Log In

Top 25 Breeders' Cup Performances in California

by Jon White

October 25, 2017

Pre-entries for this year’s Breeders’ Cup, which will be held Nov. 3-4 at Del Mar, have been announced. This will be the first time that Del Mar hosts the event, but far from the first time it has been held in California.

The Breeders’ Cup has been held:

  • 12 times in California (nine times at Santa Anita Park, three times at Hollywood Park).
  • 9 times in Kentucky (eight times at Churchill Downs, once at Keeneland).
  • 5 times in New York (four times at Belmont Park, once at Aqueduct).
  • 3 times in Florida (each time at Gulfstream Park).
  • 1 time in Canada (Woodbine).
  • 1 time in Illinois (Arlington Park).
  • 1 time in Texas (Lone Star Park).
  • 1 time in New Jersey (Monmouth Park).

With the Breeders’ Cup again being held in California this year, I have come up with my list of the Top 25 Breeders’ Cup performances in the Golden State.

Keep in mind this is not a list of the Top 25 Breeders’ Cup “races” or the Top 10 Breeders’ Cup “moments.” This is my list of the Top 10 “performances” in a Breeders’ Cup race at California track.

The importance of the race itself can play a role in determining whether or not I believe a performance deserves to make the list. For example, a performance might be upgraded to some extent if it was instrumental in leading to a Horse of the Year title or some other Eclipse Award.

And now here is my list of the Top 25 Breeders’ Cup performances at a California track:

25. HALFBRIDLED IN THE 2003 JUVENILE FILLIES AT SANTA ANITA. Not only did Halfbridled run a terrific race, Julie Krone rode a terrific race. Deftly guiding Halfbridled to a 2 1/2-length victory in the BC Juvenile Fillies after breaking from post 14, Krone became the first female jockey to win a Breeders’ Cup race. Ten years earlier, Krone had become the first female rider to win a Triple Crown race when collaborating with Colonial Affair to take the Belmont Stakes.

Halfbrided was voted a 2003 Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old filly.

The BC Juvenile Fillies victory by Halfbridled contributed to Richard Mandella’s historic day. In an extraordinary achievement, Mandella became the first trainer to saddle four BC winners in the same year -- 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.

24. THEATRICAL IN THE 1987 TURF AT HOLLYWOOD PARK. Theatrical ended up 11th in the 1985 BC Turf at Aqueduct. He then ran too good to lose in the 1986 BC Turf at Santa Anita when he finished second, a neck behind Manila.

For Theatrical, the third time was the charm. He won the 1987 BC Turf at Hollywood Park by a half-length. The runner-up was none other than Trempolino, who was coming off a victory in the prestigious Group I Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in France.

23. LURE IN THE 1993 MILE AT SANTA ANITA. 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.

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.

22. HOLLYWOOD WILDCAT IN THE 1993 DISTAFF AT SANTA ANITA. 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. Adding to the drama were the two Hall of Fame jockeys involved. Eddie Delahoussaye rode Hollywood Wildcat, with Chris McCarron aboard Paseana.

Delahoussaye dropped his whip about 70 yards from the finish. But in typical Eddie D. fashion, despite dropping whip, he kept his cool. Hollywood Wildcat won by a nose.

Hollywood Wildcat was voted a 1993 Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old filly. Paseana, who earned a second straight Eclipse Award in 1993 as champion older female, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2001.

21. WISE DAN IN THE 2013 MILE AT SANTA ANITA. Eighth early after stumbling at the start, Wise Dan generated a strong rally and won by three-quarters of a length while completing one mile in an excellent 1:32.47. It was Wise Dan’s 10th consecutive victory on turf.

Unquestionably one of the finest grass runners in American racing history, Wise Dan was voted Horse of the Year in both 2012 and 2013.

20. FAVORITE TRICK IN THE 1997 JUVENILE AT HOLLYWOOD PARK. Favorite Trick registered a 5 1/2-length victory to complete a perfect 1997. He was voted 1997 Eclipse Awards as champion 2-year-old male and Horse of the Year.

Favorite Trick joined Secretariat as the only 2-year-olds to be voted Horse of the Year since the introduction of the Eclipse Awards in 1971.

19. LADY’S SECRET IN THE 1986 DISTAFF AT SANTA ANITA. 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.

As Thoroughbreds seem to be getting more fragile, one looks back at Lady’s Secret and can only marvel at her durability and sustained excellence. Nicknamed the “Iron Lady,” Lady’s Secret won 20 races -- all stakes -- during a two-year period. She won 10 stakes races in 1985, then 10 more stakes races in 1986.

