Hollywood Park, California, welcomed the inaugural gathering of the world’s finest thoroughbreds back in October 1984. The meeting commenced after several spectacular years at the North American yearling sales, which had seen stud farms enjoy extraordinary returns.
The event was an instant hit – multi-million dollar prize money in the early 1980s was pretty much unheard of and gave European trainers and owners extra incentive to cross the Pond.
Many of those US-bred colts and fillies and mares that had disappeared to Europe after the sales for big bucks, returned to North America for the first meeting, which quickly defined the Breeders’ Cup Mile, Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Breeders’ Cup Sprint, Breeders’ Cup Turf and Breeders’ Cup Classic as formidable and legitimate championship races.
We take a look at the history of these fantastic races. Of course the meeting has evolved as more categories of champion have been created – and since 2006 the Breeders’ Cup meeting has been a two-day event. Here we features the history of the Breeders’ Cup Mile, the Breeders’ Cup Turf and the Breeders’ Cup Classic – but remember some of the other memorable races to have taken place have featured European winners in the juvenile events – including the extraordinary Arazi and Johannesburg, Sheikh Albadou in the Sprint and the unlucky Dayjur who jumped a shadow with victory in sight in 1990.
As the Breeders’ Cup meeting has evolved, it could be argued that some of the races have been diluted – and Europe has fared well in the juvenile turf races and the Breeders’ Cup Fillies & Mares Turf.
BREEDERS’ CUP MILE
From the UK, perhaps the highest profile challenger at that first meeting was the brilliant miler Lear Fan, third to El Gran Senor in the memorable 1984 2000 Guineas and winner of the Prix Jacques Le Marois at Deauville. However it was the ex-British trained filly Royal Heroine – oddly enough trained by a California-based Englishman in John Gosden (now ensconced back in the UK), who under Fernando Torro, captured Breeders’ Cup glory that first year.
The following year, a strong European representation included champion older miler and Sussex Stakes winner Rousillon, champion sprinter Never So Bold, and the brilliant Shadeed. All three went to Acqueduct for the Breeders’ Cup Mile, with what appeared to be exceptional credentials. However, as happened often in those early years, the afternoon’s racing would prove a bitter disappointment for the European raiders.
Rousillon missed the break, while Shadeed went wide around the first sharp bend, as Al Mamoon – another ex-European, set a scintillating early lead. At the final turn, Al Mamoon continued to lead but the bold grey Cozzene, passed Shadeed and closed in on the leader, powerfully taking up the running to win convincingly. Shadeed was eventually promoted to third place while the rest of teh Europeans were out of the money.
Further British disappointment came in ensuing years – but did not preclude European glory, as hitherto French sprint sensation Last Tycoon won the mile in 1986 – and was followed up by the brilliant Miesque, who beat Warning in 1988 to secure back to back victories. It seemed hard to believe that the Freddie head-ridden filly could ever be surpassed in the race such was her superiority in winning twice.
For pure drama however, the 1990 Mile takes some beating. Lester Piggott, the ageing superstar jockey, returned to the saddle just days earlier, after a five year retirement which had included time in a prison cell, linked up once again with his old training partner Dr Vincent O’Brien. The last minute lunge of Royal Academy, galvanised by the grandfather as if he had never been away from racing, proved decisive in winning.
After Lure had won the race twice, Frankie Dettori recorded a memorable victory on Luca Cumani’s magnificent miler Barathea in 1994 and then the Irish superstar filly Ridgewood Pearl capped a marvellous career with a win for John Oxx and the young Johnny Murtagh.
The extraordinary Michael Dickinson, who had been such a training phenomenon in his native UK as a National Hunt trainer, won the 2006 Breeders’ Cup Mile with Da Hoss – who promptly got injured. After two years of virtual inactivity, Da Hoss came back for the 1998 Breeders’ Cup Mile which he promptly won, reducing legendary commentator Tom Durkin to exclaim: “Oh, my, this is the greatest comeback since Lazarus. He’s had one race in two years.”
The 2002 renewal saw another real European champion lose little in defeat as Rock of Gibraltar just failed to catch French horse Dome Driver in a desperate finish, having been badly hampered when his stable mate Landseer had tragically suffered a fatal fall earlier in the race. Dome Driver himself found French compatriot Six Perfections too good the following year but in 2008 it was another French filly who stole the show – and would dominate for some time afterwards.
