Three Great Moments: Breeders’ Cup Classic
By Ed DeRosa, Hello Race Fans Contributor

Considering a Breeders’ Cup Classic winner has not gone on to win Horse of the Year since Curlin in 2007, it may be hard to remember that the race has served as a de facto championship for the gold statuette in many of its editions.

Indeed, since the Breeders’ Cup’s inception in 1984, its centerpiece race, the Classic, has produced more Horse of the Year winners (11) than any other race, but it was a trend slow to get going.

Although Wild Again’s upset victory in 1984 provided a stirring beginning to North America’s richest race, his exploits that day were overshadowed throughout the year by John Henry, who at nine years of age won four major races, including the Arlington Million for a second time.

Classic winners Proud Truth in 1985 and Skywalker in 1986 also had put together admirable campaigns, but in neither case were their respective Breeders’ Cup wins a coda to dethrone Kentucky Derby Spend A Buck in 1985 or Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner Lady’s Secret, who had defeated males earlier in the year, in 1986.

In chronological order….

1987 Ferdinand / Alysheba

There would be no such issues in 1987 when Kentucky Derby winners Ferdinand and Alysheba met in a Breeders’ Cup Classic that also featured the aforementioned Skywalker and future sires Afleet, Cryptoclearance, and Gulch.

The race lived up to its hype with Ferdinand and Alysheba-both future Racing Hall of Fame inductees ridden and trained by inductees-battling down the stretch with Ferdinand winning by a nose—a win that earned the Breeders’ Cup Classic its first Horse of the Year.


Video courtesy of the Breeders’ Cup

Ferdinand Lifetime Past Performance courtesy of Brisnet.com

Ferdinand’s triumph and subsequent gold statuette started a streak of three consecutive Classic Horse of the Year winners and five out of six with the lone miss in 1990, when Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled became the only Derby winner to win the Classic in the same season, but that was not good enough to sway voters off Criminal Type, who in winning five Grade 1 races in 1990 defeated both Easy Goer (Met Mile) and Sunday Silence (Hollywood Gold Cup).

1989 Sunday Silence / Easy Goer

Speaking of Easy Goer and Sunday Silence, the fervor over their rivalry was unmatched in the North American Turf until Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta came along. The difference, of course, is that Easy Goer and Sunday Silence actually faced each other on the track with Sunday Silence having won the Derby and Preakness and Easy Goer the Belmont before the two met again in the 1989 Classic.

Both horses had plans to return as 4-year-olds, but as far as the 1989 season was concerned, the Classic was a winner-take-all showdown between two colts who in any other year may have been Triple Crown winners.

Sunday Silence got the jump on Easy Goer, opening a four-length lead on Easy Goer when engaging Blushing John turning for home, and he was able to hold off the Belmont Stakes winner’s final surge to secure the Classic and Horse of the Year by a neck.


Video courtesy of the Breeders’ Cup

Easy Goer Lifetime Past Performance courtesy of Brisnet.com
Sunday Silence Lifetime Past Performance courtesy of Brisnet.com

As an aside, watching this race always reminds me of one of my favorite scenes from High Fidelity when the smarmy record store clerk played by Jack Black asks the store owner, “[I]is it in fact unfair to criticize a formerly great artist for his latter day sins? Is it better to burn out or fade away?”

Durkin takes his share of lumps for his recent race calls, but this one is an everlasting reminder of just how great he is at the craft.

Sunday Silence bracing for the oncoming power of Easy Goer, who’s right at his neck, and the stage is set with three furlongs to go in the Breeders’ Cup Classic,” and then, “Sunday Silence a threatening presence on the outside” before “Easy Goer with one final acceleration.”

Words on the page don’t do it justice—listen for yourself.

2004 Ghostzapper

The 1987 and 1989 Classics are two races that lived up to the hype—something that doesn’t always happen in a game where hyperbole can reign supreme.

But numbers, not hyperbole, most accurately convey just what Ghostzapper accomplished when winning the 2004 Classic, which snapped a three-year drought of Classic Horse of the Year winners as part of a longer stretch where only 2000 Classic winner Tiznow took home Horse of the Year in an eight-year period beginning with 1996.

Ghostzapper owns the fastest final time for the 1 1/4 mile Breeders’ Cup Classic, having completed the course at Lone Star Park in 1:59 when defeating next year’s Dubai World Cup winner Roses In May by three lengths. Also in the field that day were 2003 Classic winner Pleasantly Perfect, Horse of the Year Azeri, champion and Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Funny Cide, Belmont and Travers Stakes winner Birdstone, and Japanese champion Personal Rush.


Video courtesy of the Breeders’ Cup

2004 Breeders’ Cup Classic Chart courtesy of Brisnet.com
Ghostzapper Lifetime Past Performance courtesy of Brisnet.com

What Ghostzapper lacked in longevity (he raced only 11 times, though he raced as a two-, three-, four-, and five-year-old), he made up for in brilliance, winning his last six races and being called “the fastest horse ever.” by Len Friedman of Ragozin Data.

This year’s Classic may very well snap the latest Horse of the Year drought, with multiple Grade 1 winners Game On Dude and Ron the Greek both expected to contest the race and clinch year-end honors with a win in North America’s richest race.

Also Considered

The first edition of the Breeders’ Cup Classic seemingly had it all: the top older horse in training looking to wrest Horse of the Year away from John Henry, but it was not meant to be, as Slew O’ Gold finished third (placed second with the disqualification of Gate Dancer) as the 3-to-5 favorite when failing to pass gate-to-wire winner Wild Again, who paid $64.60 under Pat Day.

Speaking of longshots, the high water mark belongs to Arcangues, who upset 6-to-5 favorite Bertrando when invading from France under Jerry Bailey at odds of 133.60-to-1 in the 1993 Classic. It was the second of five eventual Classic wins for Bailey, who still jokes that he only pretended to understand trainer Andre Fabre’s riding instructions in the paddock before the race.

Bertrando’s loss to Arcangues was not the last time Racing Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel was felled by a bomb. The 2002 edition of the Classic went to Volponi at odds of 43.50-to-1 with 2.7-to-1 favorite Medaglia d’Oro 6 ½ lengths back in third (with Bailey in the irons). More importantly, though, Volponi’s win (along with Domedriver over Rock of Gibraltar earlier on the card in the Mile) helped facilitate the capture of those responsible for rigging the day’s Pick 6 pool.

Certainly there are plenty of other great and potentially overlooked renditions, let us know which ones you like in the comments!

Curious about how we arrived at this list? Find out more about our new section!

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Charts and PPs provided by Brisnet

2 comments

  • This comment: “Ghostzapper is the only Classic winner to run 1 ¼ miles in less than two minutes, having completed the course at Lone Star Park in 1:59” is not wholly accurate.

    Ghostzapper has the best time, of course and possibly the best speed figures for the Classic too… but Skipaway, Cigar both won in under 2 mins in the BC Classic.

    Skipaway 1:59.16
    Cigar’s (earlier) was 1:59.58

    Wikipedia for both sources, but other sources also exist.

  • Hi Nari-Iceknight, we’ve updated that sentence noting only that he currently owns the fastest time. Thanks for pointing this out, and thanks for stopping by!

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