Loading was smooth until just North East Bound was left, but then Arkadian Hero became unglued. The 5-year-old actually sat down in the gate and had to be backed out and reloaded, which delayed the start a couple of minutes. Finally the bell rang and the Mile field began the sprint to get position into the first turn, less than 300 yards away.
North East Bound gunned clear and crossed to the rail after the break as Arkadian Hero was left, two-lengths behind the rest of the field. Affirmed Success tracked second with Muhtathir third, Forbidden Apple close up and tugging hard against Jose Santos, and Hap fifth on the outside. Then came Altibr, extra keen in the hands of Richard Migliore.
At the half-mile, War Chant, Arkadian Hero, and King Cugat, filled the last three positions as North East Bound continued in the vanguard. The half flashed in :47.93. Around the far turn it was North East Bound, clinging to his advantage and looking as if his early pace might last, ahead of Affirmed Success with Muhtathir third and Forbidden Apple fourth when suddenly Tom Durkin bellowed the words chalk-players were longing to hear--"with giant strides, War Chant is flying."
The favorite was briefly checked at the top of the stretch before making his bid six wide, but Stevens had him moving and with a furlong to run it was apparent he would be taking a hand in the finish. Up front, North East Bound was in a ding-dong battle with Affirmed Success as Muhtathir dropped away, but the real drama unfolded when War Chant came flying and Dansili, trained in France by Andre Fabre, altered course to the inside and finished fastest of all up the rail to just miss.
Few doubted War Chant had won the photo (by a neck), but noses separated North East Bound in second, Dansili in third, and Affirmed Success in fourth. Then came Muhtathir, Altibr, Forbidden Apple, Ladies Din, Hap, Distant Music, King Cugat, Walkslikeaduck, Indian Lodge, and Arkadian Hero. As well as War Chant and Dansili, Muhtathir was checked late, Altibr was crowded in the first turn, and Ladies Din had his progress slowed deep in the stretch. Final time was 1:34.67, more than a second off Jaggery John's course record and more than two seconds slower than Royal Heroine's Breeders' Cup mark set at Hollywood Park in the inaugural running.
Stevens, who returned to riding only recently from a chronic knee problem that looked like it might end his career, won both supporting stakes on the card to tally three overall on Breeders' Cup Day. "I've been back riding less than a month and six weeks ago I didn't even know if I'd be here," said the winner of the 1996 Mile with Da Hoss. "This was a hell of an opportunity for me and it has been one of the biggest days of my career.
"I told Neil we didn't have a chance if we sent him and I said I would ride him like I did last time. We were both a bit worried, but I knew I could count on him (War Chant). I wanted to come away peaceful and quiet and settle in. I was farther back than I wanted to be, but the main thing was to be trouble free. I rode him as the best horse in the race and I had confidence he would run them down in the lane with the acceleration he showed me in his last race. I never pushed the accelerator button to the floor until we hit the furlong pole, and his acceleration was unbelievable."
North East Bound's jockey, Jose Velez Jr., took his narrow loss with good grace. "A great horse won," he said. "I thought when I got to the top of the stretch, I had it. I only hit my horse once and I thought he had plenty left. The post position didn't help us, but there was nothing we could do about it. I'm proud to be here and proud to ride this horse."
John Velazquez, on Dansili (the horse's eye was swollen the following morning after being hit by a clod), said he "didn't have anywhere to go. I had to wait and wait and wait. He finished unbelievable and if I could have gotten out just a little bit sooner, I would have won."
King Cugat was closest at the finish in 11th after being seven wide on the turn for home. "I didn't get the trip I wanted at all," said jockey Jerry Bailey. "I was forced out at the start, then followed War Chant into the stretch and he was forced out in front of me."
Richard Schosberg was amazed his Affirmed Success didn't get the money. "We had a perfect trip," he said. "I didn't think there was any way to lose from that position, but we found one."
Cumani said Arkadian Hero had his "blood up, lost his nerve at the stalls and sat down (in the gate) very badly. It played on his mind and I know his mind was not on racing after that."
British-born, 52-year-old Drysdale, inducted into the Hall of Fame in August, is the top Breeders' Cup conditioner on a percentage basis among trainers with at least 10 starters. From just 22 runners, he has collected six victories, third on the all-time list behind D. Wayne Lukas (16) and Shug McGaughey (seven). Prior to the 2000 Mile, the race had been his bugbear: two seconds from six runners.
Hollywood Wildcat boards at Patchen Wilkes Farm and the Cowans were on their way to see their broodmares there and at Three Chimneys Farm after the Breeders' Cup. Her first foal, War Chant's full sister Danzig Wildcat, won her first race but was retired with a broken sesamoid. Her third, a juvenile filly by Storm Cat named Double Cat, will run in the spring, according to Drysdale.
"War Chant's win was very gratifying, especially considering where he was at the top of the stretch," Drysdale said. "It looked insurmountable, but it was an absolutely amazing final quarter (:23.25)."
War Chant has been syndicated for stud duty at Three Chimneys Farm, the Cowans selling a 50% interest to the Robert Clay outfit and Robert and Janice McNair's Stonerside Stable. He will race again next year and perhaps longer, according to Cowan. In fact, he was scheduled to head back to California the Tuesday after the race.
"You'll (the press) have fun trying to guess whether he'll run on turf or dirt because he's equally good on both," he said, although during the week Drysdale had promulgated plans to run War Chant on dirt in Santa Anita's Strub Series for 4-year-olds this winter.
Marjorie Cowan was touched by the sentiment of War Chant's win--"I hope all Breeders' Cup winners are as happy as we are"--while her husband was more pragmatic after the first two Breeders' Cup winners, Spain and Caressing, paid $113.80 and $96, respectively. "I was just glad to see a favorite win," he said. "I was getting killed."