The Breeders’ Cup Turf is one of the seven original Breeders’ Cup races run for the first time at Hollywood Park in 1984. Like the other BC races run on turf, it attracts high-class European horses to compete in the United States, giving some credence to the notion that the American event is the “World Championship” of Thoroughbred racing.
The list of awards won by BC Turf winners include one Canadian Horse of the Year, three European Horses of the Year, one German Horse of the Year, and one North American Horse of the Year. Of the 27 different winners of the race since 1984, 16 have won divisional honors during their careers in Europe and/or North America.
Since grass or turf is the primary racing surface in Europe, it should come as no surprise that the winners of the Breeders’ Cup Turf tend to come from overseas. If you look at the 27 different winners, approximately 70% did most of their racing abroad before winning the BC Turf. Since 2000, Johar, Better Talk Now, and English Channel are the only U.S.-based runners to win one of the most prestigious turf races in America.
The Three Great Moments picked by the HRF crew for the Breeder’s Cup Turf all have winners that happened to do most of their racing in the U.S.A. Yes, I think we all would acknowledge our bias.
In chronological order….
1986 Manila / Theatrical / Estrapade
It would be difficult to find a more impressive trifecta of turf runners than the trio that finished in the top three in the 1986 BC Turf. Manila, Theatrical and Estrapade all would be crowned turf champions during their careers and Manila would earn a place in Racing’s Hall of Fame.
Add to the impressive U.S. based horses who competed in the BC Turf that year the European Dancing Brave, the 1986 British Horse of the Year. The 3-year-old had won eight of nine starts with his only loss coming by a half-length in the Epsom Derby. He shipped to the U.S. for the BC Turf after winning the French Arc, one of the world’s toughest races on turf. He was the heavy post-time betting favorite at 1-2.
The second betting choice was the coupled pair of Theatrical and Estrapade. The filly Estrapade entered the 1986 BC Turf off consecutive victories against males in the Grade 1 Arlington Million at 1 ½ miles and the Grade 1 Oak Tree Invitational at 1 ½ miles. Theatrical’s best days were ahead of him in 1986, but he ran second to Estrapade in the Oak Tree Invitational. The coupled entry were sent off at odds of 3-1.
It was the third choice at odds of 8-1, the 3-year-old Manila, who stole the show. He entered the 1986 BC Turf on a five-race win streak that included wins in the Grade 1 United Nations and the Grade 1 Turf Classic. While Manila had a strong resume coming into 1986 BC Turf, he truly stamped himself as a great horse at Santa Anita. Boxed in as the field turned into the stretch, his jockey Jose Santos pulled him off the rail and he boldly charged after and then passed Theatrical in deep stretch:
Video courtesy of the Breeders’ Cup
It was the final race of Dancing Brave’s career. Theatrical would return and win the BC Turf in 1987. He would also earn the Eclipse Award in 1987 for Turf Male. At stud, he sired 22 Grade 1 winners and 14 lifetime millionaires. He died in Kentucky in 2012 at the age of 30.
Estrapade made one more start in 1986 after the Breeders’ Cup and then called it a career. The only filly to ever win the Arlington Million, she earned the Eclipse Award for Turf Female based on her stellar season in 1986. As a broodmare, she produced two winners and one stakes winner. She died in 2005.
Manila won the Eclipse Award for Turf Male in 1986 and continued to race in 1987. He won the United Nations and Arlington Million, beating Theatrical in the latter. An injury forced him into retirement soon after the Million. In his 18-race career, he won twelve times and never finished worse than second. In 2008, he earned the ultimate honor when he joined a place among the immortals in the Racing Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, NY. He died in Turkey in 2009 where he spent the last 10 years of his life as a sire.
2003 Johar / High Chapparal
Among the hundreds of races run in the quarter-century history of the Breeders’ Cup, the 2003 BC Turf run at Santa Anita Park in California stands alone. It is the only time that a BC race ended in a dead heat for the win.
High Chaparral came into the 2003 BC as the defending champion, having won the 2002 BC Turf at Arlington Park as the post-time favorite. A winner of twelve of nine career starts, he made only two starts in North America, both in the Breeders’ Cup. While the 2003 BC didn’t bring the best of Europe, the bettors still made High Chaparral the fourth choice in the betting.
