Amalfi Media is committed to providing you the best Breeders’ Cup coverage leading up to Friday and Saturday at Del Mar. Make sure to check out our interview with NBC’s Donna Barton Brothers and get Matthew’s picks and preview of all the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Adult races.
As we approach the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Weekend, I thought it would be fun to look back over the last 20 years and pull together my 10 favorite moments from all the races. The Breeders’ Cup has provided us thrilling moments, devastating defeats, and miraculous long shots, which make us fall in love with the sport of horse racing all over again. In performing this exercise, I was struck by some of the innovations we have seen over the years in horse racing coverage and above all, I was reminded of how an amazing announcer can put you in the moment and send chills down your spine. Below are my Top 10 Breeders’ Cup moments since 2000.
10. 2002 Breeders’ Cup Classic – Volponi Pulls the Upset
When you go back watch the 2002 Breeders’ Cup Classic, it is chalked full of household names and horses that would end up being prodigious sires such a Medaglia d’Oro, War Emblem, and Evening Attire. However, it was Volponi, a horse whose best finish was winning the Grade 3 Pilgrim Stakes, who ended up running away from the field and winning by 6 ½ lengths. It was a credit to his trip where he was able to stay in stalking position before unleashing that massive stride down the homestretch to put away the top horses in the world. At the time, Volponi also represented the second-biggest upset in Classic history as he went off at 44-1 odds. Interestingly, Volponi never won another race but did manage to finish second in five consecutive races during his 2003 campaign, which included a pair of Grade 1 races.
9. 2011 Breeder’s Cup Mile – Court Vision Ends an Era of Dominance
Sometimes a race makes the list less so for the winner and more so for who was defeated. Going into the 2011 Breeders’ Cup, Goldikova had won three consecutive Breeders’ Cup Mile races, an unprecedented feat, and the assumption was that her race at Churchill Downs that year would be a coronation to her legacy. Throughout the race, Goldikova ran in her traditional stalking position but was bottled up inside until the field reached the top of the stretch and she found an opening and pulled away from the back, but not for long. Both Court Vision and Turallure came storming past her from well off the pace and ended up only a nose apart. Ultimately, Court Vision pulled off the 65-1 upset in what would be her final race. The outcome may have ruined Goldikova’s run for history, but it cemented Court Vision as one of the great long shots to ever win a Breeder’ Cup race.
8. 2003 Breeders’ Cup Turf – Johar and High Chapparal Finish in a Dead Heat
Races are often determined by the smallest of margins but every so often it is impossible to distinguish, and you get a dead heat, which is what happened in 2003 at Santa Anita in the Breeders’ Cup Turf race between Johar and High Chapparal. Going into the stretch it appeared that Falbrav, who had four Grade 1 victories during his 2003 campaign would pull away, but suddenly High Chapparal confronted him and started gaining ground with each stride. High Chapparal had an outstanding 2002 campaign, and you thought the dominant turf horses from the previous two years were going to duke it out when suddenly, the streaking black image of Johar came screaming up the outside and the three appeared to cross the wire in near unison. Ultimately, it was determined that Falbrav had finished 3rd but they were unable to tell apart Johar and High Chapparal who ended up sharing the title of the Breeders’ Cup Turf in a dead heat.
7. 2013 Breeders’ Cup Turf Mile – Wise Dan Shows His Burst
Santa Anita was again the backdrop for an incredible Breeders’ Cup Mile as the dominant Wise Dan put on a display for the ages. After stumbling out of the gate, he sat back behind a blistering pace. How blistering? The opening quarter of a mile was run in under 22 second with the opening half-mile run in 44.5 seconds. When they kicked for home, Wise Dan had a lot of ground to makeup and horses to pass but this champion would not be denied. He was the dominant miler for years having won 23 of his 31 career races including 18 of his last 21. As he continued down the stretch, his turn of foot was all the more obvious and the leaders melted away while Wise Dan picked up his second consecutive Breeders’ Cup championship as he put away Silcentio and Za Approval.
6. 2011 Breeders’ Cup Turf – A Son Wins One for His Father
There are some races that are all about the horses and then other races that are more about the connections and that was certainly the race in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. Horse racing is often about parents introducing their children to the sport and seeing a familial connection play out on the biggest stage in horse racing was special. In 2011, St Nicholas Abbey, a horse trained by Aidan O’Brien and jockeyed by his son Joseph. St Nicholas Abbey was an accomplished horse having won the Grade 1 Coronation Cup that year and finishing third in the Grade 1 King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes. Therefore, the victory, was not shocking but seeing the raw emotion of Aidan O’Brien and knowing that his son brought home a Breeders’ Cup victory for him was a special moment.
