There is just something about the Breeders’ Cup Classic

October 20, 2020

Vino Rosso Wins the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Classic, with Irad Ortiz Jr. aboard

By Jon Stettin

I can remember how excited I was to witness the inaugural Breeders’ Cup Classic at Hollywood Park. It was 1984 and the Breeders’ Cup World Championships were a new reality in horse racing. They were met and embraced with enthusiasm, anticipation, and lofty expectations. I think everyone in the sport felt the same. It was our year end Super Bowl, World Series, and everything our sport was about wrapped up in a championship bow.

As for as the racing went, the event delivered. We saw exhilarating performances by both our equine athletes and their human counterparts. We witnessed horses brought along expertly to peak and give all they had when it counted most. The competition was so fierce we even needed intervention by the stewards to make sure things were right in the record books. A tradition was established and as the first Classic loomed, the best was yet to come.

The very first Breeders’ Cup Classic set the stage for what was to come and be expected moving forward. An epic horse race where the best from all over the world met on the racetrack. One can opine the Prix de’ Arc de Triomphe, the Melbourne Cup, and the Kentucky Derby are among the most difficult thoroughbred flat races to win. The aptly named Classic has to be considered right there with those three. If you don’t think so just try and win one or ask someone who has.

The regally bred Slew O’ Gold brought an impressive resume and a lot of expectations to that first Breeders’ Cup, and there was probably never a rider more pumped up to win a race than Angel Cordero Jr. was that day. Even sandwiched down the stretch by Gate Dancer and Laffit Pincay Jr. to his outside, and Wild Again with Pat Day on his inside, Slew O’ Gold fought gallantly and gave all he had that day. His master rider did everything he could to overcome the predicament they found themselves in when it mattered most. It was just too great an obstacle.

At 31-1 Wild Again got his nose down first and withstood a 10-minute inquiry that felt like an hour to make things official. A three-horse head and head battle down the stretch with bumping, yelling, and head bobbing all the way. So much on the line for so many. The stage was set, and the racing community knew it. The inaugural Breeders’ Cup Classic epitomized everything the Sport of Kings is about.

Re-live the inaugural Breeders’ Cup Classic:

One might think there was no place to go from there but down. Well, horses and this great sport will humble us all at times, so if that was your thought you could not have followed this game too long. Down, hardly, things only got better as the race grew is stature, prestige, recognition, and of course money.

Since that first three horse head bobbing stretch war won by a 31-1 longshot, we have seen some epic Breeders’ Cup Classics. With the 2020 renewal only a few weeks away let’s revisit a few of our favorites.

Three years later back at Hollywood Park we saw the epic “the two Derby winners hit the wire together.” In these times it is hard to imagine two Kentucky Derby winners racing each other let alone hitting the wire in a photo. Ferdinand got the jump on Alysheba and he needed it. They hit the line with Ferdinand a nose better but Alysheba was coming. One more jump as they say. Leave it to the Classic to produce a Classic.

Let’s relive that one here:

Rivalries, we all love them. Sunday Silence and Easy Goer was one of the better ones. Three Triple Crown races validated by the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

The sixth Breeders’ Cup Classic was run at the old Gulfstream Park. You really couldn’t tell from the television or video feeds, but I was on the apron on the far turn when they turned for home. Easy Goer had been 10 lengths back early on but was making up ground on Sunday Silence who had the advantage at that point. Even though Pat Day and Easy Goer were maybe 6 or so lengths behind Sunday Silence when they passed me, I knew it was going to be close. Easy Goer was full of himself and breathing fire and you could hear it as he raced by. Sunday Silence was just skipping away like a speed skater going downhill on ice.

“A desperate neck in a racing epic” pretty much sums this up.

Stretch duels between great horses is what we want to see. I know I’ll never forget Tiznow and Giants Causeway hooking up for three sixteenths of a mile and throwing down the gauntlet. Neither gave an inch. This one took a lot of heart.

One race where you don’t want anything, but a perfect run and trip is the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Not to take away anything from deserving winner Awesome Again, but who knows what could of happened had Swain run straight in the stretch.

Who would have ever thought Zenyatta would have run arguably her best ever race in defeat to Blame in the Breeders’ Cup Classic? From a position of last and hopelessly beaten she turned the Classic into a race for the ages that once again came down to one more jump. I’ve heard some people still root for her to get up when they watch this replay. What a race, what a classic:

You get the picture? You just never know what you’ll see when you watch a Breeders’ Cup Classic, but odds are it will be something great. Arrogate, Cigar, Gun Runner, American Pharoah, A. P. Indy, Unbridled and so many others didn’t even make our replay and relive list but easily could have. A race for the ages? You bet!

This year promises to be one competitive affair. When you peruse the Classic contenders this year quite a few look talented enough to win it, and none truly stand out. That almost guarantees us a battle right down to the finish. For more Breeders’ Cup coverage and this years contenders visit the Breeders’ Cup Official Website or here on our Breeders’ Cup news page.

Feature Image: Alex Evers / Eclispe Sportswire / Breeders’ Cup

Contributing Authors

Jon Stettin

Jonathan’s always had a deep love and respect for the Sport of Kings. Growing up around the game, he came about as close as anyone...

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