by Alan Carasso
Though I have obviously seen the first 11 Breeders’ Cups on tape, my first real experience with Championship Day came in 1995 when I watched the events of the day on an absolutely abysmal day on Long Island unfold from the relative comfort of my suburban Chicago basement. I even had a few ‘locals’ to root for, as Golden Gear was in the Sprint and Mariah’s Storm faced the unenviable task of trying to run with Inside Information and Heavenly Prize in the Distaff. Neither horse did especially well, though the day ended in memorable fashion (more on that below). In any event, here are my top 10 Breeders’ Cup moments. Some generic, some gambling-related, all memorable.
10--Singletary wins the ‘04 Mile at Lone Star. Most of us have seen the piece TVG put together on the Little Red Feather group in the day or two leading up to the race. Each time I see the bunch hooting and hollering on that platform (which I think is going to collapse at any moment), I feel like I was part of them. Singletary, trained by the unassuming Don Chatlos, was a sneaky third when prepping in the Oak Tree Mile, but sat a tough trip and boxed on well enough for third. He was dismissed at 17-1 on the big day, made a ‘blitz’ for the lead (thanks, Tom D.) turning for home and held sway late. Should Antonius Pius have won? Hmm, maybe, but I’ll take it!
9--Falbrav/Mandella at Santa Anita in 2003. I became smitten with this Italian-based horse in early 2002, when he won a Group 1 at home going 10 furlongs in 1:57 and some change, then my good friend Steve DeCaspers and I lucked into the chance to bet him (thanks Peter K.) in that year’s Japan Cup and listened in the wee morning hours as he won by a nose (sorry for the wake-up call, Steve). The next year, all Falbrav did was win the G1 Prix d’Ispahan, G1 Coral-Eclipse, G1 Juddmonte International and G1 Queen Elizabeth II S. He was gamely routed for the Turf and I was betting him, come hell or high water, even if that 12th furlong was a huge question mark. Sure enough, he was in front after a mile and three-eighths and still there after a mile and three-eighths and 217 yards, only to be gunned down by the dead-heating Johar and High Chaparral. The former gave Richard Mandella one of his four winners on the day, an amazing record that should stand the test of time.
8--My first Cup in person, Woodbine 1996. I didn’t really have plans to do so, but I was offered tickets to the one and only Breeders’ Cup to be held outside the borders of the United States in suburban Toronto. Aside from getting used to exactors and triactors, the day proved a fun one, with especially good performances from Jewel Princess and Lit de Justice. Of course, it ended with a stirring stretch duel in the Classic with Alphabet Soup, Louis Quatorze and a gallant Cigar slugging it out to the bitter end.
7--Anyone who knows me is aware that I am the world’s biggest Pollard’s Vision fan (even those Red Bankers who occupied workspace beneath ours know as well!). So, when a totally unheralded low five-figure chestnut filly from his first crop took her connections to the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, it was cause for celebration. Unfortunately, Blind Luck didn’t get the best trip that day, but the ride she took me and a few other Pollard devotees on remains unforgettable.
6--No Breeders’ Cup top 10 would be complete without the 2001 renewal at Belmont Park, which took place just a handful of weeks after the tragedy of that second Tuesday of September. Tiznow was looking to become the first back-to-back Classic winner, and though his season was not a straight-forward one, he came through. I can vividly recall that stretch drive--the massive Cal-bred’s one stride for every two taken by Sakhee, it seemed--followed by one of Durkin’s more memorable lines: "Tiznow wins it for America!" Really evokes a chill to this day.
5--Having spent my first 31-plus years in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, the 2002 Breeders’ Cup at Arlington, a stone’s throw from my childhood home, was always going to be special. It was a day of majestic performances from some of racing’s royalty (the Lewises, the Phippses, the Niarchoses) and some tragedy and was capped by a monster upset in the Classic. The thermometer may have read something like 43 that day--it felt much more like 33 out there on the apron--but to attend the Cup in my hometown was very special.
