’s racing went by in dizzying fashion. As soon as you could digest the result of one race, they were on the track for the post parade for another championship race. The pace seemed frenetic, owing to the magnitude of each race.
There was an inquiry, and a justified disqualification, in the Juvenile Fillies. Royal Heroine outran the boys in the Mile. Princess Rooney crushed her rivals in the Distaff. Lashkari beat the 1983 Horse of the Year, All Along, in the Turf. And the Breeders’ Cup concluded with a rodeo of a finish in the Classic, with tiny Wild Again staving off both Gate Dancer and Slew o’ Gold as they careened off one another in the final yards. “No horse has ever run the final quarter-mile with the determination he did,” said Pat Day, who rode Wild Again.
The stewards’ interpretation of the bumping was, to my mind, correct, that Gate Dancer had been the instigator. The stewards had two tough calls to make – in the Juvenile Fillies and the Classic – and they got both right. Jack Van Berg, the trainer of Gate Dancer, was aggravated after the Classic, believing Gate Dancer’s reputation had preceded him. The morning after the Breeders’ Cup, though, Bill Hartack, the former riding great and at the time a patrol judge at Hollywood Park, convened a videotape session in a room adjacent to the jockeys’ room. He analyzed the head-on shots for those assembled, making a convincing argument that the stewards had made the right call. Van Berg left the room and admitted as much, deflating any lingering day-after controversy.
One of the great training achievements of modern times occurred this day. Precisionist had swept the three-race Strub Series over the winter at Santa Anita, concluding with a victory in the 1 1/4-mile Strub Stakes. Yet he went to the sidelines with bruised feet in June, and as the fall approached, his trainer, Ross Fenstermaker, decided to bring him fresh into the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, off works alone, for his first start in more than four months. It seemed audacious, but Precisionst, a future Hall of Famer, worked like a wild horse leading up to the race, then shipped across country to Aqueduct and won. The allure the Breeders’ Cup was having on European racing went up another notch with the field assembled for that year’s Turf, which was won by Pebbles, whose trainer, Clive Brittain, poured a pint of Guinness a day into her feed.
Laffit Pincay Jr. is the greatest jockey I’ve ever seen, and his subtly canny ride in the Classic on 10-1 shot Skywalker at Santa Anita might have been his finest moment. He prompted the pace while keeping Precisionist – who longed to run free – in a box, then aggressively rode to win instead of passively riding not to lose, by opening up prior to the quarter pole and daring anyone to catch Skywalker. No one could. In the previous race, Manila turned in one of the most courageous rallies ever. Trapped until it was seemingly too late in deep stretch, his turn of foot to blow past the likes of Theatrical and Estrapade was breathtaking. And earlier in the day, Lady’s Secret won the Distaff, her 10th win from 15 starts that year.
“When she left the gate, she’d pin her ears like a savage,” said Day, who rode her. “She was very competitive.”
If you watched the Classic at home on NBC, you heard Tom Durkin’s famous call of “the two Derby winners hit the wire together” as Ferdinand and Alysheba battled to the finish. At Hollywood Park, though, the sound was drowned out by a deafening roar that rivaled that of Churchill Downs on Derby Day. Two Derby winners, battling for Horse of the Year, and it comes down to Ferdinand, under 56-year-old Bill Shoemaker, winning by a scant nose. “He’s too much, that little son of a bitch,” Chris McCarron, Alysheba’s rider, said after congratulating Shoemaker in the jockeys’ room.
That was the first time Horse of the Year in the Breeders’ Cup era went to the Classic winner.
The day is long remembered for what Personal Ensign accomplished, for she had no business winning the Distaff under the conditions. There never was any point in the race where she appeared to be comfortable in the muddy footing at Churchill Downs, yet she persevered to run down the Kentucky Derby winner Winning Colors and complete an unbeaten career in what still ranks as one of the most dramatic finishes in Breeders’ Cup history. “I didn’t think she had a chance until the final five or six jumps,” said her trainer, Shug McGaughey.
Two other races stood out. In the Mile, Miesque became the first two-time winner of a Breeders’ Cup race, and she did it over a deep, tiring course quite unlike the firm ground she got at Hollywood Park the previous year. And then, owing to overcast skies and a late post, the Classic was run in virtual darkness. The starting gate was barely visible from the finish line. Flashbulbs popped like paparazzi on the red carpet as the runners came past the stands the first time, and the illumination from the photo finish camera was like a lighthouse beacon in the gloaming as Alysheba crossed the wire first. Near the winner’s circle, a fan held up a sign that read, “Alysheba for President.”