In France, the summer of 2008 was dominated by one horse: the unbeaten filly Zarkava. As Zarkava gracefully galloped her way through the major French distaff contests, behind her on more than one occasion, was a filly who would prove a match for any other horse over a mile: Goldikova.
As Zarkava was retired to stud after claiming victory in the Arc de Triomphe, Goldikova headed Stateside for her first taste of Breeders’ Cup glory. Perhaps most of the US media interest surrounded the fact that she was trained by Freddie Head, who once upon a time had ridden the brilliant filly Miesque to dual victories in the race.
Questions comparing the relative merits of the two fillies were inevitable after Goldikova’s first success – and they reached fever pitch after she had followed up in 2009 at Santa Anita.
A further successful European campaign followed in 2010 and all roads headed to Churchill Downs as the five year old mare bid to become the first horse to win the same Breeders’ Cup race three times. History did indeed invite Goldikova through the door as she readily disposed of US champion Gio Ponti to better Miesque’s own impressive record of two decades earlier.
Sadly her attempt at an almost inconceivable fourth success fell short in 2011, as outsider Court Vision captured the race.
However 2012 saw another potential multiple champion as the US colt Wise Dan was imperious – and he impressively repeated the feat in 2013 beating Za Approval.
Sadly injury prevented Wise Dan from attempting to emulate Goldikova’s magnificent hat-trick of wins in 2014 and in the event, the race once again went to a French trained horse.
The English star Toronado cut out the early running before sitting second behind the trail-blazing Obviously. The pair took the field into the home straight, where Obviously attempted to kick as Toronado drifted wide.
Between horses, the French 2,000 Guineas winner Karakontie, got the perfect split, storming into the lead in the final furlong and repelling the late surge of his compatriot Anodin.
In 2015 the prize stayed very much Stateside, as the improving four year old filly Tepin, a recent Grade 1 winner at Keeneland, powered to a 2 ¼ lengths victory from the European challenger Mondialiste.
A year later, Tourist landed the prize and in 2017, World Approval ensured that once again, the Breeders’ Cup Mile stayed Stateside.
BREEDERS’ CUP MILE
Of the 32 renewals, there have been 13 European-trained winners (John Gosden and Michael Dickinson were US-based when winning). French-trained horses have won the race on 9 occasions.
BREEDERS’ CUP TURF
The Breeders’ Cup Turf had a familiar feel to it with several European horses including Morcon, Alphabatim, Trezieme and the Australian-trained Strawberry Road involved. However most interest centred around the fantastic filly All Along, who the previous year had won the Arc de Triomphe and numerous big races around North America. In the event, Strawberry Road gradually quickened the pace from the front and All Along made her move as they entered the final turn, with the Aga Khan’s Lashkari, poised in behind. Into the straight and All Along resolutely galloped on but in the final furlong, legendary French jockey Yves Saint Martin, galvanised Lashkari into the lead as the winning post loomed large. It was the first European success at the Breeders’ Cup, achieved by French trainer Alain de Royer-Dupre.
The following year, saw the brilliant Pebbles achieve success for Clive Brittain. For a full report of this race, please visit our Memory Lane section. In 1986 perhaps the most prodigious British talent ever to appear in a Breeders’ Cup race made his bid at Santa Anita. The horse was Dancing Brave, but at the end of a long season, in sweltering conditions and on a tight track, Pat Eddery and the Arc winner could manage only fourth behind Manilla.
In the mid to late 1990s, European horses came to the fore with memorable victories for Sir Michael Stoute’s Pilsudski and then in 1999 a win for Godolphin’s near-white Daylami, capped a fabulous year for Frankie Dettori.
The following year saw Stoute victorious again as Kalanisi beat the mighty Royal Anthem and Montjeu in a great renewal. In 2001 it was the turn of Godolphin’s Fantastic Light and then High Chaparral, a dual Derby winner, crowned a superb 2002 with victory in the Turf. The following year he retained his title in a dramatic dead-heat with Johar, with European champion Falbrav just behind in third.
Conduit won back to back renewals in 2008 and 2009, making Sir Michael Stoute the most successful trainer in the race’s history, with four victories. However, that record was matched in 2013 by Aidan O’Brien as his Magician finished fast to deny The Fugue in a thrilling finish.
The O’Briens had much to celebrate in 2011, as St Nicholas Abbey swept to victory under Joseph O’Brien to give the father-son partnership one of its biggest days.
Magician failed to return in 2014 and O’Brien relied on the Irish Oaks winning filly Chicquita, who formed part of a strong European challenge for this contest, with Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe runner-up Flintshire, expected to enjoy conditions, the smart stayer Brown Panther and the exciting Telescope.
