It’s Breeders’ Cup week, which means horse racing might escape its customary cell on your local paper’s agate page. There have been more than a few headline-worthy moments in the 27 years of the sport’s championship event. Here are the most memorable:
10: Goldikova, 2010
In the first 26 years of the Breeders’ Cup, only eight horses won the same race in consecutive years. None managed three in a row. Goldikova pulled off the first three-peat when she won the 2010 Mile at Churchill Downs. Based in France, she regularly defeated males in races across Europe before trainer Freddie Head shipped her to whip whatever the US could offer. Mile title No. 3 came in dominant fashion, as Goldikova sat sixth most of the way and then blasted past the tiring frontrunners in the stretch. She is going for No. 4 this year.
9: Volponi, 2002
The race itself didn’t live up to its Classic name. Volponi, a nondescript horse who went off at 43-1 at Arlington Park, beat one of the weaker fields in Classic history. The intrigue came after the race. The long shot resulted in only one winner of the Breeders’ Cup Pick Six, with a payoff of $3 million. Such a bonanza drew attention, naturally, and soon it became evident the lucky winner actually was in on a scam. An Autotote employee was rigging Pick Six tickets across the country because of a flaw in the system that allowed him to submit a live ticket after four legs were complete, a modern twist on "past posting." The winning ticket, suspiciously, had one horse picked in each of the first four legs and every horse in the final two.
8: Da Hoss, 1998
The Breeders’ Cup was conceived as a year-end championship. For the most part, it has served that purpose. So it was nearly unthinkable that a horse could win after being virtually idle for two years. But that’s what Da Hoss did in the Mile at Churchill Downs. He won the Mile at Woodbine in 1996 and then was sidelined by foot problems. After sitting out 1997, he had one comeback race in ’98, a mere allowance race. Yet he beat Hawksley Hill by a nose in a tremendous stretch battle, justifying trainer Michael Dickinson’s aggressive placement.
7: Personal Ensign, 1988
Personal Ensign was a perfect 12 for 12 in her career when she headed to Churchill Down for the Distaff. Her last career race would be no walkover. Kentucky Derby winner Winning Colors was in the field, going back to racing against females after campaigning against males in the Triple Crown races. Winning Colors, in typical style, opened a large lead early. Personal Ensign was still four lengths back with only a furlong to go. Rallying on the outside, down the middle of the track, she got her nose in front of Winning Colors at the wire to win the photo and retire unbeaten.
6: Arcangues, 1993
Europeans had fared well in grass races since the inception of the Breeders’ Cup in 1984 but were rarely factors on dirt. So Arcangues, an invader from France, was dismissed at 133-1 in the Classic at Santa Anita, even with superstar rider Jerry Bailey aboard. As Arcangues passed favorite Bertrando in deep stretch to pull off the biggest upset in Breeders’ Cup history, few fans had learned how to pronounce his name. (It’s ar-kahng.)
5: Go For Wand, 1990
Not every moment is memorable for the right reasons. Go For Wand challenged Bayakoa in the Distaff at Belmont Park, the rare year when a race stole headlines from the Classic. Go For Wand, a 3-year-old, was the 1989 Juvenile Fillies champion; Bayakoa, a 6-year-old mare, was defending her Distaff crown. The two battled side by side in a thriller. Then Go For Wand put her head in front inside the one-sixteenth pole, only to collapse to the track with a broken leg. She was euthanized on the track as the risks of the sport became all too evident to all in the stands and watching on TV. Jockey Randy Romero broke his pelvis and several ribs.
4: Wild Again, 1984
Yes, the first time was one to remember. The inaugural Classic, at Hollywood Park, got the Breeders’ Cup off to a great start. Three horses were nearly inseparable strides from the wire. Wild Again, a 31-1 long-shot frontrunner, somehow held off the hard-charging Gate Dancer and Slew O’ Gold, who pressured Wild Again throughout the race. There was a stewards’ inquiry before Wild Again’s victory held up as official, extending the drama beyond the finish.
3: Zenyatta, 2009
Zenyatta appealled to the masses as a filly taking on the boys in the ultimate challenge, the Classic, and because of her running style. She would dawdle in the back, seemingly uninterested in joining the race until the very last moment. Then she would unleash a furious rally to claim victory in deep stretch. Such was the case in front of a home crowd at Santa Anita when she stormed past 11 rivals and beat Gio Ponti by a length to become the first female to win the Classic.
2: Sunday Silence, 1989
Sunday Silence’s victory in the Classic was the culmination of an East Coast-West Coast rivalry that preceded Biggie Smalls’ first demo tape. Sunday Silence was the favorite of the West Coast, an upstart who failed to sell as a yearling before going for $50,000 as a 2-year-old. Easy Goer was the East Coast hero, a homebred blueblood of the establishment. Sunday Silence beat his rival in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, but Easy Goer prevailed by eight lengths in the Belmont, further convincing each coast of its favorite’s superiority. Sunday Silence got the last word at Gulfstream Park, holding off Easy Goer by a neck to complete a championship season.
1. Arazi, 1991
Arazi transformed from a mere horse into an adjective with his powerful move through the field on the final turn en route to victory in the 1991 Juvenile at Churchill Downs. Jaws dropped at the artistry and speed of his sustained burst. The best runners of his generation seemed stuck on pause as Arazi passed them. Since then, any similarly sustained move is dubbed "Arazi-like."