Why I Love the Breeders' Cup- And Why I Humbly Suggest You Do Too
If there were eyes in the Twin Spires, my next statement might generate some high velocity daggers aimed my way in a mint julep-ed second.
I love the Breeders Cup. There. I said it.
I live in Louisville and I’ve never missed a Kentucky Derby since 1992. I don’t just identify and understand the magic of the “greatest two minutes in sport,” I believe in it.
And yet I’m here to tell you that the Breeders’ Cup can live on the same lofty pedestal as the Kentucky Derby in the minds of any right thinking racing fan. Here are the top reasons why.
1) Waiting for Johannesburg--the world comes to the Breeders’ Cup
There is something very,very,very cool about the best from other continents running on our red, white and blue ovals. The chance to see stars from overseas is a huge draw for the Breeders’ Cup.
I remember the drooling festival we Yanks encountered when waiting for the undefeated juvenile named Johannesburg to land and train at Belmont Park in 2001. I followed the little dude (he really wasn’t that imposing, but boy was he a curiosity) from the quarantine barn to the gate and back again on a blustery Thursday in New York just to see what all the fuss was about.
On BC Saturday, I understood. Johannesburg sailed, and prompted a joyful and intoxicating celebration by a number of gents and ladies from Ireland. Yes they toasted, yes they cheered, but the singing made it seem like the UEFA Cup Final. That’s what happens when the magic of cultures converge for racing.
And in case you still need some convincing that overseas horses on our friendly shores is the best thing ever...I give you one word that changed the Breeders Cup forever. Arazi. Watch the replay of his Juvenile in 1991. You’ll know why.
2) Established Stars
Understood. One of the beauties of the Kentucky Derby is the unknown--20 three-year-olds that haven’t gone a mile and a quarter before, have never faced 150 thousand screaming fans, have never carried 126 pounds. The mystery is mesmerizing.
That said, only the Breeders’ Cup brings you the already established stars of the the game in a Championship atmosphere. Many horses who run in the Breeders’ Cup have been racing for a few years and have built up a fan base.
No one who was there at the time is going to forget the zombie-like following that Zenyatta brought from her fans the final week before the Cup in 2010 at Churchill Downs. It was a glorious zoo of folks shuffling from her barn to the entrance gap to the racetrack at approximately 8:45 every morning in the week leading up to the race. You couldn’t move against that pack craning to get a glimpse of the champion mare, nor did you really want to. The electricity was magnetic. (I think an old physics professor once told me that). Established stars bring that kind of attention
3) One for the Books--The Breeders’ Cup Has History
It was awfully tough to say this early on. By definition in the 80s,when the Cup was just a pup, there was no lasting narrative from decades ago to draw upon to add luster and importance to the races. But now in the second decade of the new millenium, this Breeders’ Cup thing has a few grey whiskers. And with age comes some great, old stories.
A.The Wet/Ice Box afternoon at Churchill Downs in 1988 when Wayne Lukas dressed like Inspector Clouseau in trench coat and fedora and proceeded to win just about every race. (The one exception was my favorite race of all time, the overcoming of the elements, up in time win for undefeated Personal Ensign)
B: “Mr. Mandella, would you care to play a lottery ticket tonight?” Dick Mandella’s “are you kidding me,” set of wins including Juvenile, Juvenile Fillies, Turf and Classic in 2003 at Santa Anita. All of this set in a surreal way against the backdrop of nearby wildfires dropping ash at the Great Race Place all week leading up.
C. Emotions Beyond Breeders Cup. The combination of fear and pride I felt in 2001 with the Cup at Belmont Park, weeks after the tragedy of 9-11 was real and shared by many who were there that weekend. I saw the snipers positioned on the rooftop and felt that the world had changed. I screamed when Tiznow won “for America” in the Classic and realized that the best of raw emotions (like wonder and joy) are hard to trample.
D. West Point’s Numbers Game. It’s a personal thing, but when your racing partnership sends five horses into the World Championships, it’s an unbelievable feeling. In 2007, The West Point team and partners braved the soggy Jersey Shore at Monmouth Park and finished the weekend strong with Awesome Gem charging home to an unexpected third in the Classic. We look back and are so grateful for the support of our partners who got us to that weekend with fast horses who had earned their spots in the starting gate.
So here we are again, poised at the beginning of Breeders’ Cup week for immersion in a weekend full of international intrigue with big time stars who will make their own new history. At West Point, we’re thrilled to be contributing to the show with our own Twilight Eclipse in the Breeders' Cup Turf and Ring Weekend in the Breeders' Cup Mile. You gotta love it. You really should.