by Jon White
October 24, 2019
Pre-entries for this year’s Breeders’ Cup, which will be held Nov. 1-2 at Santa Anita Park, have been announced. This will be a record 10th time that Santa Anita is hosting the big event.
The Breeders’ Cup began in 1984. Prior to this year, the Breeders’ Cup was held at Santa Anita in 1986, 1993, 2003, 2008, 2009, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2016.
I have come up with my list of the Top 12 Breeders’ Cup performances at Santa Anita.
A horse’s performance was chosen for a variety of reasons, such as:
--A win by a big margin while showing brilliance.
--Recording a fast final time and/or speed figure.
--Being especially game in victory or defeat.
--Defeating a particularly strong group of opponents.
--Achieving something historic.
And now here is my list of the Top 12 Breeders’ Cup performances at Santa Anita:
(12) LURE IN THE 1993 MILE. (Owned by Claiborne Farm; trained by Shug McGaughey; ridden by Mike Smith; 4-year-old Kentucky-bred Danzig colt.)
After winning the BC Mile by three lengths in course-record time at Gulfstream Park in 1992, Lure registered a 2 1/4-length victory in the 1993 BC Mile on Santa Anita’s turf course.
It did help Lure in his 1993 BC Mile victory that a number of his rivals (Flawlessly, Wolfhound, Catrail and Buckhar) were interfered with going into the clubhouse turn when European shipper Barathea bore out badly. Barathea finished fifth and, I believe, should have been disqualified and placed last. Nevertheless, Lure was quite impressive in his 1993 BC Mile performance.
After the 1993 BC Mile, McGaughey said Lure ranked “right up there with the best I’ve trained.” At the time, that meant McGaughey put Lure right up there with such champions as Personal Ensign and Easy Goer.
Considered to be one of the finest grass milers in American racing history, Lure was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2013.
(11) LADY’S SECRET IN THE 1986 DISTAFF. (Owned by Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Klein; trained by D. Wayne Lukas; ridden by Pat Day; 4-year-old Oklahoma-bred Secretariat filly.)
A daughter of 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat, Lady’s Secret seized the lead right away and went on to win the 1986 BC Distaff by 2 1/2 lengths. Fran’s Valentine finished second, with Outstandingly third.
Nicknamed the “Iron Lady,” Lady’s Secret won 20 races -- all stakes -- during a two-year period. She won 10 stakes races in 1985 and 10 more in 1986.
Lady’s Secret ranked No. 76 on BloodHorse magazine’s list of the Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th Century.
“In 1986, Lady’s Secret fashioned one of the greatest single seasons in horse racing history,” Gary West stated in the Lady’s Secret profile he wrote for BloodHorse. “She traveled from California to New York, dominating her division and four times taking on many of the nation’s best males.
“The diminutive filly won 10 of her 15 starts that season, all stakes races, and earned $1,871,053 to be named Horse of the Year and champion mare. She scored eight of her victories in Grade I events.”
Lady’s Secret was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1992.
(10) KOTASHAAN IN THE 1993 TURF. (Owned by La Presle Farm; trained by Richard Mandella; ridden by Kent Desormeaux; 5-year-old French-bred son of Darshaan.)
Kotashaan and Bien Bien clashed four times in 1993. They met for the first time in the Grade I San Luis Rey Stakes at Santa Anita. Kotashaan won by 1 1/4 lengths, with Bien Bien second.
They had a rematch in the Grade I San Juan Capistrano Handicap on the same turf course a month later. Kotashaan won again over Bien Bien, but this time the margin was a scant nose.
In the fall, Kotashaan and Bien Bien faced each other again in the BC Turf. And again they ran one-two. They battled it out all the way down the stretch before Kotashaan finally prevailed by a half-length.
Kotashaan was voted 1993 Eclipse Awards as champion male turf performer and Horse of the Year.
The 1993 BC Turf victory by Kotashaan was part of a big day for Mandella, who also won the BC Juvenile Fillies with Phone Chatter and two stakes races on the undercard with Memo (Smile Handicap) and Region (Skywalker Handicap).