4--Buck’s Boy--1998. I was about two months into my new gig at the TDN, having just relocated from the Land of Lincoln, and lo and behold, here’s this blue-collar Illinois-bred who’s one of the favorites in the Turf. I spent plenty of afternoons watching ‘ Bucky,’ run in races like the Milwaukee Avenue H. (he lost to the great Polar Expedition) and the W.H. Bishop H., but here he was on racing’s biggest stage at one of its famed venues, Churchill Downs. He was a 7-2 chance that year and maybe it wasn’t one of the greatest renewals of the Turf ever staged, but he did his thing from the front and held sway to become (and he remains) the only horse bred in Illinois to win a Breeders’ Cup race.
3--2000 Sprint at Churchill. I remember sitting in the race book at Bally’s in Las Vegas in August 1998, when a son of Java Gold was looking to follow up on a 15-length maiden win in a Del Mar allowance. Kona Gold whipped them that day by seven and was third in that year’s Sprint before going one better at Gulfstream in 1999. He came into the 2000 Sprint with four wins from five outings that year and was a key horse for many, including me. But the real treat in the race for this gambler was a rangy and likeable chestnut named Bet On Sunshine, who loved it beneath the Twin Spires and rarely missed the top three. Bet On Sunshine was a ripe eight years of age when he lined up for the 2000 Sprint and the play was Kona on top and Bet On Sunshine to come with his patented late run and fill second or third. Well, sure enough, he was 12th after a rough start, but rallied past pacesetting Caller One into third at 20-1. To make things even nicer, Honest Lady, a 31-1 shot against the boys, flew home for second. The triple returned $2,076. I only had it for the penny, but that result still brings a smile to my face.
2--Cigar, 1995 Classic. More than any other horse, Cigar really captured my imagination and is really owed the credit for making me as big a fan of horse racing as I am. We all remember the passing of the baton when Holy Bull went wrong on the backstretch of the ‘95 Donn and a new star was born. The Paulson runner was campaigned ambitiously, with seven subsequent starts prior to the Cup at five different tracks from coast to coast. The underfoot conditions worried even trainer Bill Mott that dreary day as Cigar tried to complete a perfect 10-for-10 season, and the 5-year-old was a handful for Jerry Bailey before he cut him loose "with a dramatic rush" on the sweeping final turn. It was never in doubt from there for the "inconquerable, invincible, unbeatable" Cigar.
1--Street Sense, 2006 Juvenile. Street Cry really hadn’t established himself when this son of Bedazzle (by Dixieland Band) came around, and few in attendance for his maiden-breaker at Arlington Park that August would have believed that the Jim Tafel homebred would go on to super-stardom. For reasons somewhat difficult for me to articulate, I was a believer, and backed him when third in the Grade III Futurity at Arlington and when he covered all sorts of ground at Keeneland in the Grade I Breeders’ Futurity. Here and there, I’d field a call from Dan Pride at Darley, and he’ll tell you that I never failed to mention Street Sense and how I thought he’d go on to do something big when we conversed. It was almost inconceivable to me that he would be something in the vicinity of 15-1 for the Juvenile getting back on to a conventional dirt surface with a race flow he was certain to appreciate. Back near the tail as they sizzled up front, I watched as the athletic dark bay hugged the fence with this monster move. So fast was he traveling that even Trevor Denman failed to pick him up until he was six clear into the final furlong. I think most of the Northern Hemisphere--and especially those who had the great misfortune of trying to enjoy Breeders’ Cup 2006 in a near-empty Keeneland sales pavilion (oh my, the acoustics, right Lucas?)--knew that Street Sense had given me one of my greatest scores, and in a broader sense, victories, of all time.
Feel free to chime in with your Breeders’ Cup stories and recollections. We’re inside of 10 days to another helping of Championship weekend and a whole new set of memories to be made.