There hadn’t been a rivalry like Sunday Silence and Easy Goer since Affirmed and Alydar 11 years earlier, and there hasn’t been one since. After Easy Goer denied Sunday Silence the Triple Crown with his emphatic victory in the Belmont, they went their separate ways and did not meet again until the Classic at Gulfstream. Everybody knew what was at stake. If either won, that horse would be both champion 3-year-old and Horse of the Year, and the loser would get nothing. Both were trained to perfection, and Charlie Whittingham, who trained Sunday Silence, retained his confidence even when regular rider Patrick Valenzuela was hit with a 60-day suspension two weeks before the Breeders’ Cup after testing positive for cocaine. McCarron took over. “As Trevor Denman says, ‘You can go to the window,’” Whittingham said.
On a one-mile track, with his superior tactical speed, Sunday Silence was the better horse. The key moment took place on the far turn. With Easy Goer bearing down at the end of the backstretch run, Sunday Silence suddenly accelerated away from his rival, giving himself a cushion that proved insurmountable. A postscript: Easy Goer had made his final prep in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. After his loss, it was shortened to 1 1/4 miles, the same distance as the Classic, one example of how the Breeders’ Cup has altered the fall racing landscape.
This was the darkest day in American racing, beginning with the Sprint, in which Mr. Nickerson suffered a heart attack and died, and Shaker Knit crashed into him, suffering injuries that would prove fatal, all before Dayjur jumped shadows from the Belmont grandstand in deep stretch and surrendered the race to Safely Kept. Two races later, a furious battle between Bayakoa and Go for Wand went from epic to disastrous when Go for Wand broke down.
The site of her getting to her feet was awful, and there was no joy in the winner’s circle, where Ron McAnally, the trainer of Bayakoa, gave an impromptu tribute that was both compelling and heartfelt: “They give their lives just for our pleasure.” There were rumbles that rest of the card would be abandoned. “A lot of us were ready to throw in the towel,” Day told me a few years later. But the show went on, and European journalists in the press box yelled with joy, “Lester, Lester,” as the great Lester Piggott rallied Royal Academy to a victory in the Mile. I went back to my hotel room that night, lay down, and cried. The next day, Go for Wand was buried at Saratoga.
For one brief moment on a cold, crisp afternoon at Churchill Downs, the hottest thing in racing was Arazi. Knifing through the Juvenile field like a runaway train, he went from 13th to first in the 14-horse field in a little more than half a mile, rolling past his rivals like they were hobos leaning on a railroad post. His jockey, Valenzuela, looked like he was waterskiing, his feet far forward in the stirrups, as Arazi darted in and out. “Whenever he saw an open spot, he went right through it,” Valenzuela said. “It was like playing a video game in an arcade.”
This was the national coming-out party for Bob Baffert, who won his first Breeders’ Cup race in the Sprint with Thirty Slews, and some partying by members of his entourage at Gulfstream Park that night inspired the name Love on the Rail for a future runner. It was satisfying to see A.P. Indy win the Classic, for the talented colt had his Kentucky Derby chances negated by a blind quarter crack, and “his foot was shredded,” trainer Neil Drysdale said, when he pulled a shoe stumbling at the start of the Jockey Club Gold Cup. “It looked like someone had taken thick sandpaper and sanded off his foot. The walls were gone.” By the day of the Breeders’ Cup, though, A.P. Indy was ready for his best, and he won the Classic to secure Horse of the Year.
The day belonged to trainer Richard Mandella, who won four races at his home track of Santa Anita, including Kotashaan in the Turf and Phone Chatter in the Juvenile Fillies. Kotashaan needed to win to have a shot at Horse of the Year and the male turf title, because an hour earlier, Lure had won the Mile for the second straight year. The strategy utilized by McGaughey and jockey Mike Smith made the difference with Lure. They decided to send him aggressively from post 12, and as he made the lead, a brutal traffic jam developed behind him that eliminated several top contenders.
Lure and Kotashaan ended up the leading contenders for Horse of the Year because of a Classic that left everyone stunned. I had to look at the program to recall who wore number 11. It was Arcangues, a European who had never run on dirt. In the post parade, “I looked at the board and saw he was 99-1,” said his jockey, Jerry Bailey. “I thought, ‘I hope he doesn’t come jogging in an eighth of a mile behind.’” Arcangues’s actual odds were 133-1. He paid a Breeders’ Cup record $269.20.
