The Breeders’ Cup series is Thoroughbred racing’s premier year-end championship series.
Every fall, horses from all over the world gather together in fourteen magnificent races, each displaying a different division.
The first five of those races are restricted to two-year-olds, and take place on the first day of the racing weekend, known as “Future Stars Friday.” Although there have been many outstanding racehorses to come out of those races, ultimately this day is more about hope and precocity than overall greatness.
That comes the next day, when the more seasoned racehorses- many of whom have extended their dominance over a span of several years- square off in some of the greatest races ever run.
Here are some of the greatest editions, and therefore the greatest winners, of the Saturday Breeders’ Cup races. You can find the complete list of winners here: https://www.twinspires.com/breeders-cup/winners
Ever since Dayjur lost the (dirt) Sprint by a hair after jumping a shadow in 1990, the world has clamored for a Breeders’ Cup race for grass-based sprinters, hoping to lure in more of Europe’s top speedsters.
Paradoxically, since its inception in 2008, the race has actually been dominated by American sprinters who take to the grass surface. No horse displayed this more than Stormy Liberal, who won the race in 2017 (at Del Mar in California) and 2018 (at Churchill Downs in Kentucky). The Stormy Atlantic gelding became a fan favorite for his dramatic finishes, and his four-race winning streak in 2018 was enough to earn him the title of Eclipse Champion Turf Male of 2018.
Filly and Mare Sprint
Some horses grab attention immediately for their pedigrees, some for their looks, and some…for their name. The last was true for Covfefe, who was named after an infamous tweet from then-President Donald Trump.
However, racing fans soon learned that there was more to this daughter of Into Mischief than her owner’s sense of humor. Covfefe reached national prominence by taking more than a second off of Pimlico’s six-furlong track record in the 2019 Miss Preakness Stakes. Victories in the Grade I Test Stakes and the Dogwood Stakes set her up as the favorite for the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint, which she won decisively. She was later honored as both the 2019 Eclipse Champion Female Sprinter and the Eclipse Champion Three-Year-Old Filly.
Quite possibly the most versatile winner of any Breeders’ Cup race, Precisionist was the 1985 Eclipse Champion Sprinter, but he also won Grade I races at distances of 1 ¼ miles in that very year.
Precisionist also had the kind of career that hardboots nowadays like to fantasize about. The hardy stallion by Crozier earned 20 wins in 46 starts over five seasons. He was initially retired in 1987 after running third in the 1986 Breeders’ Cup Classic but was successfully brought back into training after it was discovered he was subfertile. In that season, one of his three wins set a track record for one mile at Del Mar Racetrack.
City of Light took a while to come to hand, but once he did, he shone.
A winner in his second race, the son of Quality Road finished second in two allowance races before entering stakes company in the 2017 Grade I Malibu Stakes, where he would begin a streak of three graded stakes wins. His connections attempted the 1 ¼ mile Grade I Gold Cup At Santa Anita, and although he hit the board to finish third, they opted to keep him at shorter distances for the remainder of the year. He followed his sparkling win in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile with a command performance in the Grade I Pegasus World Cup in the winter before retiring to stud.
A number of horses have won the same Breeders’ Cup race two times, but only one has taken their division thrice.
The globetrotting mare Goldikova was based in France, where she was a dominating presence both against her own sex and against males of all ages. She took the European record for most Grade/Group I wins by a mare. A US-bred daughter of Anabaa, Goldikova swept the Breeders’ Cup Mile in 2008, 2009, and 2010, and was less than a length and a quarter from adding an additional victory in 2011, finishing third.
Filly and Mare Turf
An English Oaks winner who went on to produce an English Derby winner, Ouija Board was simply stellar at all points of her career.
Ouija Board’s three-year-old season in 2004 was a study in excellence. She won both the English and Irish Oaks and finished a narrow second in the Arc before traveling across the Atlantic. She scored a scintillating win in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf. She finished second in the shortened 2005 edition of the race but returned to her winning ways the next year. The daughter of Cape Cross became only the second horse to win Breeders’ Cup races in non-consecutive years.
The Distaff has seen a number of fantastic editions in its nearly 40 years, but the nod for best victor has to go to the mare who won while undefeated and then decided she needed more of a challenge.
Zenyatta was about as close to perfection as a racehorse can get, and the fact that her win in the 2008 Breeders’ Cup Distaff (then known as the Ladies’ Classic) was not even the midpoint of her fantastic career is mind-boggling. Instead of resting on her laurels as the best mare in the land, Zenyatta aimed to stake her claim against male competition in the next year’s Classic– and won. Still not content, she attempted to defend her crown the next year, and in what was her final career start, the length of Blame’s nose handed the daughter of Street Cry her only career loss in 20 starts.
High Chaparral was a brilliant two-year-old who won the Derby Stakes at age three and retained his class at age four, earning Breeders’ Cup glory in the latter two years.
In 2001, the Sadler’s Wells colt stamped himself as someone to watch with a win in the Group I Racing Post Trophy. His subsequent winning streak included two trial races as well as the English and Irish Derbies. Although he failed to capture the Arc in either 2002 or 2003, he followed each attempt up with a victory in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. The 2003 edition was particularly memorable in that it included the only dead-heat (tie) the series has ever seen, when judges determined from the photo that High Chaparral and Johar had hit the line at the same time.
Almost all of the greatest dirt horses of modern times have run in- and won- the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
There’s just something special about a Triple Crown winner, though.
In 2015, American Pharoah was attempting to become the first Triple Crown winner ever to add the Breeders’ Cup Classic to his laurels, a feat that some were calling the “Grand Slam” of Thoroughbred racing. His win was far from a sure thing in the minds of many- the son of Pioneerofthe Nile had never tested his elders, and to add to the drama, he was training up to the race after a shocking loss.
However, in the end, American Pharoah chose not to listen to those who called him overrated. He ran his race as champions do, hitting the front immediately and simply never surrendering, firmly ensconcing himself as one of racing’s true all-time greats.