This coming Saturday there is a prep race at Santa Anita for the Breeders’ Cup Classic called the Awesome Again Stakes. The race, formally known as The Goodwood, was renamed in 2012 for 1998 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Awesome Again. Interestingly, Awesome Again won his Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs, and was primarily an East Coast based horse. He was bred in Canada by his owner, Stronach Stables and Frank Stronach, who also owns Santa Anita racecourse. Perhaps that is why a race at Santa Anita was named in his honor, as the horse himself never raced there.
Awesome Again was an accomplished racehorse, and had quite the resume including wins in; The Jim Dandy,The Stephen Foster, The Saratoga Breeders’ Cup Handicap, The Whitney, The Queens Plate in Canada, and The Breeders’ Cup Classic among others. There is no questioning his talent, or that he was a champion. It is also tough to argue The 1998 Breeders’ Cup Classic he won was not one of the better Classic fields in the race’s great history. One point I’d be remiss in not mentioning; however, is, he should never have won it.
The 1998 Breeders’ Cup Classic remains one of the strangest races I have ever seen and I have seen more than my share of horse races. Now to be fair, and in the interest of full disclosure, I did hit both the Pick 3 and the Pick 6 in that classic. It was a very good day wagering wise. The kind of day you really shouldn’t complain about; however, those hardened and experienced lovers of The Sport of Kings will feel my pain I imagine, and understand my complaints.
With the race in his honor coming up Saturday, and The Breeders’ Cup not far behind, I happened to see a Headline on Social Media somewhere titled, Awesome Again, A Great Breeders’ Cup Classic Champion. I didn’t read the article. Why bother? It was not an accurate statement and I would argue this is not subjective, and I invite your comments, whether you agree or disagree at the conclusion of this article. Awesome Again was not best that day. He was very lucky to get that win.
There was a field of 10 in the Classic that day, and 9 of them were Grade 1 winners. The only starter who was not a Grade 1 winner going into the race was Running Stag, and he was no slouch. It was a stellar field and a very competitive race. In the pick 6 that day I had two singles, Reraise in The Sprint, and Escena in The Distaff. The Classic field was so competitive that when I wound up alive in both the pick 3, which I believe was a $2 bet back then, and the pick 6, with just two horses, I did wish I zig zagged differently and was alive with a few more horses. I’m sure you will understand why when you take a look at the field, in the final order of finish below:
In reality I had 4 horses. I had Awesome Again, who won, and I had Touch Gold, who I did not really like, but was coupled with Awesome Again. I also had Coronado’s Quest who I did sort of like, but he was also coupled with Awesome Again, and Touch Gold. They ran as the 1, 1A, and 1X. The rules on entries and couplings were different back then, and if memory serves correct, Stronach Stables owned a piece of Touch Gold, which caused the coupling. I cannot recall why Coronado’s Quest was part of that entry, but with about 5 minutes to post I was glad he was. The race was so tough I was not about to complain about any entry mate.
I also had another horse, this one was actually my top choice, and he was not a very popular choice at the time. I loved him that day however. Most people thought Swain, my top choice was a turf horse, and he was. He was also coming into that Classic somewhat overlooked because of that label, but he was also coming in peak form and on the upswing. I knew he could run on dirt as well. He ran Silver Charm to a nose in The Dubai World Cup on dirt in his very first start of 1998. He was much better for The Classic than he was for The World Cup too. He had more starts under his belt, and was coming off back to back Grade 1 wins on the turf at Ascot and Leopardstown. Swain ran 3rd in the 1996 Breeders’ Cup Turf, and certainly could have run back in the ’98 Turf, but here he was in The Classic back on dirt. He gave Silver Charm all he could handle in Dubai, and we all know The Churchill Downs dirt plays kind to turf horses. I felt the upset looming, and the difference in the pick e and pick 6 payouts was quite significant.
I couldn’t take my eyes off Swain throughout the running of the race. When I heard every star who was in there get their call, I never took my eyes off Swain. I loved where he was on the rail, saving ground, tucked in behind the speed. European horses like to race covered up so it was perfect, or so I thought. Horses will fool you, sometimes humble you, and so can jockeys as you will soon see.
