The greatest Bowl Game in racing history

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May 8th, 2021

What is the greatest bowl game in history?

The Football Bowl Association, now called Bowl Season, crowned the 2006 Rose Bowl between Texas and USC. USC had been ranked #1 all season behind Heisman winners Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush. Vince Young led Texas, #2 all season. No team ever led by more than nine, and the lead changed five times. Though USC led through much of the late stages, after a touchdown with 4:07 left in the third quarter, Texas kept it close. With 19 seconds to go, Young ran it into the end zone, and ran it in again for the two-point conversion, lifting Texas over USC 41-38.

Perhaps it was the wild 2007 Fiesta Bowl between Oklahoma and Boise State. Boise State led 28-10 in the third quarter. Oklahoma came roaring back and took the lead with an interception returned for a touchdown with 1:02 left. Boise State used a hook-and-ladder to get a touchdown, tying it with seven seconds left. Down seven again after Oklahoma's shot in overtime, Boise State snapped to backup wide receiver Vinny Perretta who completed a touchdown pass, and then executed a Statue of Liberty to get the two-point conversion and win 43-42.

For those who appreciate something a little more old-school, what about the 1984 Orange Bowl between the undefeated Nebraska Cornhuskers and the 10-1 Miami Hurricanes? The Hurricanes, 10 1/2-point underdogs, blocked a Nebraska field goal early and blew open a 17-0 lead in the first quarter. Nebraska clawed back through the second quarter, including a fumblerooski that led to a touchdown, and tied the game at 17 early in the third. Miami took over again, scoring two more touchdowns to lead 31-17 into the fourth quarter. Nebraska fought back, scoring two more touchdowns — but coach Tom Osborne's choice to go for the two-point conversion instead of the extra point with 48 seconds to go came up empty. That left Miami on top, 31-30.

But, one of the greatest bowl games in history has nothing at all to do with football.

Bowl Game was a gelding by Tom Rolfe out of the Round Table mare Around the Roses, a homebred who carried the silks of Greentree Stud. It took Bowl Game a while to come into his own. Ankle issues kept the John Gaver trainee off the racetrack until he was three, and he didn't win until his fifth start, early in his four-year-old year.

That four-year-old winter was magical. Between February 15 and March 25, 1978, Bowl Game broke his maiden at Hialeah, won a pair of allowances, and then was supplemented into the Gulfstream Park H. (G1) for his stakes debut. Supplementing proved a smart move. Well bet at 4-1 and carrying a feather-light 112 pounds, Bowl Game flew home late to run down longshot True Statement and favored Silver Series.

As promising as Bowl Game looked that day, turf was where he really became a star. In his next two starts he won the Pan American (G2) at Gulfstream and the Dixie (G2) at Pimlico. The next year Bowl Game was even better.

In the 1979 Man o' War (G1), Native Courier almost stole it; the longest shot on the board set a cozy pace in a field of just four, and kicked clear into to the lane. Yet, Bowl Game would not quit. He battled on the lane, slicing into Native Courier's lead in the final sixteenth, and getting up to score by a head.

Bowl Game won five graded stakes in 1979, including three Grade 1 races. That record won him the Eclipse Award as champion grass horse of 1979. Though tendon issues led to his retirement at age six, just shy of the million-dollar mark in earnings, he enjoyed a long life in retirement: first with racing owner Betsey Cushing Roosevelt Whitney, then with Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation president Johnathan Miller, living to the age of 32.