Imagining and Starspangled Heat set the pace with Arlington Million winner Hardest Core, as the field headed down the back straight. Hardest Core went on, while Ryan Moore and Telescope stalked the American trio.
Hardest Core led into the home stretch but veered off the rails, giving Telescope the perfect gap to race into. Meanwhile, down the outside, Imagining was toughing it out and from further back, Flintshire started to close.
Telescope edged to the lead but inch by inch Flintshire overhauled him. However, the last challenge came widest of all from the prolific Grade 1 winner Main Sequence, who swooped through to win his fourth consecutive Grade 1 contest since joining Englishman Graham Motion in America.
In 2015 the Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland was privileged to host two outstanding three year old colts in American Pharoah and the brilliant English Derby hero Golden Horn.
The John Gosden colt had not only won at Epsom, but had added the Coral Eclipse Stakes, Irish Champion Stakes and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in a glorious summer and looked set to end his career with triumph in America.
However, persistent rainfall cast doubts about his participation and conditions undoubtedly counted against him.
The outsider Shining Copper quickly opened up a wide lead, moving maybe 20 lengths clear of another long shot in Cage Fighter.
However, Frankie Dettori moved Golden Horn closer, with Found, twice beaten by Golden Horn, also taking closer order.
The long-time leader quickly dropped back and at the top of the stretch, Golden Horn took it up under a strong ride from Dettori, with his old rival Found, moving well under Ryan Moore.
The Irish Champion Stakes first and second settled down for a terrific scrap up the home stretch and this time it was Found who prevailed by half a length, with Big Blue Kitten on their coat tails in third.
Found would go on to prove herself an outstanding filly with victory in the 2016 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
Aidan O’Brien was once again the trainer to follow in 2016, as his tough as teak globetrotter, Highland Reel, was given too much authority. Under a peach of a ride from Ryan Moore, the colt pulled clear and the rest could never catch him.
A year later, another European claimed the Turf, as Andre Fabre’s charismatic colt Talismanic landed the spoils.
BREEDERS’ CUP TURF
|2011||St Nicholas Abbey|
|2004||Better Talk Now|
|2003||High Chaparral (DH)|
|1990||In the Wings|
Of the 32 renewals, there have been 19 European-trained winners.
BREEDERS’ CUP CLASSIC
The race billed as the world’s richest, was first run in November 1984 at Hollywood Park. The race has often attracted European runners, despite the fact it has been run on dirt (with the exception of 2008 and 2009 when the race was run on a synthetic surface at Santa Anita).
The first running set the scene splendidly for one of the world’s most famous events, as Wild Again won a tremendous tussle that had lasted all the way down the home straight, to deny Slew o’ Gold and Gate Dancer.
The race often attracts the finest US three year olds and older horses, with many Triple Crown race winners contesting the mile and a quarter contest. Such was the case in a dramatic and memorable 1987 renewal, when the previous year’s Kentucky Derby winner, the often under-rated Ferdinand, took on the 1987 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner Alysheba, in a colossal race. The two did not let anyone down as they settled down to fight out an enthralling battle, with the older Ferdinand, under legendary jockey Willie Shoemaker, prevailing at the wire.
Alysheba got his Classic win the following year and was followed in 1989 by Sunday Silence, who had won the same two legs of the Triple Crown and got the better of one of his many encounters with Easy Goer in another memorable clash for the Classic at Gulfstream Park.
In 1993, Europe finally got a taste of Breeders’ Cup Classic success, in the unlikely shape of Arcangues. The French-trained colt had competed to a reasonable standard in Europe but was far removed from being a European champion when he went to Santa Anita. Indeed, his odds underlined the general expectations as he raced on dirt for the first time, leaving the gates at the generous odds of 133/1.
His late run under Jerry Bailey, saw him catch American colt Bertrando, to record the longest priced victory in any Breeders’ Cup race.
In 1995 Cigar stamped himself an outstanding colt with 10 wins out of 10 – his victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Belmont Park, was a dominant one and his 12th consecutive win in all. Again the Classic had thrown up a true champion.
European horses continued to try to defy the surface and invariably failed in the Classic – however the 2000 and 2001 renewals threw up a brave champion and two exciting races – memorable for the European challenge.
In 2000, the Aidan O’Brien horse Giant’s Causeway, had strung together a sequence of five successive Group One wins, all gained in tenacious style, earning him the moniker ‘The Iron Horse’. The son of Storm Cat however appeared to have a daunting task to defeat Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus and Lemon Drop Kid in a vintage renewal, but it was the three year old colt Tiznow who settled down to fight out the finish.