Heavenly Prize, Hollywood Wildcat, and Sky Beauty were the major players in the Distaff. Every morning, I’d trudge right past the Churchill Downs barn of trainer Tom Proctor, who had longshot One Dreamer. He’d playfully call out, “Don’t you want to talk to me?” One Dreamer did the talking on race day, pulling off a 47-1 upset under Gary Stevens. Her exercise rider, Pete Garrett, repeatedly bowed to the crowd, his ponytail flapping wildly, as he walked her back to the barn after the race. “I had a good time all week,” Proctor said a few years later. “There was no pressure. No one knew we were there. I bet a little, because I wanted to have a little party in case she won. I had to party for two months to spend it all.”
Cigar had won 11 straight races, nine that year, but never had run on an off track. “The night before the race, our barn was completely flooded out. We were scooping water out,” said his trainer, Bill Mott. The morning of the race, Cigar went to the training track at Belmont Park, and went so well, “I just quit worrying,” Mott said. “I really wanted him to have a perfect year.” When Bailey turned him loose, Cigar “looked like he was shot out of a slingshot,” Mott said. Bailey won his third straight Classic that day. Earlier, Inside Information won the Distaff by 13 1/2 lengths, still a record margin for the Breeders’ Cup. As she came back to the winner’s circle, a glorious rainbow emerged over the length of the backstretch at Belmont Park. The best celebration, though, came after the Mile, when Irishmen joyously waved their country’s flag as Ridgewood Pearl entered the winner’s circle.
This was the first time the Breeders’ Cup was held outside the United States, and Toronto did it right. A party in the Skydome, and the Maple Leafs were home at Maple Leaf Gardens. The day before the Breeders’ Cup, Michael Dickinson, the trainer of Da Hoss, walked the turf course with his partner, Joan Wakefield, seeking the best ground. They drew up a map, and gave it to Stevens, who followed it to the pot of gold in the Mile. There was way too much attention paid to Ricks Natural Star, a hopeless longshot who was entered in the Turf after a cross-continent van journey and morning preparation that included pony rides for desiring journalists. It was a circus. To me, it was borderline abuse to run him, but he had received so much notoriety that he went off at just 56-1. Fortunately, his rider, Lisa McFarland, had the good sense to get him out of the way when he stopped, averting any potential disaster.
The days of the grossly punitive supplementary fees are now gone, so it’s remarkable to look back to 16 years ago and remember that Sonny and Carolyn Hine had to put up a $480,000 fee to make Skip Away eligible to run in the Classic at Hollywood Park. They had spent just $22,500 to acquire him as a 2-year-old! He was like a child to the Hines. When Skip Away would walk under the barn shed row after training, Carolyn would coo, “Mommy loves you.” Skip Away was a lopsided winner of the Classic, but he lost out on Horse of the Year to the unbeaten 2-year-old Favorite Trick, who romped by 5 1/2 lengths in the Juvenile. He was the first 2-year-old to be named Horse of the Year since Secretariat in 1972.
Owing to tendon problems, Da Hoss did not race for nearly two years after his win in the 1996 Mile, and if it had been up to Dickinson, he would have come into the 1998 Mile at Churchill Downs without a prep. But Dickinson feared that if the Mile had more than the maximum 14 runners, the selection committee would not put him in the body of the race without a suitable prep, so he tuned up in an allowance at Colonial Downs, which he won. Da Hoss then bravely won the Mile, re-rallying after being passed in deep stretch, completing one of the greatest comebacks, and training feats, in the sport’s history, let alone at the Breeders’ Cup. “It’s been an emotional roller-coaster,” Dickinson said. There was an outstanding field for the Classic, featuring the winners of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Belmont, Travers, Whitney, Woodward, Dubai World Cup, Blue Grass, Donn, Gulfstream Park Handicap, Haskell, Hollywood Gold Cup, Jockey Club Gold Cup, Pacific Classic, Pimlico Special, Super Derby, and Woodbine Million.
Skip Away, the previous year’s winner, was the 9-5 favorite, but he could only manage to finish sixth. The European invader Swain appeared headed to victory, but he badly drifted to the right. Silver Charm, desirous of a fight to bring out his best, was tipped toward him. That left a gaping hole for Awesome Again, who stormed down the center of the track to win.