When Lady’s Secret took the 1986 BC Distaff, it was her eighth Grade I victory that year. She was voted 1986 Eclipse Awards as champion older female and Horse of the Year. Lady’s Secret became a member of the Hall of Fame in 1992.

18. KOTASHAAN IN THE 1993 TURF AT SANTA ANITA. 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. They again ran one-two, with Kotashaan prevailing by a half-length.

Kotashaan was voted 1993 Eclipse Awards as champion male turf horse and Horse of the Year.

The 1993 BC Turf victory by Kotashaan was part of a big day for trainer Richard 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).

17. GOLDIKOVA IN THE 2008 MILE AT SANTA ANITA. 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.

In 2008, Freddie Head became the first person to win BC races as both a trainer and a jockey. Head won the BC Mile with Goldikova as a trainer. Head previously had won the BC Mile as a jockey in 1987 at Hollywood Park and 1988 at Churchill Downs aboard the brilliant Miesque.

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 inducted into the Hall of Fame this year.

16. MIDNIGHT LUTE IN THE 2008 SPRINT AT SANTA ANITA. 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 think the 2008 BC Sprint victory by Midnight Lute off only one 2008 race was without question one of Bob Baffert’s finest training accomplishments.

Midnight Lute, who was voted a 2007 Eclipse Award as champion sprinter, has the distinction of being the only two-time BC Sprint winner.

15. SKYWALKER IN THE 1986 CLASSIC AT SANTA ANITA. Lurking in third early, Skywalker took over approaching the three-eighths pole. After he opened a healthy 3 1/2-length lead with a furlong to go, he won by 1 1/4 lengths in a 10-1 upset.

Two Horse of the Year candidates, Turkoman and Precisionist, finished second and third, respectively. Turkoman was the favorite at $1.60 to $1, a slightly lower price than Precisionist’s $1.70 to $1.

Turkoman finished second. Precisionist ended up third. Turkoman was voted a 1986 Eclipse Award as champion older male. Precisionist, an Eclipse Award winner in 1985 as champion sprinter, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2003.

Skywalker was assigned a 118 Beyer Speed Figure for his BC Classic triumph. To put Skywalker’s performance into perspective from a speed figure standpoint, Lady’s Secret recorded a 113 Beyer for her win that same day at Santa Anita in the BC Distaff.

14. BEHOLDER IN THE 2016 DISTAFF AT SANTA ANITA. In one of the greatest tussles in Breeders’ Cup history, multiple Eclipse Award winner Beholder and 2015 Eclipse Award winner Songbird staged a furious stretch 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 the Breeders’ Cup record Friday on-track crowd of 45,763.

Michael Wrona, who called the race as Santa Anita’s track announcer, described it as “a cliffhanger that could go either way.”

The photograph went Beholder’s way, but by only the skinniest of noses 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.

Beholder joined another outstanding mare, Goldikova, as the only three-time Breeders’ Cup winners. Beholder won the 2012 Juvenile Fillies, 2013 Distaff and the 2016 Distaff, all at Santa Anita. Goldikova took the BC Mile in 2008 and 2009 at Santa Anita and in 2010 at Churchill Downs.

Following Beholder’s triumph in the 2016 BC Distaff, she was voted a 2016 Eclipse Award as champion older female. It was her fourth Eclipse Award. She also had been voted Eclipse Awards as champion 2-year-old filly of 2012, champion 3-year-old filly of 2013 and champion older female of 2015.

13. WISE DAN IN THE 2012 MILE AT SANTA ANITA. Wise Dan sped one mile in 1:31.78 to break the course record of 1:31.89 set by Atticus in 1997.

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.

As mentioned earlier, Wise Dan was voted Horse of the Year in 2012 and 2013.

12. CHIEF’S CROWN IN THE 1984 JUVENILE AT HOLLYWOOD PARK. At exactly 11:15 in the morning on Nov. 10, 1984, a new era in Thoroughbred racing began as the field broke from the starting gate for the first Breeders’ Cup race ever run, the Juvenile at Hollywood Park.

Chief’s Crown, with Don MacBeth aboard for trainer Roger Laurin, prevailed by three-quarters of a length as a 3-5 favorite. Tank’s Prospect finished second, with Spend a Buck third.

The following year, Spend a Buck won the Kentucky Derby and Tank’s Prospect captured the Preakness Stakes. Chief’s Crown finished third in the Run for the Roses, second in the Preakness and third in the Belmont Stakes.

