It has been a year since the Breeders’ Cup left us hanging with a moment for the ages in the 2010 Classic: Blame, pushed to the lead in a perfectly-timed move by Garrett Gomez, strained to hold off the onrushing Zenyatta.
The moment belonged to Claiborne Farm, celebrating its centennial year, and partner Adele Dilschneider, along with Gomez and trainer Al Stall Jr.
But Zenyatta only grew in stature with the one loss of her career, and the moment has grabbed a spot on the short list of the greatest moments in the 27-year history of American racing’s big year-end show.
1-2 finishes by special horses
That’s no surprise. The 1-2 finishers in the Classic were special horses, and it was no stretch of the imagination to see a great finish coming. But those moments are common in the Breeders’ Cup – especially when it’s held at Churchill Downs.
Looking ahead to the record 15 races scheduled over Friday and Saturday in this 2011 renewal of the Cup, the fun is in wondering which Cup race holds the most magic.
Remember that, along with Blame and Zenyatta’s duel for the ages, last year’s two-day event also included an unprecedented third-straight victory in the Breeders’ Cup Mile by Horse of the World Goldikova, and a sublime performance in the Juvenile by Uncle Mo that established him as the next big thing in American racing and the early favorite for the 2011 Kentucky Derby.
A lack of sizzle?
Some critics say the Cup lacks the Zenyatta sizzle of a year ago, but you don’t have to look far to see exciting possibilities for this year’s event. First and foremost, Goldikova is back to bid for a fourth consecutive win over males in the Mile, a grass race that annually is one of the strongest and most competitive in the event.
The French-based Goldikova already breathes rarefied air. A fourth straight win over males on Saturday would blast her into racing’s stratosphere as one of the most amazing thoroughbreds the world has seen.
Not big enough for you? Perhaps the Classic will suffice.
Uncle Mo, knocked out of the Kentucky Derby by an obscure liver ailment, is back on form and taking an ambitious stab at 1 1/4 miles against many of the top horses in the world. He has trained well, but his racing schedule for owner Mike Repole and trainer Todd Pletcher has been extremely light. If he wins the Classic off that preparation, Uncle Mo will prove himself to be as special as his Juvenile hinted a year ago.
More ‘Girl Power’
The “Girl Power” theme continues in the Classic, where the 4-year-old filly Havre de Grace bids for Horse of the Year honors as she tackles males for Kentucky-born trainer Larry Jones.
Other Classic contenders include horses from two worlds: So You Think and Flat Out.
So You Think is a New Zealand-bred horse who was a superstar in Australia and moved to Europe this year to campaign for Irish training king Aidan O’Brien. He has won three top-level races in Europe and bids for a dominant win on a third continent in Saturday’s Classic. So You Think is truly a horse of the world.
Flat Out, meanwhile, is as local as your next-door neighbor. Hampered by foot problems most of his career, the Churchill Downs-based 5-year-old is the star of 70-year-old trainer Scooter Dickey’s five-horse stable. Dickey has trained for 50 years and Flat Out will be his first Breeders’ Cup starter.
Looking for the next Uncle Mo? How about Juvenile favorite Union Rags, who is unbeaten in three starts for trainer Michael Matz, who dazzled and charmed the racing world with his work with the ill-fated 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro.
Royal Delta looks like she could be special in Friday’s Ladies’ Classic for Bill Mott, the all-time training leader at Churchill Downs. And chances are you will be familiar with some European stars before the weekend is out. Listen for Elusive Kate, Misty for Me, Meeznah and basically the entire field in the 1 1/2-mile Turf.
The horses mentioned here could conjure this year’s magic, but chances are there will be some dazzling surprises.
Whenever the Breeders’ Cup comes to town, I cannot help but think of the gray, damp November day that introduced this great event to Kentucky and Southern Indiana in 1988.
That day – with heroics by the unbeaten Personal Ensign, Alysheba and Miesque; stunning upsets by Is It True, who knocked off the seemingly invincible Easy Goer in the Juvenile, and Great Communicator’s Turf stunner, and three wins on the day for trainer D. Wayne Lukas that included a 1-2-3 finish in the Juvenile Fillies – remains the greatest day of racing I have witnessed, or ever hope to.
But each Breeders’ Cup beneath the Twin Spires has witnessed one or more performances or finishes that are, without exaggeration, moments for the ages for lovers of the sport.
Remember the mesmerizing performance by the French star Arazi in 1991? It’s still the greatest individual run I’ve personally witnessed.
Flanders edged stablemate Serena’s Song in an incredible duel of Lukas-trained stars in the 1994 Juvenile Fillies. The 1998 Cup at Churchill featured trainer Michael Dickinson’s masterful training job with Da Hoss, who took the Mile after racing only once since he won the same race two years earlier, and the Classic victory by Awesome Again, with jockey Pat Day and trainer Patrick Byrne over a field of stars that ranks as the best assembled in U.S. racing history.
Tiznow wins by whisker
Tiznow edged European star Giant’s Causeway by a whisker in the 1996 Classic that lived up to its title, and 2006 highlights included: a 10-length win by Street Sense in the Juvenile (the only winner of that race ever to win the Kentucky Derby the following spring), a mesmerizing run by the Euro star Ouija Board in the Filly & Mare Turf, and a Classic upset of favored Bernardini by Invasor.
The latter was an Argentine-bred winner of Uruguay’s Triple Crown who raced for a Arab owners, a Panamanian jockey and Kentucky-born trainer Kiaran McLaughlin.
So get to Churchill Downs for both days of the 2011 Breeders’ Cup. The first Saturday in May is not the only day that magic is conjured beneath the Twin Spires. And when the Breeders’ Cup comes to town, enchanting and unforgettable moments often come in bunches.
Asher’s Breeders’ Cup picks
BREEDERS’ CUP FRIDAY
- Secret Circle
JUVENILE FILLIES TURF
- Elusive Kate
- Somali Lemonade
SENTIENT JET FILLY & MARE SPRINT
- Golden Mystery
- Turbulent Descent
GREY GOOSE JUVENILE FILLIES
- Northern Passion
- My Miss Aurelia
- Rocket Twentyone
EMIRATES AIRLINES FILLY & MARE TURF
- Misty for Me
- Royal Delta
- It’s Tricky
BREEDERS’ CUP SATURDAY
- A.U. Miner
- Giant Oak
- Lucky Chappy
SENTIENT JET SPRINT
- Jackson Bend
- Giant Ryan
- Hamazing Destiny
- Country Day
- Chamberlain Bridge
- Caleb’s Posse
EMIRATES AIRLINE TURF
- Await the Dawn
- Sea Moon
GREY GOOSE JUVENILE
- Union Rags
- Daddy Long Legs
- Courageous Cat
- So You Think
- Flat Out
Breeders’ Cup schedule
Juvenile Sprint 4:10 p.m.
Juvenile Fillies Turf 4:50 p.m.
Filly & Mare Sprint 5:30 p.m.
Juvenile Fillies 6:10 p.m.
Filly & Mare Turf 6:50 p.m.
Ladies Classic 7:30 p.m.
Marathon 1:20 p.m.
Juvenile Turf 2:02 p.m.
Sprint 2:37 p.m.
Turf Sprint 3:21 p.m.
Dirt Mile 4:01 p.m.
Turf 4:45 p.m.
Juvenile 5:25 p.m.
Mile 6:07 p.m.
Classic 7:00 p.m.