Great at Any Age: Magical Mares in the Breeders' Cup
by Jennifer Kelly
Each year, the Breeders' Cup World Championships brings out the best of the best. Running long or short, on dirt or turf, the Championships features the top horses of each division and to reach the winner’s circle a horse must outrun the world’s finest to score the victory.
Since 1984, the Championships have featured horses that come to define decades, horses like Bayakoa and Goldikova, mares who held off the challenges of younger horses to bring home that elusive trophy. What can their performances teach us about this year’s contenders?
Bayakoa – Distaff Diva
Consultant's Bid, 1977
Arlucea (ARG), 1974
Bayakoa started her career in Argentina, where she caught the eye of trainer Ron McAnally, who recommended her to Frank and Janis Whitham. The couple brought her to the United States, where she went 2-for-7 at age four.
Over her next two seasons, she really came into her own. In 1989, Bayakoa parlayed her multiple Grade 1 victories into a victory in the Breeders' Cup Distaff over fillies like Open Mind and Winning Colors.
Her 1990 season was more of the same, again winning multiple Grade 1 races. In her second Distaff, Bayakoa dueled with the year’s best 3-year-old filly Go for Wand before a bad step caused Go for Wand to fall, her injuries too severe to survive. Bayakoa won the Breeders' Cup Distaff for a second time, her historic victory sadly overshadowed by her opponent’s misfortune.
Goldikova – Grassy Queen
Blushing Groom (FR)
Born Gold, 1991
Two decades later, Goldikova duplicated Bayakoa’s record of consecutive Breeders' Cup wins, this time on the turf. Goldikova raced mostly in Europe, but shipped well, coming to the United States for the Breeders' Cup four years in a row.
Her nine career victories over colts and geldings included three consecutive Breeders' Cup Miles. In her first Mile, Goldikova stalked the front runners until the stretch, when she came on with a burst of speed, splitting horses and pulling away to victory. In 2009, she tried a different strategy, lingering toward the back of the pack in the Mile and then going to the outside to surge to fifth place entering the stretch at Santa Anita. In the race’s waning yards, she zoomed to the lead, eking out a half-length victory. In 2010, she duplicated that performance to win her third Mile, a record that has yet to be equaled in any of the Breeders' Cup races. She attempted to win one more Mile in 2011, but finished third behind winner Court Vision.
Both Goldikova and Bayakoa possessed qualities we see in current stars like Monomoy Girl and Rushing Fall: speed and tenacity to win with ease or to overcome troubled trips and the perseverance necessary to continue winning over younger horses.
Monomoy Girl has returned from a long layoff since her 2018 Distaff victory to win her first three races of 2020, including the Ruffian and La Troienne.
Rushing Fall, winner of the 2017 Juvenile Fillies Turf, has had a similar year, winning the Diana Stakes for the second time and the Jenny Wiley at Keeneland.
Both mares look to cap off their seasons with a return to the Breeders' Cup winner’s circle, like both Goldikova and Bayakoa did.
With our eyes on past winners like Bayakoa and Goldikova, what factors do we need to consider as we look toward betting on this year’s championships?
For Ed DeRosa, it’s all about how a mare’s condition, reminding bettors that “age is not [the] issue, but form is.” Rushing Fall might be 3-for-3 in 2020, but how is her conditioning with such limited racing? That same wisdom goes for Monomoy Girl. Despite her limited starts, though, DeRosa says “she’s done nothing wrong this year and looks invincible in the Distaff.” For either mare, bettors should look at form and then at their competition in their respective races.
Handicapper James Scully recommends looking at how horses are training rather than relying on earlier starts. He cites Tepin as a good example: she had had a mixed season in 2015. In those weeks leading up to the Breeders' Cup, though, she had been training well and followed that with a victory in the Turf. This year, Scully is high on Monomoy Girl: “she has shown maturity and patience this year and has looked big and strong in recent weeks.” Same goes for Rushing Fall, who already has five wins at Keeneland. “It’s fair to say that she loves the course there in Lexington,” Scully observes.
For Bayakoa and Goldikova, the Breeders' Cup capped off great seasons with outstanding performances that demonstrated that horses can get better with age.
In 2020, can mares like Monomoy Girl and Rushing Fall show the same and win another Breeder’s Cup race?
Watch the Breeder’s Cup World Championships on November 6-7 at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Kentucky.