In 2003, Mandella had an even bigger day when he saddled four BC winners -- Halfbridled in the BC Juvenile Fillies, Action This Day in the BC Juvenile, Johar (who finished in a dead heat with High Chaparral) in the BC Turf and Pleasantly Perfect in the BC Classic.
(9) MIDNIGHT LUTE IN THE 2008 SPRINT. (Owned by Watson and Weitman Performances and Mike Pegram; trained by Bob Baffert; ridden by Garrett Gomez; 5-year-old Kentucky-bred son of Real Quiet.)
After Midnight Lute won the 2007 BC Sprint by 4 3/4 lengths on a sloppy track at Monmouth Park, he returned to take the 2008 BC Sprint by 1 3/4 lengths on Santa Anita’s synthetic surface.
Midnight Lute’s BC Sprint victory at Santa Anita was truly remarkable in that he had made just one prior 2008 start, finishing 10th in Del Mar’s Grade II Pat O’Brien Handicap.
I am of the opinion that the 2008 BC Sprint victory by Midnight Lute off only one 2008 race was without question one of Baffert’s finest training accomplishments.
In 2007, Midnight Lute was voted an Eclipse Award as champion sprinter. However, Midnight Lute was not voted champion sprinter in 2008, no doubt mainly due to the fact he had made only two starts and won just the BC Sprint during the year. The 2008 Eclipse Award for champion sprinter went to Benny the Bull.
Midnight Lute became the first two-time BC Sprint winner. Roy H then duplicated the feat by taking the 2017 and 2018 renewals.
(8) GOLDIKOVA IN THE 2008 MILE. (Owned by Wertheimer and Frere; trained by Freddie Head; ridden by Olivier Peslier; 3-year-old Irish-bred Anabaa filly.)
Head became the first person to ride and train a Breeders’ Cup winner. Head won the BC Mile as a jockey in 1987 at Hollywood Park and 1988 at Churchill Downs aboard the brilliant Miesque. In 2008, Head won the BC Mile as a trainer with Goldikova.
In the 2008 BC Mile, when a hole opened for Goldikova in the stretch, her acceleration was breathtaking. The burst of speed was such that her rival jockeys did not have any chance to close the hole on her because she was through it and gone in an instant. Goldikova won by 1 1/4 lengths.
Kip Deville, the 2007 BC Mile winner, ran well to finish second in the 2008 BC Mile while rebounding off a disappointing effort when fifth in the Grade I Woodbine Mile.
Goldikova returned to Santa Anita in 2009 and won a second BC Mile. And then, at Churchill Downs in 2010, she made it a BC Mile three-peat. Goldikova thus became the first three-time winner of the same Breeders’ Cup race.
Voted Eclipse Awards in 2009 and 2010 as champion female turf performer, Goldikova was voted into the Hall of Fame in 2017.
(7) ZENYATTA IN THE 2008 LADIES’ CLASSIC. (Owned by Ann and Jerry Moss; trained by John Shirreffs; ridden by Mike Smith; 4-year-old Kentucky-bred Street Sense filly.)
Despite racing extremely wide while rallying into the stretch, Zenyatta won going away by 1 1/2 lengths to remain undefeated in nine career starts. This performance put the exclamation point on Zenyatta’s seven-for-seven 2008 campaign.
How strong was the field that Zenyatta defeated in the 2008 BC Ladies’ Classic? Her seven victims all were graded stakes winners. Five were Grade I winners: Cocoa Beach (who finished second), Music Note (third), Carriage Trail (fourth), Hystericalady (fifth) and Ginger Punch (sixth). Santa Teresita (seventh) would go on to become a Grade I winner. Bear Now (eighth) was a Grade II winner.
Ginger Punch had taken the 2007 BC Distaff on a sloppy track at Monmouth. Ginger Punch was voted a 2007 Eclipse Award as champion older female. The 2008 Eclipse Award for champion older female went to Zenyatta, who would go on to earn more laurels in 2009 and 2010.
