It's fun to reflect back on great races especially in the Breeders' Cup. There have been many exciting match-ups, deep fields and historic performances in the 36-year history of the Breeders' Cup. The Classic, as it should be, is the centerpiece in a bouquet of important events. The 2020 version is one of the most anticipated in quite some time, maybe ever.
There is a good chance the favorite in the 2020 Classic will go off in the 7-2 range. Improbable, for Bob Baffert, is the morning line favorite at 5-2. He is certainly deserving of top billing but there are many directions one could go to arrive at a selection.
This race has the top two finishers of the Kentucky Derby, Authentic and Tiz the Law. Both are serious contenders. The field also includes the 2019 Kentucky Derby winner (prior to DQ) and one of the most polarizing horses in the history of the game, Maximum Security. Tom's d'Etat looked like the best horse in the country for a long time for the last year prior to a troubled third to Improbable in the Grade 1 Whitney. There are other longer priced runners who could jump up in this spot, as well. The race figures to go into the books as one of the best in Breeders' Cup lore. My top five Classic's:
#1 1987 Ferdinand - The 1987 version was a deep field that included the 1986 Classic winner, Skywalker. It also included most of the leading 1987 older contingent. But all eyes were on the two recent Kentucky Derby winners Alysheba (1987) and Ferdinand (1986). The race was exciting from start to finish with Bill Shoemaker giving Ferdinand a fantastic (and underrated) ride to get to the lead and hold off a hard charging Alysheba as the "two Derby winners hit the wire together". Of course it happened at Hollywood Park. Watch it here.
#2 1989 Sunday Silence - An often debated topic in horse racing circles is who was better between Sunday Silence and Easy Goer. Sunday Silence won 3 of the 4 meetings between the two but it could be argued that Easy Goer had the best overall career. Easy Goer had rattled off five consecutive Grade 1 wins after a nose defeat to Sunday Silence in the historic Preakness. Sunday Silence lost 2 of 3 since that race, including an 8-length defeat to Easy Goer in the Belmont. The race lived up to the billing as Sunday Silence held off Easy Goer. Watch it here.
#3 2009 Zenyatta - The 2009 Classic field was highlighted by undefeated Zenyatta. She had won 13 consecutive races to start her career including the 2008 Breeders' Cup Distaff. Many seasoned insiders were dubious about her chances in the Classic facing males. After all, she had been narrowly beating soft competition in her own division. The field included 2009 Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird and Belmont, Travers and Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Summer Bird. The thrilling late charging win by Zenyatta was a truly great moment. Watch it here.
#4 2001 Tiznow - Sometimes societal events can set the stage for a memorable sports moment. The 2001 Breeders' Cup was held just 46 days after "9/11". As fate would have it, the 2001 edition was held right in New York at Belmont Park just miles from Ground Zero. The field included US-based 2000 Classic winner Tiznow who had won just once since the 2000 Classic and 6-length Group 1 Arc de Triomphe winner Sakhee. Sakhee looked home late in the race before a surge by Tiznow "wins it for America". Watch it here.
#5 1995 Cigar - There was really just one storyline in 1995. It was the incredible, unprecedented unbeaten streak rattled off by Cigar. After Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott moved him from turf to dirt in late 1994, Cigar had won 11 in-a-row on the dirt, 8 Grade 1's. (He ended up winning 16 straight). All that was left for him was to cap off an undefeated, horse of the year season. He didn't face a very strong field in the Classic but showed his class and talent with a grinding, popular win. He held off the 51-1 longshot L'Carriere as a 3-5 favorite. Watch it here.
There have been bigger fields in the Classic but rarely as evenly matched among the more fancied runners than we have in 2020. Let's hope the excitement of the race is commensurate with the relative talent that is set to battle.