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Jon White: Two Hall of Famers Top Breeders' Cup Classic Figs | Wednesday, October 20

by Jon White

October 20, 2021

The 2021 Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar is fast approaching. With that in mind, it’s interesting to examine the history of the Beyer Speed Figures for the richest of the 14 Breeders’ Cup races, the $6 million Classic.

Sunday Silence and Ghostzapper share the distinction of having achieved the top Beyer Speed Figure in the 37 editions of the BC Classic. They each registered a 124 Beyer in the 1 1/4-mile event.

One morning years ago at Santa Anita, I asked trainer Charlie Whittingham who was the best horse he ever trained. He told me it was Sunday Silence.

The 1989 edition of the BC Classic was a race for the ages. It featured a showdown for the 1989 Horse of the Year title between Triple Crown combatants Sunday Silence and Easy Goer, two of the best Thoroughbreds to appear on the American racing stage during that decade.

Sunday Silence and Easy Goer finished one-two in all three legs of the Triple Crown. Sunday Silence zigzagged his way down the stretch on a muddy track and won the Kentucky Derby by 2 1/2 lengths. Easy Goer finished second. In an epic renewal of the Preakness Stakes, Sunday Silence eked out a nose victory at the end of a furious stretch battle with Easy Goer, who again had to settle for second. Easy Goer then won the Belmont Stakes by eight dominant lengths to spoil Sunday Silence’s bid for Triple Crown glory. This time it was Sunday Silence who ran second.

The 1989 BC Classic at Gulfstream Park featured a showdown for the Horse of the Year title between Sunday Silence and Easy Goer. In one of the most thrilling Breeders’ Cup races of all time, Sunday Silence prevailed by a neck when able to stave off runner-up Easy Goer in the final strides.

Sunday Silence was indeed elected 1989 Horse of the Year.

Victorious in nine of 14 lifetime starts, Sunday Silence was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1996. The Kentucky-bred son of Halo ranks No. 26 on my list of the Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th Century to have raced in North America.

One morning years ago at Santa Anita, I asked Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel who was the best horse he ever trained. He told me it was Ghostzapper.

In a sparkling performance, Ghostzapper won the 2004 BC Classic by three lengths at Lone Star Park. Roses in May ran second. Roses in May would go on to take the Group I Dubai World Cup in 2005.

Prior to the 2004 BC Classic, Ghostzapper won that year’s Grade I Woodward by a neck over Saint Liam. Saint Liam would go on to capture the 2005 BC Classic.

Ghostzapper was voted 2004 Horse of the Year.

Victorious in seven of nine career starts, Ghostzapper was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2012. The Kentucky-bred son of Awesome Again ranks No. 12 on my list of the Top 25 Racehorses of the 21st Century to have raced in North America.

Below are the Beyers for BC Cup Classic winners going back to its inaugural running in 1984, listed in order from the highest to lowest:

124 Sunday Silence (1989)
124 Ghostzapper (2004)
122 Alysheba (1988)
120 Proud Truth (1985)
120 Black Tie Affair (1991)
120 Skip Away (1997)
120 American Pharoah (2015)
120 Arrogate (2016)
119 Pleasantly Perfect (2003)
119 Curlin (2007)
118 Skywalker (1986)
118 Cat Thief (1999)
117 Ferdinand (1987)
117 Cigar (1995)
117 Tiznow (2001)
117 Fort Larned (2012)
117 Gun Runner (2017)
116 Unbridled (1990)
116 Awesome Again (1998)
116 Tiznow (2000)
116 Volponi (2002)
116 Invasor (2006)
115 Concern (1994)
115 Alphabet Soup (1996)
114 A.P. Indy (1992)
114 Arcangues (1993)
113 Wild Again (1984)
113 Bayern (2014)
112 Zenyatta (2009)*
112 Saint Liam (2005)
112 Mucho Macho Man (2005)
111 Blame (2010)
111 Accelerate (2018)
111 Vino Rosso (2019)
111 Authentic (2020)
110 Raven’s Pass (2008)*
104 Drosselmeyer (2011)

*Run on a synthetic surface


Now let’s take a look at the highest Beyer Speed Figures ever record by a Breeders’ Cup winner.

At the top of the list is Precisionist’s 125 Beyer when he won the 1985 BC Sprint at Aqueduct. Chris McCarron rode the handsome 4-year-old colt for owner-breeder Fred W. Hooper and trainer Ross Fenstermaker.

Precisionist’s victory in the 1985 BC Sprint on Nov. 2 was all the more impressive in that he had not raced since June 23.