(6) HOLLYWOOD WILDCAT IN THE 1993 DISTAFF. (Owned by Irving and Marjorie Cowan; trained by Neil Drysdale; ridden by Eddie Delahoussaye; 3-year-old Florida-bred Kris S filly.)
Hollywood Wildcat, a 3-year-old trained by Hall of Famer Drysdale, and 6-year-old Paseana, conditioned by Hall of Famer Ron McAnally, staged a furious battle to the finish in the 1993 BC Distaff. Adding to the dramatic finish were the two Hall of Fame jockeys involved. Eddie Delahoussaye rode Hollywood Wildcat, with Chris McCarron aboard Paseana.
Delahoussaye dropped his riding crop about 70 yards from the finish. When recently interviewed by Santa Anita publicity director Mike Willman, Delahoussaye said that he panicked when the crop was dropped. But you sure could not see any evidence of that when watching the race live. Even when looking at a replay of the race all these years later, it appears that Delahoussaye kept his cool. In any case, Hollywood Wildcat won by a nose.
Hollywood Wildcat was voted a 1993 Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old filly. Paseana earned a second straight Eclipse Award in 1993 as champion older female.
(5) WISE DAN IN THE 2012 MILE. (Owned by Morton Fink; trained by Charles LoPresti; ridden by John Velazquez; 5-year-old Kentucky-bred Wiseman’s Ferry gelding.)
Wise Dan’s final time of 1:31.78 broke Santa Anita’s course record of 1:31.89 for one mile on the grass set by Atticus in 1997. Wise Dan’s 1:31.78 clocking was faster than such exceptional BC Mile winners at Santa Anita as Lure (1:33.40 in 1993) and Goldikova (1:33.40 in 2008 and 1:32.26 in 2009).
In the 2012 BC Mile, Wise Dan defeated the likes of 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom; Excelebration and Moonlight Cloud, a pair of multiple Group I winners from Europe; Suggestive Boy, a multiple Group I winner in Argentina; and a razor-sharp, multiple Grade II-winning Obviously.
Wise Dan was a six-time Eclipse Award winner. He was voted Horse of the Year in 2012 and 2013. He also was honored as champion older male in 2012 and 2013, plus champion male turf horse in 2012 and 2013. He became the first horse to win the same three Eclipse Awards in consecutive years since the inception of those awards in 1971.
(4) BEHOLDER IN THE 2016 DISTAFF. (Owned by Spendthrift Farm; trained by Richard Mandella; ridden by Gary Stevens; 6-year-old Kentucky-bred Henny Hughes mare.)
This victory by Beholder makes my list of the Top 12 Breeders’ Cup performances at Santa Anita because she was so valiant.
Three-time Eclipse Award winner Beholder and 2015 Eclipse Award winner Songbird staged a furious duel all the way down the stretch to a dramatic photo finish. The two champions were bobbing heads for supremacy as the wire loomed, accompanied by a roar from a Breeders’ Cup record Friday on-track crowd of 45,763.
Some, including Larry Collmus, who called the race for NBC, thought Beholder had won. Others thought Songbird had won. Michael Wrona, who called the race as Santa Anita’s track announcer, announced it as “a cliffhanger that could go either way.”
The photograph went Beholder’s way, but by only the skinniest nose imaginable in what very nearly was a dead heat. Beholder and Songbird ran so hard, both giving it everything they had, it was a shame that either of them lost. But Beholder won it in what turned out to be the final start of her exemplary racing career.
Beholder was a four-time Eclipse Award winner. She was voted champion 2-year-old filly in 2012, champion 3-year-old filly in 2013, plus champion older female in 2015 and 2016.
(3) MANILA IN THE 1986 TURF. (Owned by Bradley M. Shannon; trained by LeRoy Jolley; ridden by Jose Santos; 3-year-old Kentucky-bred Lyphard colt.)
It took an outstanding performance by the extraordinary grass runner Manila to win the 1986 BC Turf. Manila won in a thriller, prevailing by a neck as a 3-year-old over another tremendous turf runner in 4-year-old Theatrical. The marvelous mare Estrapade finished third, with the great Dancing Brave fourth and sometimes-explosive finisher Dahar fifth.