The three starters more highly regarded in the betting pools than the defending champ included Storming Home, Falabrav, and Sulamani. All three were bred and primarily raced in Europe, but Storming Home and Sulamani had won Grade 1 races in the U.S. Falabrav entered the 2003 BC Turf off a win in the prestigious QEII at Ascot in England. Storming Home, the post-time favorite, had made his last start before the BC in the Grade 1 Clement Hirsch at Santa Anita, where he finished first, a half-length ahead of the California-based Johar. His win over the track made him an attractive choice for win honors.
However, Storming Home would finish 14 lengths from the winners in the 2003 BC Turf. Johar hit the wire first along with High Chaparral at odds of 14-1, in one of the most thrilling finishes in Breeders’ Cup history. His win was also one of four on the day for trainer Richard Mandella, a record that still stands today.
Video courtesy of the Breeders’ Cup
High Chaparral won his second consecutive Eclipse Award for Turf Male in 2003. The dead heat with Johar was the final race of his impressive career. He currently stands at stud for Coolmore, a prominent Irish-based breeding operation, where he has sired Group/Grade 1 winners Wrote (winner of the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf), Wigmore Hall, and Redwood.
2007 English Channel / Dylan Thomas
The stormy weather that literally dampened the 2007 Breeders’ Cup at Monmouth Park in New Jersey should have been a huge advantage to the Europeans in that year’s Turf.
While the field was not very deep, it did include Red Rocks, the reigning BC Turf winner, the Irish-bred son of the great Galileo. He entered the 2007 BC Turf as he did the previous year, without a stakes win while racing among the best in Europe.
The 2007 BC Turf also had Dylan Thomas, the 2006 Irish Champion and Horse of the Year. Dylan Thomas was coming into that year’s BC with wins in the Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot, the Irish Champion Stakes, and the Arc at Longchamp, which was as good a triple of races as you can find in the world. With the rain-soaked ground at Monmouth, which is a more common condition of European turf racing, and his stellar season up to that point, Dylan Thomas was the heavy favorite in the 2007 BC Turf.
The best of the U.S. competitors was English Channel. Arguably the best American turf horse in training at the time, he was trying the BC Turf for the third time. He finished fifth as a 3-year-old in 2005 and finished third after leading briefly in the stretch in 2006. In the four American Grade 1 races he entered in 2007, he had two firsts and two seconds. English Channel stood at the top of his game in 2007.
The condition of the turf course at Monmouth, listed officially as “soft,” was the main question facing English Channel as the horses entered the gate for the BC Turf. While European-based runners like Dylan Thomas and Red Rocks were accustomed to races over soft turf, American runners like English Channel typically ran over firm turf ,and he had never raced, let alone won over a soft turf course.
Dylan Thomas was sent to post just below even money and English Channel at 3-1. While English Channel’s winning wasn’t a great shock, his domination in winning by seven lengths is what made it one of the BC’s great moments:
Video courtesy of the Breeders’ Cup
The 2007 BC Turf was the final career race for English Channel. He won the Eclipse Award for Turf Male for a stellar season capped by his win at the Breeders’ Cup. He currently stands at Lane’s End in Kentucky, where he has had some early success as a sire. Not surprisingly, many of his progeny have shown an affinity for grass racing.
In spite of a disappointing end to the year (sixth place in the BC Turf and seventh in the Hong Kong Case), Dylan Thomas was crowned the European Horse of the Year for 2007. He retired at the end of the year and currently stands for Coolmore Stud.
Lashkari won the first ever BC Turf in 1984 at odds of 53-1, the longest payout in the race’s history.
In 1993, Kotashaan won the BC Turf during a campaign that earned him Horse of the Year honors. He beat Bien Bien, a son of BC Turf winner Manila, in a memorable stretch drive at Santa Anita Park.
In 1989, Prized won the BC Turf in his first ever start on grass. His previous 10 career starts had been over the dirt.
Certainly there are plenty of other great and potentially overlooked renditions, let us know which ones you like in the comments!
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