It’s also mighty impressive, to say the least, that in all the Breeders’ Cup races since 1984, no Breeders’ Cup winner has been able to tie or top Precisionist’s 125 Beyer when he won the Sprint.

Below are all the Beyers of 115 or higher recorded by a winner in the history of the Breeders’ Cup:

125 Precisionist in the 1985 Sprint at Aqueduct

124 Sunday Silence in the 1989 Classic at Gulfstream Park
124 Artax in the 1999 Sprint at Gulfstream Park
124 Ghostzapper in the 2004 Classic at Churchill Downs

122 Alysheba in the 1988 Classic at Churchill Downs

121 Very Subtle* in the 1987 Sprint at Hollywood Park

120 Princess Rooney* in the 1984 Distaff at Hollywood Park
120 Proud Truth in the 1985 Classic at Aqueduct
120 Black Tie Affair in the 1991 Classic at Churchill Downs
120 Skip Away in the 1997 Classic at Hollywood Park
120 Cajun Beat in the 2003 Sprint at Santa Anita Park
120 American Pharoah in the 2015 Classic at Keeneland
120 Arrogate in the 2017 Classic at Santa Anita

119 Miesque* in the 1987 Mile at Hollywood Park
119 Inside Information* in the 1995 Distaff at Belmont Park
119 Squirtle Squirt in the 2001 Sprint at Belmont Park
119 Pleasantly Perfect in the 2003 Classic at Santa Anita Park
119 Corinthian in the 2007 Dirt Mile at Monmouth Park
119 Curlin in the 2007 Classic at Monmouth Park

118 Smile in the 1986 Sprint at Santa Anita Park
118 Skywalker in the 1986 Classic at Santa Anita Park
118 Daylami in the 1999 Turf at Gulfstream Park
118 Cat Thief in the 1999 Classic at Gulfstream Park

117 Miesque* in the 1988 Mile at Churchill Downs
117 Ferdinand in the 1987 Classic at Hollywood Park
117 Cigar in the 1995 Classic at Belmont Park
117 Fantastic Light in the 2001 Turf at Belmont Park
117 Tiznow in the 2001 Classic at Belmont Park
117 Fort Larned in the 2012 Classic at Santa Anita Park
117 Gun Runner in the 2017 Classic at Del Mar

116 Gulch in the 1988 Sprint at Churchill Downs
116 Safely Kept* in the 1990 Sprint at Belmont Park
116 Unbridled in the 1990 Classic at Belmont Park
116 Tiznow in the 2000 Classic at Churchill Downs
116 Volponi in the 2002 Classic at Arlington Park
116 Thor’s Echo in the 2006 Sprint at Churchill Downs
116 Invasor in the 2006 Classic at Churchill Downs
116 Conduit in the 2008 Turf at Santa Anita

115 Theatrical in the 1987 Turf at Hollywood Park
115 Personal Ensign* in the 1988 Distaff at Churchill Downs
115 Bayakoa* in the 1989 Distaff at Gulfstream Park
115 Dancing Spree in the 1989 Sprint at Gulfstream Park
115 Concern in the 1994 Classic at Churchill Downs
115 Pilsudski in the 1996 Turf at Woodbine

*Filly or mare


Current hot sire Gun Runner was credited with a 117 Beyer Speed Figure when he won the BC Classic at Del Mar in 2017. That ranked as the highest Beyer recorded by a winner at that Breeders’ Cup.

Below are the Beyers for the winners of the 2017 Breeders’ Cup races, listed from the highest to the lowest:

117 Gun Runner (Classic)
111 Roy H (Sprint)
108 Battle of Midway (Dirt Mile)
108 Talismanic (Turf)
107 World Approval (Mile)
104 Wuheida (Filly & Mare Turf)
103 Stormy Liberal (Turf Sprint)
100 Good Magic (Juvenile)
 99 Forever Unbridled (Distaff)
 94 Bar of Gold (Filly & Mare Sprint)
 86 Mendelssohn (Juvenile Turf)
 85 Rushing Fall (Juvenile Fillies Turf)
 82 Caledonia Road (Juvenile Fillies)

Gun Runner won the 2017 BC Classic by 2 1/4 lengths at Del Mar, but it was no walk in the park. While he was showing the way through the early stages, he had Collected breathing down his neck. On the far turn, Gun Runner and Collected were well clear of the other nine starters.

Coming into the stretch, it appeared that Gun Runner and Collected were going to slug it out all the way to the finish, as Trevor Denman noted during his call of the race when he said, “It looks like we’re in for a classic in the Classic.”