Manila was voted a 1986 Eclipse Award as male turf champion. He certainly earned that honor after having defeated so many champions that year in the BC Turf.
Theatrical returned the following year to win the BC Turf at Hollywood Park. He was voted a 1987 Eclipse Award as male turf champion.
Estrapade had distinguished herself earlier in 1986, taking both the Grade I Arlington Million and Grade I Oak Tree Invitational against male opponents. She was voted a 1986 Eclipse Award as female turf champion.
European champion Dancing Brave is certainly one of the finest Thoroughbreds to run in the Breeders’ Cup without winning. He went into the BC Turf off one of the most impressive wins ever seen in the prestigious Group I Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe as a 3-year-old. With his record at the time of six wins from seven lifetime starts, Dancing Brave was the 1-2 favorite in the 1986 BC Turf. However, hot Southern California weather in the days leading up to the BC Turf took a toll on Dancing Brave, who lost considerable weight. Prince Khalid Abdullah (Juddmonte Farms) considered Dancing Brave the best horse he had ever owned…until Frankel.
Dahar, a son of the great Dahlia, was not a champion. But he loved Santa Anita’s turf course. Earlier in 1986, he had taken both the Grade I San Luis Rey Stakes and Grade I San Juan Capistrano for trainer Charlie Whittingham.
Manila and Theatrical battled for the lead throughout the final furlong in the 1986 BC Turf. Gary Stevens rode Theatrical. About 40 yards from the finish, Santos dropped his riding crop. But that miscue did not prevent Manila from recording his sixth consecutive victory. His winning streak reached nine before the son of Lyphard finally lost the Grade II Bernard Baruch Handicap at Saratoga in 1987. He finished second to Talakeno.
After the Bernard Baruch, Manila made only one more start. He won the 1987 Arlington Million (with Sharrood second and Theatrical third).
Voted a 1986 Eclipse Award as champion male turf horse, Manila was recognized for his stellar career (13 grass starts, 10 wins, 3 seconds) with induction into the Hall of Fame in 2008.
(2) ARROGATE IN THE 2016 CLASSIC. (Owned by Juddmonte Farms; trained by Bob Baffert; ridden by Mike Smith; 3-year-old Kentucky-bred Unbridled’s Song colt.)
Most viewed the 2016 BC Classic as a two-horse race between California Chrome and Arrogate. California Chrome was the favorite at slightly less than even money. He was 9-10. Arrogate was the second choice at a bit less than 8-5. He was 17-10. Frosted was 8-1. Everyone else in the field of nine was 17-1 or higher.
California Chrome had regular rider Victor Espinoza in the saddle. Mike Smith rode Arrogate. Bob Baffert and Espinoza had collaborated to win the BC Classic with American Pharoah. This time Baffert and Espinoza were BC Classic opponents.
Away from the gate alertly, California Chrome showed the way through moderate early fractions of :23.28, :47.15 and 1:10.96 without being hustled at all to do so. Arrogate, fifth early, moved into third approaching the backstretch.
Heading toward the far turn and then all the way around that turn, Espinoza intermittently took several peeks back at the competition. Even with Espinoza still not asking California Chrome for run, they spurted away to a daylight lead of about three lengths midway around the turn.
Approaching the quarter pole, Arrogate loomed a threat -- indeed, the only threat -- to California Chrome. As Santa Anita track announcer Michael Wrona put it when California Chrome led by 2 1/2 lengths nearing the quarter pole: “Arrogate, the solitary 3-year-old, is sweeping after him in earnest as they race well clear of Melatonin.”
The bettors were spot on in that the 2016 BC Classic had indeed become strictly a two-horse race between California Chrome and Arrogate in the final quarter-mile.
California Chrome entered the stretch in front and was running strongly. Baffert later admitted that when he saw that, he believed Arrogate was going to finish second. Finishing second to California Chrome, “a great horse,” as Baffert put it, was going to be “no embarrassment” for Arrogate.
