Our favorite Breeders' Cup moment

TwinSpires Staff

October 26th, 2015

What is your favorite Breeders' Cup moment of the past 31 years? That question was posed to the editors at and here are events they found most memorable.

Kellie Reilly: As an ardent fan of Personal Ensign from the very beginning, through her early promise at two, to the crushing blow of her career-threatening injury, to her encouraging late-season efforts at three, and her remarkable campaign at four, I was desperate for her to retire unbeaten. So the 1988 Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) had me on the rack much of the way. Every racing fan knows that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach when your rooting interest just doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. It was already a matter of concern that reigning Kentucky Derby (G1) heroine Winning Colors was enjoying a comfortable lead, while Personal Ensign wasn’t exactly traveling with enthusiasm well off the pace in the mud. That concern turned into positive alarm when Randy Romero was nudging Personal Ensign along nearing the far turn, and there was little discernible response. “She just can’t do it from there, she’ll lose, she won’t be perfect anymore.” Even as Personal Ensign began to inch closer down the stretch, I had a horrible fear that her bravery, in these wretched conditions, wouldn’t be enough to catch Winning Colors at the scene of her biggest triumph. But the farther they went, the more Personal Ensign willed her way forward, and there was a glimmer of hope amid the clouds. “Could she still…can she really…is she getting there???” Somehow, the legends find a way to win. Personal Ensign proved that she was one.

Vance Hanson: You know Thoroughbred racing is a sport when you begin to act like it is one. That moment when, as if it were a team or player, you start rooting for the ones you love to win and rooting for the ones you despise to lose. I was an opinionated pre-teen with a mere 2 1/2 years of racing exposure behind me when a horse came along that, as best I recall, I actively rooted against with all my being. What I considered the hyperbole surrounding Easy Goer throughout the winter and spring of 1989 stuck in my craw. The comparisons to Secretariat, and there were some, to me seemed way over the top in light of his Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) loss the previous fall. Even noted Baltimore Sun journalist and racing fan Jack Germond, on PBS’ The McLaughlin Group the night before the Kentucky Derby, predicted Easy Goer would win the Triple Crown. I can’t say I was a huge Sunday Silence fan, but so much was I in the anti-Easy Goer camp that I took extreme delight in his losses to Sunday Silence in both the Derby (John McLaughlin had a good laugh at Germond’s expense the following week) and later in the Preakness (G1). As the summer turned into fall, and Easy Goer compiled victory after victory (the Travers [G1] reduced me to tears), it was evident that only Sunday Silence was capable of defeating this behemoth. I can’t say I was as nervous as the connections of the two protagonists going into the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), but it was an agonizing afternoon as I waited what seemed like forever for that fourth showdown between the two to occur at Gulfstream. I’m sure the stress and sweat was the result of my fear that Easy Goer would blow the doors off his rival just as he had in the Belmont (G1). As we all know, Sunday Silence won everything that was on the line that day with Easy Goer a fast-closing but too-late second. With time and maturity, my dislike for Easy Goer waned considerably. In fact, compared to what I’ve witnessed from nearly every three-year-old in the intervening 25+ years, I having nothing but complete admiration for what Easy Goer accomplished – the way he was campaigned, the races he won. The 1989 Classic remains my favorite Breeders’ Cup moment, but mister we could use a horse like Easy Goer again.

Jennifer Caldwell: Picking a favorite Breeders’ Cup result is relatively easy, though in truth it’s two results thanks to the same horse. In a way, it’s more picking a favorite Breeders’ Cup winner than actual result, and that winner is Tiznow. No other horse has been able to win two Breeders’ Cup Classics (G1), but that magnificent bay nutcase did just that and right when it was needed. His first win came in 2000, and even at that point everyone was aware of his antics, i.e. refusing to train, standing stock still on the track no matter the urging from his rider, walking on his hind legs everywhere, etc. However, that spirited stubbornness is exactly what enabled Tiznow to prevail in the 2000 Classic, as he fought off European invader Giant’s Causeway to score by a neck. Tiznow had a long season that year, and was making his ninth start in the Classic, but the powerful colt dug in and refused to yield. Fast forward 12 months and the exact same situation played out once again. Unfortunately, it was happening against the backdrop of the September 11 terrorist attacks. The Breeders’ Cup was the first major sporting event to take place in New York City since that horrific day, meaning a lot of extra security and scrutiny. Tiznow took everything in stride. He tracked the leaders, was way wide rounding the turn and rallied between horses to run down Godolphin’s Sakhee, just sticking his nose in front on the line. Legendary race announcer Tom Durkin’s call that day will go down in history as one of the best…ever – “Tiznow wins it for America!”

James Scully: Seattle Slew captured the Triple Crown and a lot of important stakes races over a three-year campaign, but turf writers have said his greatest performance came in defeat, when he gallantly battled back to lose by a nose to Exceller in the 1978 Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) after running Triple Crown winner Affirmed into submission during the early stages. I’ve seen many terrific moments during the 31-year history of the Breeders’ Cup, but Zenyatta’s narrow loss to Blame in the 2010 Classic (G1) resonates most. Unbeaten in her first 19 starts, the nearly black mare never looked comfortable over the track at Churchill Downs during the opening three-quarters of a mile, trailing about 10 lengths behind the 11th-place horse passing the stands the first time -- I thought something was amiss and she may be eased. Zenyatta seemingly had no shot to factor midway down the backstretch before beginning to rally, dramatically passing horses on the far turn as she edged forward. There was still plenty of work to be done entering the stretch but when I saw Zenyatta flying on the far outside, I suddenly thought she was going to do it. The wire came just in time for Blame, who turned in the best performance of a stellar career and deserves credit for digging in determinedly to save the win, but I couldn’t believe the performance from Zenyatta, gaining another level of appreciation for the superstar in defeat.