Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Top 10 Breeders' Cup Memories

   Watching the Breeders' Cup 30-1 show on NBCSN brought back so many memories, and it was great to hear all of those vintage Tom Durkin calls. I was 12 when the Breeders' Cup had its first running at Hollywood Park, so those flashbacks chronicled my evolution from just a (rabid) fan to a professional racing journalist. Here are my Top 10 moments; ranking them was a pleasurable struggle.

10. 1984 Breeders' Cup Classic - Wild Again
   Opportunities to watch hours of racing coverage on network television were few and far between in the fall of
Breeders' Cup Photo (c)
1984, so I couldn't have been happier to snag the lone family television from my brothers on a Saturday afternoon. Pleased as I was to see Chief's Crown take the Juvenile and Royal Heroine beat the boys in the Mile, my hopes were a bit dashed when All Along just failed to hold off longshot Lashkari in the Turf, and it was all up to Slew o' Gold to cap my day of favorites in the Classic. I didn't give much chance to Meadowlands Cup winner Wild Again--neither did a lot of people, according to his price--but what an effort! I've always been partial to a game front-runner, and seeing Wild Again keep sticking his distinctive nose out to deny first Slew o' Gold and then the hooded Gate Dancer endeared him to me. I remember being a bit shocked that his number stayed up, too (84 Classic replay). Wild Again made the most of his chances at stud, and I always gave consideration when I saw his name in a runner's pedigree line. Fast, game and tough is how I like them…

9. 2004 Breeders' Cup Classic - Ghostzapper
   The Lone Star renewal remains my favorite Breeders' Cup that I have attended. Convertible rented in perfect
Breeders' Cup Photo (c)
weather, minimal deadlines and swiftly moving betting lines, not to mention my first experience of a drive-thru beer store that appeared to be a former car wash. Artie Schiller's lapse in the Mile may have taken most of my extra dollars (he did make it up later; see below), but I did get a chance to see Ouija Board strut her stuff in the F/M Turf, and what can one say about the brilliant Ghostzapper? His Classic that year remains one of the most brilliant performances in the history of the Breeders' Cup (04 Classic replay). I should also mention that having the Breeders' Cup held at a variety of tracks meant having the opportunity to visit them, and allowing fans in those areas a chance to see champions in action. Of course, Santa Anita is a beautiful venue and Churchill has its charms, too, but exposure to different locales is not to be underestimated. 

8. 2005 Breeders' Cup - Belmont
   Who would have thought that 2005 might be the last time that the Breeders' Cup was held at my home track of
Breeders' Cup Photo (c)
Belmont? In any case, it certainly didn't occur to me at that moment. I had been a fan of Leroidesanimaux ever since his arrival in Bobby Frankel's barn, and my inner pedigree junkie was pleased to see Intercontinental, yet another top-class runner out of Hasili AND sired by Danehill. Despite her headstrong ways, I thought Intercontinental had enough class to go a mile and quarter, even against proven distance runners like Ouija Board and Film Maker, and why not take her at 15-1? Rafael Bejarano was able to get her to relax (05 FMTurf replay), and I was able to collect enough to make the rest of the day just fun. "Leroy" in the Mile was my single in multi-race wagers, but I started having second thoughts after I learned he was wearing a bar shoe. The big, handsome Artie Schiller, who had let me down 12 months prior in Texas, made quite an impression during the post parade, but the lines at the windows were daunting…luckily, I had access to a telephone wagering account (oh, how far we've come), and Artie redeemed himself in style (05 Mile replay). 

7. 1995 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies - My Flag
   The 1995 renewal of the Breeders' Cup was one of my better betting days--Desert Stormer over Mr. Greeley, Ridgewood Pearl leading home Fastness--and seeing Cigar and Inside Information turn in championship displays added to the experience. But my favorite moment on the afternoon was seeing My Flag put it all together in the Juvenile Fillies was fantastic. As the daughter of two of my absolute all-time favorites--Easy Goer and Personal Ensign--I had been hopeful that she could live up to her pedigree. The chestnut kept improving through the autumn and finally put it all together when it mattered (95 JF replay). The triple didn't pay that much with her on top of Cara Rafaela and Golden Attraction, but I cheered as though it was an IRS ticket.

6. 1985 Breeders' Cup Turf - Pebbles
Breeders' Cup Photo (c)
   I still can't believe that the Breeders' Cup was actually held at Aqueduct, and I still hold a grudge against my parents for not arranging for 13-year-old me to get to Long Island from our home in New Jersey. It was tough for a middle-schooler to follow European racing at that time, but I had read about Pebbles and was sure she could handle the stretch-out to a mile and a half. Her acceleration that day still sets my standard (85 Turf replay), and I've named a fast car (Merc CLS 500) in her honor. One of the highlights of my TDN tenure was getting the chance to meet her many years later in Japan in 2001. 