Chief’s Crown was voted a 1984 Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old male.

11. WILD AGAIN IN THE 1984 CLASSIC AT HOLLYWOOD PARK. In what surely ranks as one of the wildest finishes in a major race in the history of the sport in America, three horses -- Wild Again, Slew o’ Gold and Gate Dancer – gave it their all during an epic stretch battle in which there was quite a bit of bumping.

With 64,254 in attendance at Hollywood Park that day, Wild Again won by a head in a 31-1 upset. Supplemented to the Breeders’ Cup for a fee of $360,000, Wild Again earned $1,350,000 for his victory.

Wild Again reached the finish a head in front of Gate Dancer. Slew o’ Gold ended up third, a half-length behind Gate Dancer, who wore white earmuffs.

Not surprisingly, the stewards conducted an inquiry into the stretch run. Gate Dancer was disqualified and placed third, with Slew o’ Gold being elevated to second.

Wild Again, in an ultra-game performance, ran the race of his life. His rider, Pat Day, has said that victory, which attracted national attention, was huge for him at that stage of his career.

Despite the loss, Slew o’ Gold was voted a 1984 Eclipse Award as champion older male.

10. MIESQUE IN THE 1987 MILE HOLLYWOOD PARK. Never far back, Miesque took charge after six furlongs and won with authority by 3 3/2 lengths. The 3-year-old filly, facing males and her elders, completed her mile journey in an impressive 1:32 4/5 to blow away her 13 opponents.

In 1988, Miesque won a second BC Mile on a less-than-firm grass course termed “good” at Churchill Downs. She made history by becoming the first two-time Breeders’ Cup winner.

Miesque was assigned a 119 Beyer Speed Figure for her 1987 BC Mile victory. It remains the highest turf Beyer in the history of the Breeders’ Cup. She recorded a 117 Beyer Speed Figure for her 1988 BC Mile win.

Voted Eclipse Awards in 1987 and 1988 as champion female turf horse, Miesque was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1999.

9. VERY SUBTLE IN THE 1987 SPRINT AT HOLLYWOOD PARK. Proving to be the speed of the speed, Very Subtle dashed to the early lead and went on to win by four lengths in a 16-1 upset while posting a splendid final six-furlong time of 1:08 4/5. She became the first filly and first 3-year-old of either sex to win the six-furlong BC Sprint.

Just how terrific was her performance? Very Subtle was assigned a 121 Beyer Speed Figure. It remains the highest Beyer by a filly or mare in the history of the Breeders’ Cup. And to this day that figure of 121 is the highest Beyer ever recorded by a Breeders’ Cup winner at a California track.

One of the best sprinters of his era, Groovy was sent away as the 4-5 favorite in the 1987 BC Sprint. But he had to settle for second when no match for Very Subtle that afternoon. Despite his defeat in the BC Sprint, Groovy was voted the 1987 Eclipse Award as champion sprinter for his body of work that year.

8. ROYAL HEROINE IN THE 1984 MILE AT HOLLYWOOD PARK. Generating a powerful late kick, Royal Heroine won going away by 1 1/2 lengths. Star Choice finished second, while Cozzene came in third. Cozzene would go on to win the 1985 BC Mile at Aqueduct.

Royal Heroine’s final clocking of 1:32 3/5 was at that time the fastest for one mile on the turf in the history of American racing. It also broke the Hollywood Park grass course record set the previous day by Sabin.

Later in 1984, Royal Heroine and Sabin met in Hollywood Park’s Grade I Matriarch Stakes, a race that was expected to determine which of them would get a 1984 Eclipse Award. Royal Heroine won the Matriarch, with Reine Mathilde finishing second and Sabin third.

Royal Heroine indeed was voted the 1984 Eclipse Award as champion female turf horse.

7. ZENYATTA IN THE 2008 LADIES’ CLASSIC AT SANTA ANITA. 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. She 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. SKIP AWAY IN THE 1987 CLASSIC AT HOLLYWOOD PARK. Talk about domination. Demolishing his eight BC Classic foes, Skip Away skipped away to a six-length victory. He completed 1 1/4 miles in a praiseworthy 1:59 flat (1:59.16 in hundredths).

“The final furlong was a procession,” Jay Hovdey wrote for the BloodHorse magazine.

“Skippy” was assigned a 120 Beyer Speed Figure for this marvelous performance. He was voted a 1997 Eclipse Award as champion older male.

