The 2003 Breeders’ Cup Turf: Too Close to Call, How Rare are Dead Heats

October 19, 2020

Breeders’ Cup Photo (c)

By Peter Lee

Dead heats are a rarity. According to Wikipedia, only 20 dead heats have occurred in major races worldwide during this century. They’re even more of a rarity than they used to be, given the Improvements in technology such as super-slow motion and digital timers, 

But they still happen. On one day in 2003, two horses finished in a tie in front of thousands at Santa Anita Park and millions watching on television. It was one of the biggest races of the year — the Breeders’ Cup Turf.

High Chaparral had won the 2002 running of the Turf as the favorite, winning by a comfortable 1-1/2 lengths. But coming into the 2003 Turf, the Irish colt had new foes. He was only the fourth choice in betting behind Storming Home, Sulamani and Falbrav. That was partly because he had raced only twice since his previous victory, winning the Irish Champion Stakes and finishing third in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. 

A Hot Start

The weather was hot at Santa Anita on Oct. 25 as High Chaparral joined eight other horses at the post for what was then called the John Deere Breeders’ Cup Turf. The horses broke slowly, with speedy Balto Star taking the lead down the Santa Anita hill and then slowing the race significantly, leading the colts through a plodding 25.12-second opening quarter-mile. 

The rest of the pack began to pressure Balto Star, who quickly wilted under the heat and dropped back to eighth, leaving The Tin Man with a slight lead. The two favorites, Storming Home and Sulamani, bumped each other, with Sulamani clipping heels with the favorite and stumbling in the middle of the pack. He never recovered, finishing fifth. 

Around the far turn, the Tin Man succumbed to the hard-charging Falbrav, who was followed by High Chaparral and Storming Home. 14-1 shot Johar, at one time in last place, had moved up to fourth.

The crowd roared as the Tin Man and Falbrav fought down the stretch, Falbrav taking over while the Tin Man was squeezing every inch of speed from his tiring frame. High Chaparral took the Tin Man’s place and moved to overtake Falbrav, inching ever so closer to the leader. But as he made his move, here came Johar, charging on the outside like a locomotive. 

A Tight Finish

High Chaparral finally caught Falbrav in the last 25 yards and seemed to push a nose in front of the colt. But Johar kept coming and caught the two at the finish. The three passed under the wire as one with a winner too close to call, but some, including the owner of Johar, thought High Chaparral had taken it.

“When I first saw it, I thought we were second,” said Richard Mulhall, racing manager for the group that owned Johar. But when he looked at replay footage, he changed his mind.

The fans waited impatiently for 12 minutes, many holding potential winning tickets. as the stewards pored over the footage at the wire to see who the winner was. Finally, the notice went up on the board. 

Dead heat. 

High Chaparral and Johar finished in a tie. It was the first time in the 20-year history of the Breeders’ Cup that a dead heat had been declared. Falbrav finished a valiant third by just a head.

John Magnier, co-owner of High Chaparral, told the Los Angeles Times, “I’m happy it was a dead heat. I don’t think it would have been fair for either side to have either horse lose.”

The time for the race was 2:24.24, which beat Chief Bearhart’s record of 2:24 4/5 in 1997’s Turf race. 

High Chaparral retired after the race with an impressive 10 wins in 13 starts, amassing $5.3 million in earnings and winning the 2003 Male Turf Eclipse Award, repeating the honor he received in 2002. Johar finished his career with six wins in 16 starts, earning $1.4 million.

Contributing Authors

Peter Lee

Peter is a  former journalist and  a horse racing historian. He is also the author of Spectacular Bid: The Last Superhorse of the Twentieth Century.

View Peter Lee

@jonathanstettin Your article re reading when a horse dead on board made me some $ just now. Untapable was, IMO, odds-on, but dead. TY!

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