William T. Young called together five of his advisers at Overbrook Farm to discuss whether to run Cat Thief in the Classic. None wanted to run. Young and trainer D. Wayne Lukas did. “The vote was unanimous – 2 to 5,” Young said. Cat Thief then went out and scored a 19-1 upset. Behind the scenes, Dickinson suspected a couple of rival trainers of cheating, and hired private investigators to follow the vans bringing their Classic runners to Gulfstream. He initially denied it, but later admitted he was behind it. Dickinson’s methods were clumsy, but his heart was in the right place.
Runners now have to be on the grounds days in advance, and are better monitored. There were two significant developments this year, both of which helped spur handle. The Filly and Mare Turf was added to the lineup, with Soaring Softly winning, and coupled entries were at long last eliminated.
After finishing third in 1998 and second in 1999, one of the best sprinters of modern times, Kona Gold, broke through for a Breeders’ Cup win, but the happiest person had to be his jockey, Alex Solis, who was absolutely beaming after winning his first Breeders’ Cup race. In the Mile, War Chant unleashed a breathtaking rally, covering his final quarter-mile in about 22.20 seconds to get up in time. They represented California well at Churchill Downs, but Tiznow represented California best. A maiden just six months earlier, Tiznow won the Classic, becoming the first California-bred to win a Breeders’ Cup race after 46 failures, and he was named both Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old.
This Breeders’ Cup was held only weeks after the terrible events of Sept. 11. There were still wisps of smoke emanating from where the Twin Towers stood, just 22 miles from Belmont Park. Emotions were raw, and security was tight, with sharpshooters poised along the roof of the track. There was a poignant, beautiful ceremony to start the day, with jockeys introduced while carrying the flags of their native countries, but there was a grim start to the Breeders’ Cup program, when Exogenous, heading to the track for the Distaff, reared and fell heavily on her head, and then had her right hind leg caught between slats of a metal fence. She eventually was freed, but days later, she had to be euthanized.
It was an anxious afternoon, but it ended with a spectacular Classic, in which Tiznow held off Sahkee to become the first two-time winner of the Classic. Enough credit cannot be given to Tiznow’s trainer, the underrated Jay Robbins, who was able to work through Tiznow’s back problems and his increasingly stubborn behavior to have him right on the day, “A feat very few people could have pulled off,” said McCarron, Tiznow’s jockey.
While doing a handicapping show for television two days before the race, I picked Domedriver in the Mile. “You must be joking,” replied another panelist, Andy Beyer, whom I called a “chalk-eating weasel” for his selection of odds-on favorite Rock of Gibraltar. The thought was that while Rock of Gibraltar was indeed a more accomplished horse, his wide post, and having to negotiate two turns at Arlington Park, did not justify his prohibitive price. Domedriver won, at 26-1, and Rock of Gibraltar had a horrid trip when finishing second.
In the press box, Beyer bowed down in tribute, per our side bet, which wasn’t as lucrative as the price I got on Domedriver, but was equally as satisfying. And while I didn’t pick Volponi in the Classic, I was thrilled for his trainer, P.G. Johnson, one of my all-time favorite people, and my colleague at the time, his daughter Karen, who picked her family’s horse in the Daily Racing Form consensus box. Walking out of the track that night, Dick Jerardi and I remarked how suspicious it was that so many tickets had the pick six that day after Volponi won at 43-1. But little did we know what was to unfold in the days ahead, when it was discovered that three fraternity brothers from Drexel had bypassed tote company security and altered a pick six ticket.
The heat was on at Santa Anita. It was 99 degrees, and Mandella was hotter, winning a record four Breeders’ Cup races on one day. His victory with Halfbridled in the Juvenile Fillies was especially satisfying, for it capped a remarkable comeback from retirement by her Hall of Fame rider, Julie Krone, who had spent the year showing Californians what all the fuss had been about when she rode back East.
Many consider the 1998 Classic field the best in Breeders’ Cup history, but my vote goes to this Classic field, which included Roses in May (future Dubai World Cup winner), Pleasantly Perfect (past Breeders’ Cup and Dubai winner), Azeri (2002 Horse of the Year), Birdstone (Belmont and Travers winner), and Funny Cide (Kentucky Derby winner). Ghostzapper blew them off the track at Lone Star, scoring a three-length victory to secure Horse of the Year. “He’s the best horse I ever trained,” Bobby Frankel said after the race.