But before Denman could finish that sentence, just as they were approaching the eighth pole, Gun Runner began to put away Collected. Gun Runner increased his advantage to a length with a furlong to go, then gradually increased his lead the rest of the way to win by 2 1/4 lengths in 2:01.29.

Collected had to settle for second. West Coast finished third, 1 1/4 lengths behind Collected. War Story came in fourth. Arrogate and Gunnevera finished in a dead heat for fifth, followed in order by Churchill, Mubtaahij, War Decree, Pavel and Win the Space.

It was Arrogate’s third straight defeat after he had put together a fantastic four-race winning streak. The streak began in the 2016 Travers in which Arrogate smashed Saratoga’s 38-year-old 1 1/4-mile track record by four-fifths of a second.

Next, Arrogate won the 2016 BC Classic with a powerful late surge that carried him to victory over California Chrome at Santa Anita.

Arrogate made it three straight wins in the 2017 Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park, a race in which he broke Gulfstream Park’s track record for 1 1/8 miles.

Arrogate’s triumph in the subsequent 2017 Dubai World Cup was nothing less than sensational. He overcame a horrible start to win going away by 2 1/4 lengths. During Terry Spargo’s call of the race, he said of Arrogate that “we’ve seen the anointing of the Man o’ War of the 21st century.”

However, after the Dubai World Cup, for whatever reason or reasons, the so-called “Man o’War of the 21st century” lost his next three starts -- all on Del Mar’s main track -- before heading off to stud.

Following Arrogate’s sensational victory in Dubai, he lost the Grade II San Diego Handicap by 15 1/4 lengths as a 1-20 favorite on July 22 at Del Mar. He then finished second, a half-length behind Collected, in the Grade I Pacific Classic on Aug. 19 at Del Mar when he was a 3-5 favorite.

Despite Arrogate’s losses in the San Diego and Pacific Classic, he was a slight $2.10 to $1 favorite in the BC Classic. Gun Runner was sent away at $2.40 to $1. But Arrogate could do no better than finish 6 1/4 lengths behind Gunner Runner.

When Gun Runner ran second in the Dubai World Cup, he had been no match for Arrogate. But Gun Runner would not lose again for the rest of the year. He reeled off four consecutive Grade I victories.

In Gun Runner’s first start after his trip to Dubai, he won the Stephen Foster Handicap by seven lengths at Churchill Downs on June 17. That was followed by a 5 1/4-length victory in the Whitney Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 5. Gun Runner then continued his winning ways on Sept. 2 in Saratoga’s Woodward Stakes, in which he was 10 1/4 lengths in front at the finish in his final start before the BC Classic.


I came across an interesting story written by Michael Berk that appeared earlier this month on the lex18.com website regarding a 1938 Man o’ War postcard. Berk is a news anchor and reporter for WLEX TV in Lexington, Ky.

According to Berk, Marc Guilfoil received the Man o’ War postcard out of the blue at his office in Lexington, Ky. Guilfoil is the executive director of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission.

The postcard had been sent to the KHRC office by 93-year-old Lowell Joerg.

“Joerg has a retirement hobby that he calls ‘a redistribution of happiness.’ He finds things at antique stores, or wherever he might be, and sends them to people or places he feels will most benefit from having the item,” Berk wrote.

“Too much misery in the world. Might as well make someone happy,” Berk quoted Joerg as saying from his assisted living facility in California.

When Berk came across a 1938 postcard with Man o’ War pictured on the front, Berk felt the need to buy it and send it “home” to Kentucky.

Jeorg was tickled to learn that he had chosen well in terms of where to send the postcard in that “Man o’ War was buried near the Commission’s office,” Berk wrote.

Guilfoil was touched by what Joerg had done.

“It just floored me that somebody would take the time to do something like this,” Guilfoil said.

“Normally, when we get something like this, I think of sending it to the Keeneland Library or the Derby Museum at Churchill Downs,” Guilfoil added. “But this one is staying right here!”

Guilfoil said he will have the postcard and Joerg’s letter framed, then put on display in a prominent place at the KHRC office. Guilfoil and his staff also will be sending Jeorg “a very thoughtful gift” as a gesture of gratitude.

“There’s another part of this story that’ll floor most anyone who continues reading,” Berk wrote.

Appearing with Man o’ War on the postcard is his longtime groom, Will Harbut, who famously called Man o’ War “de mostest hoss that ever wuz.”

Greg Harbut, who currently is a member of the KHRC, is a grandson of Will Harbut.

How great was Man o’ War? He tied or broke world, American or track records at seven different distances: one mile, 1 1/16 miles, 1 1/8 miles, 1 1/4 miles, 1 3/8 miles, 1 1/2 miles and 1 5/8 miles.