Once straightened away for the stretch run, Espinoza asked California Chrome for run. And when California Chrome led by 1 1/2 lengths with a furlong to go, it appeared the 2014 Horse of the Year probably was on his way to a perfect seven-for-seven 2016 campaign.
Smith, unquestionably one of the greatest big-money riders of all time, coaxed Arrogate while utilizing his riding crop left-handed from the top of the lane to just outside the sixteenth pole. Arrogate seemed to be responding just enough to be staying about a length or so behind California Chrome. But when Smith switched his stick and employed it with his right hand in the final sixteenth, Arrogate responded immediately and enthusiastically while appearing to find another gear. He surged past California Chrome in the final yards to prevail by a half-length in a thriller witnessed on a beautiful fall afternoon by a throng of 72,811 in attendance at the Great Race Place, the scenic battleground for this year’s Breeders’ Cup.
Arrogate completed his 1 1/4-mile BC Classic journey in 2:00.11. He was assigned a 120 Beyer. Only six Breeders’ Cup winners have ever recorded a Beyer higher than 120. Precisionist owns the highest Beyer Speed Figure in Breeders’ Cup history, a 125 in the 1986 Sprint at Aqueduct. Arrogate’s 120 Beyer in the 2016 BC Classic matched that of American Pharoah when the Baffert-trained Triple Crown winner took the 2015 BC Classic at Keeneland.
Following Arrogate’s 2016 BC Classic triumph, he was voted an Eclipse Award as that year’s champion 3-year-old male.
California Chrome, who had to settle for second in the 2016 BC Classic, was a four-time Eclipse Award winner. He was voted Horse of the Year in 2014 and 2016, plus champion 3-year-old male in 2014 and champion older male in 2016.
(1) ZENYATTA IN THE 2009 CLASSIC. (Owned by Jerry and Ann Moss; trained by John Shirreffs; ridden by Mike Smith; 5-year-old Kentucky-bred daughter of Street Sense.)
This was, without a doubt, one of the greatest performances in the history of the Great Race Place, along with Seabiscuit’s victory in the 1940 Santa Anita Handicap and John Longden’s win aboard George Royal in the 1966 San Juan Capistrano Handicap.
Zenyatta put her 14-0 record on the line and faced males for the first time in the 2009 BC Classic. As Trevor Denman noted three times during his call of the race, Zenyatta was “dead last” through the early stages of the race. With a quarter of a mile to go, Denman observed that Zenyatta was still so far behind that she would have to be “a super horse” to win.
But in a rally for the ages, Zenyatta electrified the 58,845 people in attendance and thousands more watching on television. She won by one length in what Denman so beautifully characterized as an “un…bah…lieveable” performance.
Zenyatta became the first female Thoroughbred to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic as well as the first horse to win two different Breeders’ Cup races.
In the 2009 BC Classic, Zenyatta defeated 11 male opponents, including eight Grade I winners. Finishing second and third were a pair of 2009 Eclipse Award winners in Gio Ponti and Summer Bird.
Gio Ponti was voted both champion older male and champion male turf horse of 2009. He collected yet another Eclipse Award in 2010 as champion male turf horse. Summer Bird was voted champion 3-year-old male of 2009.
After Zenyatta was voted an Eclipse Award as champion older female of 2008, she repeated in that category in 2009. However, the 2009 Horse of the Year title went to 3-year-old star Rachel Alexandra in a contentious vote.
Zenyatta continued racing in 2010. After compiling a 19-0 record, the big mare lost for the first and only time in her career when she finished second, a head behind Blame, in the 2010 BC Classic at Churchill Downs. But this time Zenyatta did win over a majority of the Eclipse Award voters to garner the 2010 Horse of the Year title, along with being voted champion older female for the third consecutive year.
Zenyatta unquestionably ranks as one of the greatest female Thoroughbreds in history. She was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2016 (as was Rachel Alexandra).
And Zenyatta’s 2009 Classic victory is my choice as the greatest Breeders’ Cup performance ever seen at Santa Anita.