Throughout a pulsating final furlong at Churchill Downs, the two horses were inseparable, but as the two flashed past the post together it was Tiznow, in bright pink silks, who had inched in front when it mattered.
Twelve months later, Tiznow was at Belmont Park to defend his title. This time the main challenge looked to come from Europe in the shape of the exciting European champion Galileo and the impressive, runaway Arc winner Sakhee.
Sadly Galileo failed to handle the surface but Sakhee and Frankie Dettori came wide to challenge Tiznow in what developed into almost a carbon copy of the year before. Tiznow remains the only dual winner of the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Europe finally recorded a second victory when the John Gosden (now based in his native UK) trained Raven’s Pass, beat fellow European Henrythenavigator on the synthetic surface at Santa Anita in 2008. The move to synthetics had been controversial and the European horses seemed to perform much better as the surface was more akin to one on which they exercised in training.
A year later, the imperious and charismatic Zenyatta, pawed the ground before destroying her rivals with blistering pace, but the following year was controversially beaten, as Mike Smith tried in vain to breach the advantage Blame had established, as Smith bided his time way off the pace.
In 2013 the Classic had a thrilling finish in which Mucho Macho Man got the better of the three-way battle, just denying Will Take Charge and Declaration Of War.
The 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic looked on paper to be a battle between the leading three year olds in America and in many ways, so it proved.
The hugely popular California Chrome, winner of the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes, was going head to head with the exciting and prolific Shared Belief, while Tonalist and Bayern were also highly regarded.
Bayern got off to a fast start and quickly tacked across to the inside rail, with the English challenger Toast Of New York, largely unconsidered by many, taking second spot, with California Chrome, out wider, in third place, while Shared Belied was in traffic problems and Moreno trapped behind horses.
Racing all the way down the back straight, the order remained the same up front, with Bayern and Martin Garcia setting the fractions from Toast Of New York and California Chrome, while Cigar Street sat fourth to the inside, just ahead of Moreno.
As the field headed to the final turn, the front three started to draw clear of their rivals, with all three unyielding in determination.
Bayern reached the home stretch in front and still travelling best of all, as Toast Of New York continued to fight on, while California Chrome was now under a strong drive.
The battle of the three year olds had truly manifested, but not with the script many had expected. With a furlong to run, Bayern still held the advantage on the inside, but both Toast Of New York and California Chrome had rallied and it was anyone’s race.
With all three horses giving their all, it was Bayern who kept his head just in front of the closing Toast Of New York, flashing past the post a nose in front of the gallant English challenger, with California Chrome just a neck away in third.
It was another memorable renewal of this great race, but as the song goes, the best was yet to come, with a memorable race in 2015.
American Pharoah had already stamped his hoof prints firmly on American racing history, becoming the first winner of the American Triple Crown since 1978.
Subsequent victory in the Haskell Invitational was followed by a shock defeat in the Travers Stakes by Keen Ice, at Saratoga, in late August. Bob Baffert did not run his superstar again until the Breeders’ Cup, when he was bidding to become the first horse to win the American “Grand Slam”.
The result was never in doubt, as this outstanding champion meeting older horses for the first time, simply annihilated his rivals, easing past the winning post a 6 ½ lengths winner from Effinex to end his career on an emotion-packed evening, in brilliant style.
If 2015 was going to prove hard to match, Bob Baffert had other plans in 2016 and another superstar three year old.
Arrogate had been a slow burner, but demolished his rivals in the Travers Stakes with a sensational performance. In the Breeders’ Cup, he faced an in-form California Chrome.
The two went head to head, but Arrogate was irresistible and impressively confirmed himself the world’s leading racehorse.
Arrogate was back in 2017, having made his mark in brilliant style in Dubai, in March.
However, by the Breeders’ Cup Classic, he was a shadow of his former self, as Gun Runner blasted to victory.
BREEDERS’ CUP CLASSIC
|2017 BCC||Gun Runner|
|2015 BCC||American Pharoah|
|2013 BCC||Mucho Macho Man|
|2012 BCC||Fort Larned|
|2008 BCC||Raven’s Pass|
|1991||Black Tie Affair|
Of 32 renewals, there have to date been only 2 European trained winners of the Breeders’ Cup Classic. The surface and sharp turns undoubtedly play to the advantage of North American-trained horses.