5. 2016 Breeders’ Cup Distaff – Beholder Finishes Her Career on Top
We often anthropomorphize as we assume that animals feel or think the same emotions we do. People tell stories about Secretariat always knowing when the camera was on and at the 2016 Breeders’ Cup in Santa Anita it appeared that Beholder, realizing it was the last race of her career, simply refused to lose. Going into the Breeders’ Cup, it had appeared that Beholder may have lost a step as she finished second in three straight races leading into the big one at Santa Anita, but as she turned for home in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, she dug in against Songbird and the two went stride for stride and mirrored each other during the entire stretch run. It’s rare to see two horses so evenly matched for so long and reminiscent of the duels between Affirmed and Alydar. With 100 meters to go it looked like Songbird would win, but over the last four strides, Beholder reminded everyone why she was a champion of champions as she edged out Songbird at the wire as Larry Collmus breathlessly called the victory.
4. 2010 Breeders’ Cup – Blame and Zenyatta Duel
Horse racing is one of the few sports where we occasionally get to see the boys and girls go up against each other in an even playing field and that played out at the 2010 Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs as super-filly Zenyatta, who had never lost a race, locked up against Blame who had won 8 of 12 career races to that point. The race played out with Zenyatta breaking poorly from the starting gate and lagging well behind the field. Mike Smith hustled her up to get closer to the leaders, but she was still dead last and 10+ lengths off the pace for most of the race. However, when she kicks, watch out. Mike Smith found a hole and guided her down the middle of the track where she made a furious stretch run as Blame was trying to hold on. Credit to Blame for digging in and winning by a nose, but you could almost hear the disappointment in Trevor Denman’s voice when he realized Blame had edged her out. The race ended up being Zenyatta’s last and the only blemish on an otherwise perfect career.
3. 2010 Breeders’ Cup Mile – Goldikova Makes it Three in a Row
Earlier I mentioned Goldikova falling short of winning her fourth Breeders’ Cup Mile, but in 2010 at Churchill Downs, she made history becoming the first horse to win the same Breeders’ Cup race three times. Part of what makes the race so impressive is not only the historical nature of it but the ease with which she is able to accomplish it. When Goldikova kicked in the stretch, it was over. She dispatched her competition in a manner that you nearly forget that she’s running against some of the best horses in the world. Dominance may not seem thrilling to you, but I always marveled at how the great athletes show their greatness and do it with such consistency. To stay on top for so long, Goldikova deserves a spot high on our list.
2. 2001 Breeders’ Cup Classic – Tiznow Wins it for America
In November 2001, the United States was less than two months removed from the 9/11 Terror Attacks and sports had been an integral part of the healing process as that fall saw the New York Yankees and the cross-town New York Met lock up in the Subway Series in the World Series. With that backdrop, enter the 2001 Breeders’ Cup Classic, which pitted the American Horse of the Year, Tiznow, against one of the top European horses, Sakhee. Throughout the race, the two of them sat in perfect stalking position behind Albert the Great and when they reached the top of the stretch, they both angled out to the middle of the track and put on a run for the ages. Sakhee made his move and stormed to the lead, but slowly Tiznow kept coming and made up an inch at a time. As they came to the wire, Tiznow got his head in front and while Sakhee made a late lunge it wasn’t enough as Tom Durkin screamed, “Tiznow wins it for America!!”
1. 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic – Zenyatta is UN-BE-LIEV-ABLE
Perhaps I’m basic for having this race #1, but everything I said earlier about Zenyatta holds true and this is a race I have re-watched hundreds of times over the last several years. The 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic is an instant classic for so many reasons. You get the battle of the sexes, the favorite (Zenyatta) faces early adversity, and everything looked lost. Indeed, after breaking poorly, Zenyatta was what seemed like miles off the pace and completely out of sorts as Mike Smith was trying everything in his power to get her to calm down and run her race. Finally, in the backstretch, as she sat second-to-last, she settled down, and as they entered the final turn, she started gaining ground on the inside before Mike Smith was able to angle her out in open. Suddenly, she unleashed her speed and it looked as if she was running on a different track as she passed horse after horse until she crossed the finish line a length ahead of Gio Ponti. The crowd was losing their minds and Trevor Denman’s call in the stretch in which he simply exclaimed, “This is un-be-lieve-able!!!” was a classic.
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