The Breeders’ Cup Classic is American racing’s Super Bowl, intended to pit the year’s greatest racehorses against each other for a final say in year-end championships. Here are this author’s top ten editions of the famous race.
Every year the competition is held on a different race track. Last year, for example, the race was held at the Del Mar race track. If you don’t know where is Del Mar race track it is located in California. However, this year the Cup will be held on the Keeneland race track, in Lexington, Kentucky.
10. Arcangues (1993)
The 1993 Breeders’ Cup Classic looked to be Bertrando’s for the taking.
Favored after taking the Goodwood Handicap, Bertrando was a length on the lead and seemed to be headed toward victory when the longest shot on the board, 133-1 Arcangues, split horses and stole the race. So little was known about the French horse that, prior to the race, jockey Jerry Bailey had never even seen him. Trainer Andre Fabre was tight-lipped, giving Bailey a leg up accompanied only by two words of advice: “Good luck!”
9. Pleasantly Perfect (2003)
It is doubtful that anyone has ever had, or will ever have, a day quite like trainer Richard Mandella did on October 25th, 2003.
Eight Breeders’ Cup races were run that day, and a full half of them belonged to him. He saw his favored Halfbridled take jockey Julie Krone to victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, making her the first female jockey to win a Breeders’ Cup race. He saw his longshot Action This Day go from last to first to take the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He saw his Johar match strides with European champion High Chaparral in the Breeders’ Cup Turf, resulting in the series’ first dead heat victory.
Then there was Pleasantly Perfect. A winner of only one start that year, he was written off at 14-1. He looked beaten until the final seventy yards of the race when he pushed forward past favored Medaglia d’Oro to cap one of the most amazing training feats in US racing history.
8. Wild Again (1984)
The inaugural Breeders’ Cup Classic was supposed to be a coronation for Slew o’Gold, who was widely regarded as the best horse in training at the time. However, it was a day of surprises, and the best was saved for last.
Wild Again, a 30-1 shot, had been supplemented to the race for $360,000, a huge sum for a horse many people thought had no chance at winning. But at the wire, after a roughly run race, it was Wild Again whose head was in front, winning what was at the time the world’s richest race. Slew o’Gold finished third, but received some consolation by being elevated to second upon the disqualification of Gate Dancer.
7. Ferdinand (1987)
The first three editions of the Breeders’ Cup Classic were won by relatively unheralded horses, and none of them had ever been ranked as the leader of their division.
The fourth edition of the Classic, run on November 21st, 1987, was a different story.
Ferdinand had won the Kentucky Derby in 1986, but it wasn’t until the summer of 1987 that he really came into his own. He entered the Classic on a three-race winning streak, having taken the Hollywood Gold Cup Handicap, Cabrillo Handicap, and the Goodwood Handicap. Three-year-old Alysheba, meanwhile, had a rougher fall season but solid spring credentials, having victories in both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes.
It couldn’t have been a closer race. Ferdinand was all-out to battle past Candi’s Gold and Judge Angelucci, and no sooner had he cleared those rivals did Alysheba fly up to match him. As Tom Durkin said, the two Derby winners hit the wire together, with the elder Ferdinand just managing to hang on.
6. Cigar (1995)
The cigar seemed to come out of nowhere to take the racing world by storm.
A son of Palace Music, Cigar was naturally assumed to take to the grass rather than the dirt. However, after a few frustrating turf efforts and a trainer change, Cigar found his stride, and he notched his first stakes victory in the 1994 NYRA Mile.
There was no turning back. Cigar’s 1995 campaign was a tour de force; his ten wins from ten starts that year included eight Grade I stakes at six different tracks around the United States. The muddy track on Breeders’ Cup day was initially a concern, but Cigar’s performance never validated that- he took the race in 1:59.58, which was then the fastest time ever for the 1 ¼ mile Classic.
5. Sunday Silence (1989)
Everyone loves a good rivalry.
Many racing hard boots thought it a fluke when Sunday Silence slipped past heavily favored Easy Goer to take the 1989 Kentucky Derby; perhaps Sunday Silence was the better mudder, or Easy Goer did not take to the Churchill Downs surface. The Preakness would tell a different story.
It did, but not in the way those hard boots predicted. In one of the all-time racing thrillers, the two colts battled head to head for the entire Pimlico stretch, with Sunday Silence prevailing by a nostril. He was poised to take the Triple Crown, but Easy Goer flourished on his home track, taking the Test of the Champion by eight lengths.
The two colts took different paths to the Breeders’ Cup. Easy Goer dominated the East Coast, taking the Whitney, Travers, Woodward, and Jockey Club Gold Cup with ease. Sunday Silence, however, had a bit of a rougher time, falling to Prized in the Swaps Stakes before beating the suspect competition in the Super Derby.
Easy Goer was made the favorite, but it was the wiry Sunday Silence who wove through traffic and hit the lead on the far turn. Easy Goer got himself into gear and made chase, but Sunday Silence held on by an ever-diminishing neck.
4. Zenyatta (2009)
Zenyatta, who had won the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic (now called the Breeder’s Cup Distaff) the year before, came into the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic completely undefeated, looking to extend her win streak to 14.
It was her first start against males, and many thought that she had little chance in the race, especially after she trailed the field at the start with relatively slow fractions up front. But Zenyatta roared to life on the far turn and zipped past champion Gio Ponti to take the win.
Zenyatta was subsequently named champion older female, but lost Horse of the Year honors to another colt-bashing filly, Preakness winner Rachel Alexandra.
Oh well. There was always next year.
3. Blame (2010)
Zenyatta, who had won the Breeders’ Cup Classic the year before, came into the 2010 Breeder’s Cup Classic completely undefeated, looking to extend her win streak to 20.
The great mare very nearly pulled off the double, but the wire came mere inches too early for Zenyatta, who suffered her only defeat in failing to catch Blame, who would be named champion older male of 2010. Zenyatta, in turn, finally got the Horse of the Year honors she richly deserved.
2. American Pharoah (2015)
The 2015 edition of the Breeders’ Cup Classic brought something that the series had never seen before, and may never see again: a Triple Crown winner.
The 2014 champion two-year-old had crushed all of his competition in his first six starts of the year (including the three races of the Triple Crown), but he came into the Breeders’ Cup Classic somewhat humbled by his loss to Keen Ice in the Grade I Travers Stakes.
In his first and only start against his elders, some fans wondered if the champ was beatable. American Pharoah, however, put all of those fears to rest with a sensational 6 ½ length victory over Effinex and Honor Code, earning a career-high E figure of 119 and the title of Thoroughbred racing’s first “Grand Slam” winner.
1. Tiznow (2001)
It was October 27th, 2001. Not even two months prior, the United States was devastated by the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The site of the Breeders’ Cup races that year, Belmont Park, was only about 12 miles from Ground Zero. The smoke from the site itself could be seen from the track, and armed security was prominent.
The racing fans of New York City, however, demanded a show, and a show they got. The first major sporting event held in NYC since the attack featured Tiznow, the 2000 Horse of the Year and Breeder’s Cup Classic winner, against a strong European contingent that included Arc de Triomphe winner Sakhee.
Sakhee looked to be an easy winner, overtaking Tiznow, Orientate, and Albert the Great at the top of the stretch. But inside Tiznow, the heart of a champion burned. With encouragement from jockey Chris McCarron, Tiznow embodied all of the resilience and courage of the heroes of 9/11, digging deep to push his nose in front. The announcer’s call never rang more true: “Tiznow wins it for America!”