5. PRINCESS ROONEY IN THE 1984 DISTAFF AT HOLLYWOOD PARK. In a scintillating performance, Princess Rooney won the first BC Distaff by seven lengths. She completed 1 1/4 miles in 2:02 2/5. Later in the day, Wild Again won the inaugural BC Classic in 2:03 2/5.

“The star of a star-filled afternoon must surely have been Princess Rooney,” Joe Hirsch wrote for the American Racing Manual. “In an outstanding field of fillies and mares contesting the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, two of them the winners of $1 million, Princess Rooney was spectacular, coming from off the pace and accelerating through the stretch to score by seven lengths.”

In my view, not many female Thoroughbreds who ever lived could have beaten Princess Rooney that day. And I have no doubt she would have won the first BC Classic if she had been in that race instead of the BC Distaff.

Princess Rooney was assigned a 120 Beyer Speed Figure for her BC Distaff tour de force. Wild Again recorded a 113 Beyer for his win in the BC Classic.

Voted a 1984 Eclipse Award as champion older female, Princess Rooney was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1991.

4. MANILA IN THE 1986 TURF AT SANTA ANITA. Manila, a 3-year-old, prevailed by a neck over 4-year-old Theatrical. Estrapade finished third, Dancing Brave fourth and Dahar fifth.

Manila and Theatrical battled for the lead throughout the final furlong. Gary Stevens rode Theatrical. Jose Santos was Manila’s pilot. About 40 yards from the finish, Santos dropped his whip. But that miscue did not prevent Manila from recording his sixth consecutive victory.

Manila was voted a 1986 Eclipse Award as champion male turf horse. 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 champion male turf horse.

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 champion female turf horse.

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, extremely 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 to be 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 was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2008.

3. ARROGATE IN THE 2016 CLASSIC AT SANTA ANITA. Most considered the 2016 BC Classic to be 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.

The bettors were spot on in that the 2016 BC Classic had did become strictly a two-horse race between California Chrome and Arrogate in the final quarter-mile.

As California Chrome entered the stretch in front and running strongly, trainer Bob Baffert later said he believed at that point that Arrogate was going to run second. And Baffert felt that finishing second to California Chrome, “a great horse,” as Baffert put it, “would be no embarrassment” for Arrogate.

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 finest big-money riders of all time, coaxed Arrogate while employing a left-hand whip 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 win by a half-length before a throng of 72,811 fans on hand at The Great Race Place.

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 Beyer in the 2016 BC Classic matched the 120 figure posted by American Pharoah when the Baffert-trained Triple Crown winner took the 2015 BC Classic at Keeneland in 2:00.07.

Arrogate was voted a 2016 Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old male.

2. FERDINAND IN THE 1987 CLASSIC AT HOLLYWOOD PARK. Featuring a showdown between 1987 Kentucky Derby winner Ferdinand and 1986 Kentucky Derby with the 1987 Horse of the Year title on the line, the 1987 BC Classic lived up to the hype.

“The air of unbelievability, of fantasy, that accompanied the first Breeders’ Cup Day at Hollywood Park in 1984 returned when the series returned to Tinsel Town [in 1987],” Dan Mearns wrote in the BloodHorse magazine. “So seldom do pre-race scenarios play themselves out in fact, that the sight of Ferdinand and Alysheba racing to the Breeders’ Cup Classic wire almost as one seemed the stuff of movies.”

Ferdinand and Bill Shoemaker won by a desperate nose over Alysheba and Chris McCarron.

Following Ferdinand’s BC Classic victory, he was voted 1987 Eclipse Awards as champion older male and Horse of the Year. Alyshbeba was voted a 1987 Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old male, then was voted two more Eclipse Awards in 1988 as champion older male and Horse of the Year.

1. ZENYATTA IN THE 2009 CLASSIC AT SANTA ANITA. This was one of the greatest performances in the history of Santa Anita, 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, trained by John Sherriffs, put her 14-for-14 record on the line and faced males for the first time. 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, with regular rider Mike Smith aboard, electrified the 58,845 people in attendance and thousands more watching on television. She won by one length in what Denman so memorably characterized as an “un…be…lieveable” performance.

Zenyatta became the first female Thoroughbred to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic. She also was 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.

Zenyatta, who ranks as one of the greatest female Thoroughbreds in history, was voted the 2010 Eclipse Award as Horse of the Year. Also voted the Eclipse Award as champion older female for three consecutive years, 2008-2010, she was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2016.

And Zenyatta’s 2009 BC Classic victory is my choice as the greatest Breeders’ Cup performance in California.