Rick Dutrow Jr. became a controversial figure in racing during and after the Big Brown era, but before that, his training of Saint Liam was sublime. He got the very best out of that horse, who was plagued with brittle, shelly feet. After his final work before the Classic, Dutrow said, “I’m all in, babe. I’m all in.” It wasn’t a figure of speech. Dutrow bet so much money on Saint Liam that he made more gambling on the race than he did on his cut of the winner’s share. Saint Liam overcame a wide post, a detriment going 1 1/4 miles at Belmont Park, and he had never won at that distance. It was no matter. Dutrow also won the Sprint earlier in the day with Silver Train.
British-based Ouija Board won the Filly and Mare Turf in 2004, was second in 2005, and returned to win again at Churchill Downs this year, part of a globetrotting résumé that likely never would have included the United States had it not been for the Breeders’ Cup. It was a treat to see her, and so, too, over the years her rider that day, Frankie Dettori, who also won the Turf with Red Rocks. Our understanding of and appreciation for the leading horses, trainers, and jockeys based in Europe has no doubt been immeasurably enhanced by seeing them compete in the Breeders’ Cup.
The Breeders’ Cup expanded this year to two days and 11 races, but the weather was the main story. Monmouth Park is one of my favorite tracks, but torrential rain prevented the track from being displayed in its proper glory. Ginger Punch won the Distaff and, with it, the Eclipse Award as champion older female, but Frankel, her trainer, remained in California, tending to a gravely ill dog. He could come off brusque and off-putting, but Frankel truly had a deep, caring heart for animals and his closest friends. The 3-year-old class of this year was the best in years, and they swept five of the first six spots in the Classic, with Curlin a runaway winner over Hard Spun, with Street Sense fourth.
There was further expansion this year, to 14 races, and plenty of controversy over running the races for the first time on a synthetic surface, Santa Anita’s Pro-Ride. Foreigners loved it – there was record representation from Europe – particularly Raven’s Pass in the Classic. This was one of the more memorable editions for singularly brilliant performances, most notably Ventura in the Filly and Mare Sprint, Goldikova in the Mile, and Midnight Lute in the Sprint. Zenyatta won the Ladies’ Classic, bringing her record to 9 for 9. “She’s a ray of sunshine in whatever cloudy things may come our way,” said her trainer, John Shirreffs. There was much more to come.
I covered John Henry winning the Arlington Million at age 9, the Preakness between Sunday Silence and Easy Goer, every Breeders’ Cup, and every Kentucky Derby since 1982, but nothing tops this Classic when Zenyatta won. She looked hopelessly beaten early in the race, her first against males, but she unleashed a dramatic run to win, which set off a delirious celebration in front of her adoring hometown fans at Santa Anita, who never stopped cheering until well after she left the winner’s circle. Shirreffs, watching the race at ground level about 100 yards from the finish, was only yards away from me when the race was run, and he had a rapturous look on his face when the race ended. He bounded down the stretch to the winner’s circle, and flung his ball cap into the crowd, reflecting the pure joy of the moment.
Zenyatta came back for an encore, in a race run under the lights, which only added to the suspense, but there was to be no fairytale ending. She was defeated for the only time in her career by a thoroughly worthy winner, Blame, in the Classic. Zenyatta rightly received a heartfelt ovation when coming back to be unsaddled. Smith, her rider, was disconsolate, blaming himself for the loss, but I think all that takes away from Blame, who was a terrific racehorse and, though he won the older male championship, did not get the acclaim he deserved. The Classic overshadowed Goldikova becoming the first three-time Breeders’ Cup winner, when she again won the Mile, her turn of foot something to behold. That followed Freaky Friday, which began with an enraged Calvin Borel going after Javier Castellano following the Marathon and yelling, “I’m going to kill you!” and concluded with Life at Ten’s somnambulant performance in the Ladies’ Classic. There was a lot of drama packed into those two days.
Mott was in a great mood all week, at dinner, at his barn at Churchill Downs. As in poker, the tells were there. Mott obviously knew his horses were spot on, and he won the two biggest prizes, with Royal Delta in the Ladies’ Classic, and Drosselmeyer in the Classic. Amazombie gave one of California’s most-respected trainers, Bill Spawr, his first Breeders’ Cup win, in the Sprint. Co-owner Kendall Hansen literally kissed the ground – which looked like an EPA Superfund site – in the winner’s circle after his namesake won the Juvenile. But the best, most heartfelt celebration belonged to the O’Brien family, after Joseph rode St Nicholas Abbey to victory in the Turf for his father, Aidan. It was the Irish equivalent of a father playing catch with his son, only writ large.
