The Breeders’ Cup is an annual meeting held in North America that pits the best horses from the US, Europe and beyond against each other. It’s held over two days with no fewer than 13 championship-style Grade 1 races divided between the Dirt and Turf courses.
This will be the 34th edition of the Cup, which, surprisingly, will take place for the first time at Del Mar, San Diego. The track is essentially the same as all other US tracks: an oval about a mile long.
One thing to note about Del Mar is that the length of the straight on both turf and dirt tracks will be the shortest in Breeders’ Cup History.
Picking a horse that can secure a good position should be vital here. Proven ability of handling a sharp bend at full speed should also be a plus.
But without further ado, here are some memories of the meeting that have helped build its reputation as a top class sporting spectacle.
‘The living legend out of retirement’ – 1990 Breeders’ Cup Mile
It’s impossible to start a Breeders’ Cup list with anything but this remarkable storyline, which is widely considered the greatest European moment. Royal Academy was trained by Vincent O’Brien and ridden by Lester Piggott, who had come out of retirement only ten days earlier to replace the unfortunate John Reid.
RA, who had spent most of the season unsuccessfully trying to chase the great Dayjur (the victim of a shadow in the Sprint race at the same meeting) combined with the 54-year-old Lester Piggott, who ironically spent a large amount of time unsuccessfully trying evade the taxman.
Despite their personal struggles and a troubled passage from Gate 1, the duo combined to run down Itsallgreektome at the shadow of the post. Piggott, whose tone and style in interviews would no doubt lead to Ryan Moore being classed as a blabbermouth, did however produce a further memorable moment post-race.
When asked by an American journalist at what point he thought he’d win, Lester quipped:
“About three weeks ago.”
It’s hard to avoid feeling that nothing that day could possibly have combined to deny Lester and RA.
‘And now the stage is set…’ – 1991 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile
A legendary moment where the French-trained two year old, despite looking like he would rather be anywhere else in the world for the first three quarters of the race, came from the rear to mow down Bertrando (who was probably Bobby Frankel’s greatest horse) at the quarter pole, before disappearing into the distance under very sympathetic handling from the troubled but equally talented Pat Valenzuela.
Widely regarded as the best 2-year-old that Europe ever produced, the story did not have a happy ending, however, as Arazi contributed to the sorry record that Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winners had in the Kentucky Derby at that time by bombing out at odds-on. He was never the same afterwards (not unusual for a Sheikh Mohammed purchase of a horse in training) – but we’ll always have the legendary Tom Durkan’s reaction to enjoy as Arazi beautifully swept through the field.
‘Here comes Giants Causeway for Ireland’ – 2000 Breeders’ Cup Classic
Such was the call from Durkan as they turned for home in the Classic at Churchill Downs in 2000. Giants Causeway for Aidan O’Brien arrived to the race on the back of a stellar European season where he had reeled off 5 Group 1’s on the bounce before an unlucky reverse behind a Kevin Darley-inspired Observatory in the QEII Stakes.
Drawn 14, jockey Mick Kinane got GC a great position sitting just behind the leaders, and as the horses turned for home Kinane got into full drive, reaching the quarters of long-time Leader Tiznow as they set down for the battle.
As the camera panned side-on it looked as if Giants Causeway was getting the upper hand, but Tiznow stuck his neck down when it mattered and was a head winner on the line.
Replays showed Kinane got his whip caught in the reins at a crucial time in the stretch, something he later admitted, while maintaining it had no influence on the result. Whether or not that was correct – or if he was merely saving face after making a balls of it – is debatable, although the very tough Tiznow’s victory in the race after out-battling the Arc winner Sakhee the next year indicated he might not have been far from the truth.
‘A flared nostril’ – 2003 Breeders’ Cup Turf
In what was dubbed the ‘race of the decade’, reigning turf champion High Chapparal returned for Aidan and Kinane looking to retain their crown. All was not well, however, on the back stretch as Kinane had to ask the horse for maximum effort what seemed a long way from home as Daryl Holland sat motionless on his old rival Falbrav.
Down the stretch High Chapparal was the meat in a Falbrav-Johar sandwich as the three flashed past the post together.
On the first look, HC seemed to have just gotten his nose in front but, after a 13 minute photo finish, the result was ruled a dead heat between HC and Johar with Falbrav no more than a nose behind in third – a fair result after what was an epic race.
In the video above, you can spot a young O’Brien clan at the 3min25 mark, including Aidan modelling the latest hands free phone kit at 12 mins. It’s also critical to mention the achievement of trainer Richard E Mandella in the race as Johar’s dead heat victory gave him his fourth winner of that Breeders’ Cup meet.
‘Is this believable?’ – 2008 Breeders’ Cup Classic
That year’s race was ran at Santa Anita, notably on the all-weather surface that had recently replaced the dirt, and produced Europe’s most recent winner of the Classic.
Curlin – America’s Horse of the Year and poster child – was all the rage and backed on-course like defeat was out of the question. Turning for home, Trevor Denman got the horn as Curlin moved stylishly towards the lead and called: “Is this believable?”
Unfortunately for Curlin and Denman, Europe’s two best milers Ravens Pass and Henrythenavigator stalked him all the way to the straight and subsequently left him for dead with Ravens Pass saluting to become only the second European winner of the race after 133/1 longshot Arcangues.
Breeders’ Cups run on all weather tracks would soon become a thing of the past as Santa Anita, Keeneland and Del Mar have ripped up their all-weather tracks and reverted back to the beloved dirt. No European trained horse has won it since, with Declaration of War being the only horse to have come even relatively close.
Dry your eyes Mike – 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic
Zenyatta arrived at Churchill Downs in 2010 for her career swansong with an unblemished 19 from 19 record, including victory in the race 12 months previously. The apple of US racing’s eye, she was adored for her courage, consistency and the excitement she gave in her races with her exaggerated come-from-behind hold up tactics.
Sent off even money favourite, Zenyatta was immediately detached from the field and, down the far side, it seemed to many she was injured and about to be pulled up.
As they turned for home she was still last but jockey Mike Smith had caught the tail of the field and began weaving through traffic: a heroic stretch run ensued as she passed all but Blame and then engaged in an epic battle with that horse in the final 16th of a mile.
To the agony of the crowd, commentator and pretty much everyone else, she just failed to get there on the nod. In the subsequent press conference, jockey Mike Smith was holding back tears and basically admitted he’d cocked up, something with which, on reflection it’s hard to disagree.
‘Have you ever seen a scene like this?’ Castellano v Borel –2010
Not a classic race – or even a race at all, in fact – but nevertheless one of the most memorable Breeders’ Cup moments. Following another boring run of the Breeders Cup Marathon (a race since scrapped; remember Man of Iron or London Bridge winning? No, us neither.) jockey Calvin Borel was unhappy that rival Javier Castellano had cut across his mount mid race; nearly causing him to unseat.
Instead of reporting this to the stewards, he decided to take matters into his own hands and engage in a fist fight. On live US television what ensued was comedy gold as shocked TV personalities struggled to get to grips with what was going on.
Most remarkable is that at times it took three large men to restrain Borel – who weighed about 8 stone.
As a result, many people learned that you shouldn’t piss off an underweight (and probably very hungry) hick.