As they continued down the backstretch I grew more confidant. Frankie Dettori was aboard Swain, and as they approached the far turn, he took him off the rail and into the clear which told me he had horse and was making sure he had a clear run. I loved it. When they turned for home Swain moved to the leaders boldly on the outside and reached contention. It was obvious to any trained eye, he was gonna be in the race and a big factor in the outcome. I watched as they straightened away and he started his outside rally and noted he was indeed outside, but not nearly too far outside or wide for it to matter or hinder his chances. I was counting the money.
As they came down the stretch, I noticed Swain start to drift out. He was still coming, so I knew nothing was wrong, he was just getting out. The distance was no problem, he was in full stride, he was gaining, but he was also starting to lose considerable ground bearing out. I didn’t panic, I knew all Frankie had to do was straighten him out and I was home. There was still time. Frankie didn’t straighten him out though. it didn’t even look like he tried. To the contrary, he went to his left hand whip and repeatedly hit Swain over and over and caused him to bear out even further. It got literally ridiculous. He was flying, but bearing out as fast as he was coming and the wire was approaching. He was going to win anyway I thought, especially if Frankie just stops hitting him, let alone trying to straighten him. He didn’t though. Frankie kept to the left hand, and Swain finished about a long head behind winner Awesome Again and second place finisher Silver Charm. He finished on the outside rail right near the apron. You could almost touch him from the apron. You couldn’t even see him at points of the telecast on the monitor as he was so wide.
I hit both the pick 3 and pick 6 but felt like I lost. Like I said, we were talking a significant difference in price. Six figures difference. They say there are a million ways to lose a race, and we all know there are, maybe more, but I have never seen a race or ride quite like this. To this day I can’t see how anyone can say Swain should not or could not have won that race. He looks like much the best to me. Without further ado, take a look for yourself. With all those stars in there, it is hard to focus on Swain. He’s easy to spot and follow in The Godolphin blue colors. You’ll see him on the inside on the backstretch, and you will see Frankie move him outside for his run, you’ll also see the rest. The left hand, the out of view of the camera and the finish practically on the apron. After the race they will quickly show the head on for the stretch run if for some reason that I’ll never understand you need more convincing. Anyway, have a look:
After the race there was a lot of talk about the ride. I never heard a meaningful answer from Frankie. Finally, he did publicly say he would not discuss the race anymore. I never heard him discuss it to begin with. A year later I was at The Breeders’ Cup when he won the Turf on Daylami at Gulfstream. I walked out of the restaurant to look in the winners’ circle. Frankie was yelling at the crowd “what about Swain? what about Swain now?” I guess he felt it was some sort of vindication, I surely didn’t. I met Frankie Dettori a few times after that. He’s a great guy and great for the game. Something was just off that day I guess. I never asked him about it. The timing just never seemed right.
Frankie Dettori is one of the best riders ever in my opinion, and has had a remarkable career, with multiple wins in some of the biggest races in the world. He has delivered many a world class ride, great rides, and what happened that day is no way a reflection on his career or achievements, but it was surely odd. I’d love to sit down with him and talk about it some day. Hopefully it is not a sore spot and we can laugh about it.
Of all the races I’ve seen that has to be one of the strangest. No question it is one of my worst beats, and I had a huge day by almost any bettors standards. I still felt numb, and when I saw the headline about what a great Breeders’ Cup Champion Awesome Again was, I just had to set the record straight. What a lucky
Jockey C.J.McMahon for putting on one heck of a big time ride aboard Texas Chrome in The Oklahoma Derby. He wanted that win, and it showed. High Five C. J., nice ride. Parx for putting on a heck of a show and putting together a great card on Pennsylvania Derby Day. The Pennsylvania Derby should be a Grade 1 next year. No brainer. And of course Songbird, she remains simply awesome!
Whoever it was that wrote Awesome Again was a great Breeders’ Cup Champion. He was a great horse, but a lucky Breeders’ Cup winner. All the social media experts saying Songbird is slow or needs to run in The Breeders’ Cup Classic.