Man o’ War ranked No. 1 on BloodHorse’s list of the Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th Century. He also holds the top spot on my list of the Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th Century to have raced in North America.

Below is my list of the Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th Century (in parentheses, when applicable, is where the horse ranked on BloodHorse’s list of the Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th Century):

   1. Man o’ War (1)
   2. Secretariat* (2)
   3. Citation* (3)
   4. Kelso (4)
   5. Spectacular Bid (10)
   6. Native Dancer (7)
   7. Dr. Fager (6)
   8. Seattle Slew* (9)
   9. Count Fleet* (5)
 10. Affirmed* (12)
 11. Ruffian (35)
 12. Swaps (20)
 13. Forego (8)
 14. Phar Lap (22)
 15. Buckpasser (14)
 16. Damascus (16)
 17. Round Table (17)
 18. Seabiscuit (25)
 19. War Admiral* (13)
 20. Tom Fool (11)
 21. Colin (15)
 22. John Henry (23)
 23. Regret (71)
 24. Exterminator (29)
 25. Whirlaway* (26)
 26. Sunday Silence (31)
 27. Cigar (18)
 28. Nashua (24)
 29. Alydar (27)
 30. Easy Goer (34)
 31. Alysheba (42)
 32. Bold Ruler (19)
 33. Personal Ensign (48)
 34. All Along (68)
 35. Equipoise (21)
 36. Gallant Fox* (28)
 37. Sysonby (30)
 38. Gallant Man (36)
 39. Assault* (33)
 40. Armed (39)
 41. Sir Barton* (49)
 42. Northern Dancer (43)
 43. Omaha* (61)
 44. Ack Ack (44)
 45. Discovery (37)
 46. Majestic Prince (46)
 47. Arts and Letters (67)
 48. Stymie (41)
 49. Challedon (38)
 50. Pan Zareta
 51. Noor (69)
 52. Busher (40)
 53. Gallorette (45)
 54. Coaltown (47)
 55. Sword Dancer (53)
 56. Grey Lag (54)
 57. Devil Diver (55)
 58. Dahlia (50)
 59. Zev (56)
 60. Ta Wee (80)
 61. Twilight Tear (59)
 62. Riva Ridge (57)
 63. Native Diver (60)
 64. Holy Bull (64)
 65. Precisionist
 66. Inside Information
 67. Shuvee (70)
 68. Twenty Grand (52)
 69. Skip Away (32)
 70. Sham
 71. Alsab (65)
 72. Lady’s Secret (76)
 73. Genuine Risk (91)
 74. A.P. Indy
 75. Landaluce
 76. Silver Charm (63)
 77. Susan’s Girl (51)
 78. Cicada (62)
 79. Go for Wand (72)
 80. Slew o’ Gold (58)
 81. Bald Eagle (74)
 82. Exceller (96)
 83. Tim Tam
 84. Top Flight (66)
 85. Manila
 86. Johnstown (73)
 87. Lure (85)
 88. Princess Rooney
 89. Two Lea (77)
 90. Gallant Bloom (79)
 91. Miesque (82)
 92. Eight Thirty (78)
 93. Fort Marcy (86)
 94. Hoist the Flag
 95. Cougar II
 96. Gamely (87)
 97. Carry Back (83)
 98. Ancient Title
 99. Bayakoa (95)
100. Formal Gold

*Triple Crown winner

Below is my list of the Top 25 Racehorses of the 21st Century so far:

 1. American Pharoah*
 2. Zenyatta
 3. Justify*
 4. Curlin
 5. Arrogate
 6. Shared Belief
 7. California Chrome
 8. Rachel Alexandra
 9. Barbaro
10. Tiznow
11. Wise Dan
12. Ghostzapper
13. Point Given
14. Invasor
15. Gun Runner
16. Beholder
17. Smarty Jones
18. Azeri
19. Lava Man
20. Goldikova
21. Bernardini
22. Rags to Riches
23. Candy Ride
24. Kona Gold
25. Xtra Heat

*Triple Crown winner


Knicks Go again holds the No. 1 spot in the NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll this week. This is the 11th consecutive week he has held the top spot in the poll.

This week’s Top 10 is listed below:

Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)

 1. 339 Knicks Go (23)
 2. 312 Letruska (6)
 3. 299 Essential Quality (7)
 4. 158 Jackie’s Warrior
 5. 149 Hot Rod Charlie
 6. 129 Gamine
 7. 125 Medina Spirit
 8.   95 Art Collector
 9.   83 Max Player
10.   68 Domestic Spending