The 20th running of the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships had everything a racing fan could ask for: heart-pounding finishes; championship performances, boxcar mutuels, and human interest stories.
No stretch run since Personal Ensign's last-second surge to victory in the 1988 Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I) was more exciting than the dead heat result in the John Deere Turf (gr. IT) between defending champion High Chaparral and Johar. It was fitting that neither horse had to be called a loser. Falbrav, a head back in third, ran his heart out, too.
Earlier in the day, Halfbridled displayed why she is one of the best 2-year-old fillies to come along in many, many years with a convincing triumph in the Juvenile Fillies from the extremely disadvantageous 14 post. The daughter of Unbridled is a "push-button" horse, able to make several moves in a race and then drop back to an easy gallop. Forty-year-old Hall of Famer Julie Krone may downplay her part in the Juvenile Fillies win, but she provided a terrific performance while becoming the first female jockey to win on Breeders' Cup day.
Similar to Halfbridled's challenge, Six Perfections overcame an outside post to show her class in winning the NetJets Mile (gr. IT). Halfbridled and Six Perfections race for the Wertheimer and Niarchos families, respectively, showing that the cream of the international racing and breeding communities continues to rise to the top in major events.
Krone, who ended her retirement in 2002 after going to work galloping horses for Richard Mandella, scored her milestone win for the home-grown Californian and fellow Hall of Famer who won an unprecedented four Breeders' Cup races on the day. Mandella's accomplishment was a tribute to his late father, Gene, his teacher and mentor who died last year. Mandella also remembered that the great Bill Shoemaker, who died less than two weeks before the Breeders' Cup, provided the trainer with his first career win.
The four wins for Mandella each came for a different owner, and it is encouraging to see that two of them were winning a Breeders' Cup race for the first time. Action This Day provided B. Wayne Hughes with some long overdue success in a big race with his late run in the Bessemer Trust Juvenile (gr. I), while Pleasantly Perfect's upset of the Classic - Powered by Dodge (gr. I)--one of four winning mutuels paying $30 or higher--gave Gerald Ford his first taste of success on racing's biggest day. It should be noted that Ford's homebreds (which Pleasantly Perfect was not) are roaming the same paddocks that were home to the most successful Breeders' Cup runners, those owned and bred by the late Allen Paulson. Ford bought a major portion of Paulson's Brookside Farm in 2000.
Horse of the Year almost surely was settled when Medaglia d'Oro ran second, and Perfect Drift, Funny Cide, and Ten Most Wanted ran poorly in the Classic. That left Mineshaft, who missed the race because of a career-ending injury detected after his victory in the Sept. 27 Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I), as the near-certain choice for top honors.
One of the most intriguing decisions Eclipse Award voters will have to make involves leading trainer. Bobby Frankel will break D. Wayne Lukas' earnings record set in 1988, and he already has established a new mark for grade I victories in a year. But in one day, Mandella doubled the number of Breeders' Cup victories logged over the last 20 years by Frankel, who now has just two wins from 57 starts.
Interestingly, the year Lukas set the earnings record, he established another mark with three victories in the Breeders' Cup, but he was denied the Eclipse Award for outstanding trainer. Those honors went to Shug McGaughey, trainer of champions Personal Ensign and Easy Goer, ending a three-year Eclipse Award run for Lukas.
Frankel also has won the last three Eclipse Awards. Will voters turn on him in 2003 the way they did on Lukas 15 years earlier?