The field for the Ladies’ Classic was its best ever, with unbeaten My Miss Aurelia, unbeaten Awesome Feather, and the race’s defending champ, Royal Delta, who took the track at the start and never looked back. Groupie Doll could not have been more dominating in the Filly and Mare Sprint, and Wise Dan put himself in position to be named Horse of the Year by winning the Mile over an unlucky Animal Kingdom, who had subtly significant trouble midway through the race. Although the races were run at Santa Anita, there was no home-court advantage, with only two of the 15 winners having made their last start in California. Ian Wilkes showed he had learned his lessons well from the master, his mentor Carl Nafzger, by training Fort Larned to be at his best in the Classic following a subpar final prep.
The overall handle for the 15 races last year was more than $132 million. In 1984, for seven races, it was $16,452,179. But the numbers don’t tell the whole story. The Breeders’ Cup is acknowledged, as was originally intended, as the year-end championship event. Like the final football game of the season, it has come a long ways from its inception. It truly is the Super Bowl of horse racing.
For me, Personal Ensign win in Distaff is hands down the best moment in Breeders Cup History. Flanders courageous victory which ended her career also ranks up there. As does the Ferdinand-Alysheba batttle. The most frustrating to watch is Zenyatta losing to Blame, which I still blame on Mike Smith. Go For Wand is by far the worst, although the euthanizing of George Washington after the 2007 Classic as they are celebrating Curlin's win still haunts me.
I've been to 19 Breeder's Cups and my favorite races were the 87, 89, 09, 10 Classics, 98 Mile, & 2011 Mile with Court Vision. My worst experiences were at Belmont in 1990 which everyone knows about, 2005 at Belmont (our section was packed with mouth breathers), 2003 at SA (hot and smoky from nearby fires) and 2007 at Monmouth (miserable).
There's so many great Breeders Cup moments that there's no way any single retrospect like this can possibly recall everybody's favorite. Just to put it on record, one of my favorite BC races ever was the battle between Theatrical and Arc-winner Trempolino in the 1987 Turf at Hollywood Park. The American champion and the European champion locked in a mortal struggle all the way down the stretch with the two Pats (Day & Eddery).....both champion riders refusing to give an inch! When my beloved Theatrical finally passed under the wire first, I just broke down and cried! I'll never forget it! Great work, Jay.......thanks so much!
Not so sure I agree that last year's Ladies Classic was "it's best ever" but, overall, a fun read through Breeder's Cup history. Of course, as a bettor, the horses that stand out to me are the ones I either bet on or the ones that beat me out of a good bet. Anees at 33-1 was probably my best score. Pebbles beating Strawberry Road hurt, especially since Pebbles won from the hole that Strawberry Road's jockey vacated in order to go outside for the stretch run. That's horse racing...
Jay, You are right about Blame. Blame will never get the full credit he deserves because of who he beat and because Zenyatta fans will always say she was squeezed at the start, steadied during her rally, and reacted badly to the kickback early. Blame was extremely game. That's why Zenyatta did not get past him. He demonstrated that gameness several times, but especially when he won a couple of slow paced races with a late burst acceleration when he looked hopelessly beat.. IMO he was on the verge of breaking out into a real superstar himself at the time. He was still improving. He was just one of those horses that due to race development, pace, and running style rarely dominated. He just always fired and practically always won.
Great read....Cigar's sloppy track victory and the call from Durkin was awesome...One of my other favorite horses not mentioned was Buck's Boy, which each year my friends chide me over...... PS being a Browns fan, this truly is my Super Bowl.
How about years of memories from BEFORE the Breeders Cup (aka California Thoroughbred Championships) when great horses were part of the Handicap Triple and the Hopeful. and races like the JCGC weren't consider "preps."
“You must be joking,” replied another panelist, Andy Beyer, whom I called a “chalk-eating weasel” Best thing I've heard in this sport in a long time!
Zenyatta ran the second fastest Breeders Cup Distaff in the history of the event (when she stopped the teletimer in 1:46 and change). Very, very impressive. I would have to say that Zenyatta is the greatest filly or mare to ever set foot on a North American racetrack. Seen Ruffian 4 times (in person). Ruffian... would have to be the close second to Zenyatta.
Both of Zenyatta's races where absolutely thrilling ,really exciting, the way top notch horse racing should be.
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