5. 1990 Breeders' Cup Mile - Royal Academy
   This was the first time that I actually attended the Breeders' Cup; 18, fresh out of high school and working in Manhattan before heading to college. I kept my fingers crossed that programming the VCR for four hours would actually happen, and went to Belmont bright and early on a cold October day. I was excited to see Fly So Free and Safely Kept, but mostly I was expecting another tour-de-force from Go for Wand. Seeing her break down in front of me was devastating, and I seriously considered going home at that point. But I had already placed my bets on Royal Academy earlier in the day, and figured that I may as well wait until the first train was going back to the city. When Royal Academy came onto the track breathing fire and altogether looking like the epitome of a racehorse, my jaw dropped, and I screamed myself hoarse watching him charge home under Lester Piggott (90 Mile replay). 

4. 2008 Breeders' Cup Mile - Goldikova
   One of the best things about the Breeders' Cup is being on track in the mornings as the horses go about their
Breeders' Cup Photo (c)
routine. Seeing so many top-class runners galloping, jogging and schooling is a privilege, and there are few better places to do so than at Santa Anita. Misty or sunny, the San Gabriel Mountains are a stunning backdrop to the action, and 2008 was the first time that I'd visited Clockers Corner for the Breeders' Cup. Apart from finally laying my eyes on Zenyatta, I was eager to see if Goldikova could pull another Miesque and win the Mile as a 3-year-old filly. When she first came out onto the track with her quarter-sheet, I wasn't too impressed; a plain bay of unimposing stature. However, once she began to jog, her spunky attitude and demeanor were noteworthy, and she strutted around seemingly convinced of her own quality. She lived up to that in the afternoon both in 2008 (video 08 Mile replay) and 2009 (09 Mile replay), and became the first horse to win three Breeders' Cup races when she replicated the feat in 2010 at Churchill (and came close to doing so again in 2011!). Freddy Head, who had piloted Miesque to her brace of Mile wins, was gracious in holding court as Goldikova's trainer. 

3. 2001 Breeders' Cup Classic - Tiznow
   Watching Tiznow progress from a maiden winner in the spring of 2000 to Breeders' Cup Classic winner six months later made me feel as though I owned him myself. I had the exacta with him over Giant's Causeway, which further endeared him to me. But he was laid up after his big win in the Santa Anita H. in 2001, and didn't seem quite up to his old standard when he finally made it back to the races in the fall. However, after watching him gallop at Belmont a few days before the Breeders' Cup, I was convinced that he was still the horse to beat. He rolled through the lane with the morning sun lighting him like a superstar, and in my experience there haven't been too many times that simple gallop could make one's jaw drop, but there you have it. With the memory of September 11 all too vivid and sharpshooters on the Belmont roof, Tiznow came up with the goods (01 Classic replay) and earned a Hall of Fame call from Tom Durkin. 

2. 1988 Breeders' Cup Distaff - Personal Ensign
   It's been 25 years and this race continues to set the standard, in my opinion. Every time I see the replay, I STILL
Breeders' Cup Photo (c)
don't think Personal Ensign will get up in time (88 Distaff replay). I was cheering so loudly at home that my sister came running in to make sure everything was okay (it was; all furniture intact). So few horses can maintain a perfect record, let alone over the course of three seasons and undergoing surgery to boot. Winning Colors may not have been quite the same filly that won the Kentucky and Santa Anita Derbies, but she had her running shoes on in the Distaff, and Goodbye Halo was no slouch, either. Personal Ensign, peerless on the racetrack, became a standout broodmare and produced three Grade I winners. She was the first Breeders' Cup winner to produce another winner of the event, the aforementioned My Flag, who in turn foaled a Juvenile Fillies heroine of her own in Storm Flag Flying.

1. 2009 Breeders' Cup Classic - Zenyatta

Breeders' Cup Photo (c)
   What hasn't been said about Zenyatta? One of the most popular horses in recent memory and the subject of a 60 Minutes feature as she attempted to make history in 2010 at Churchill Downs. But a part of me feels like I discovered the big mare while working late on Thanksgiving in 2007 (full disclosure: I wasn't putting in a 100-percent effort that night after an epic holiday meal with the family). But I thought to myself, "Well, this is a half-sister to Balance, who was a pretty nice filly, and the chart has her 'last, almost-last, mid-pack, first by three lengths,' so maybe I need to actually watch this maiden." If you've never seen it, here is the replay; it's worth a minute and a half of your time. Getting a chance to see her flawless performance in 2008 at Santa Anita was a hugely satisfying; sitting in the auxiliary press box when she switched lanes in the Classic was epic (09 Classic replay). It was electrifying, and I'm not ashamed to admit that I cried. Yes, Trevor, it was UNBELIEVABLE.

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