Asked if they had received offers for their champion mare Hollywood Wildcat, Irving Cowan replied they had and, "They just tell them at the barn that she's not for sale." Walking back to the grandstand after Hollywood Wildcat's son, War Chant, had collected a thrilling edition of the Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT), Marjorie Cowan took her husband's hand and said: "He's got a wife that doesn't believe in selling."
"We have to sell some to pay for the stud fees," Irving corrected gently. "(Trainer) Neil (Drysdale) gave us our first Breeders' Cup winner when Hollywood Wildcat won the Distaff (gr. I; 1993), but this is an even greater thrill, to breed a Breeders' Cup winner out of her."
The Cowans' sterling mare is the second Breeders' Cup winner to produce a Breeders' Cup winner after Personal Ensign, Distaff victor at Churchill Downs in 1988, dropped 1995 Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) heroine My Flag.
My Flag had it easy, winning by a half-length, compared to War Chant's charge from the tail-end of the field to collect $608,400 of the $1,071,720 purse by a neck. The 3-year-old son of Danzig was more than five lengths back at the eighth-pole but became the sixth of his age to win the Mile.
"I have to tell you, turning for home, I didn't see any way (War Chant) was going to get up," said Irving Cowan. "I never thought he'd be that far back, then he got penned in, but Gary (Stevens) gave him a masterful ride. Thank God Churchill's got a long stretch.
"The horse was hurt in the Derby (gr. I; ninth to stablemate Fusaichi Pegasus). He had a hairline fracture of the shoulder and my own belief is that it happened in the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I). We had Jerry (Bailey) on him in the Kentucky Derby, who had already ridden him, and when he just went to the rail and stayed there I knew something was wrong.
"But after the Derby, Neil said: 'Don't worry about it. Assuming he heals quickly enough, we'll give him a couple of races on the turf and go for the Breeders' Cup.' I said, 'Isn't that a little bit ambitious?' and Neil said, 'No. Even if we have to train him right into the race, he will run in the Breeders' Cup.' "
War Chant was off from the first Saturday in May until the second Saturday of October, returning to the wars in the Oak Tree Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IIT) and edging away late to win by 1 1/4 lengths under Stevens. While the Oak Tree race didn't feature a vintage field, War Chant won impressively and booked his ticket to Churchill Downs' Barn 41 and the Mile.
Drysdale, the focus of media attention leading up to the 17th Breeders' Cup because of Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) favorite Fusaichi Pegasus, quietly prepared War Chant with two workouts over the Churchill turf. The second, six furlongs under Marcelino Olguin, Oct. 30, was undertaken with stablemate Irish Prize, and War Chant cut him down with a final quarter in 22 4/5.
While War Chant was four-for-six lifetime after Oak Tree, he had started only once on grass. Prized, also trained by Drysdale, won the 1989 Turf (gr. IT) without having raced on the surface, but many thought Favorite Trick might be War Chant's precursor, once raced on turf before finishing eighth when favored for the 1998 Mile. Both War Chant and King Cugat were flashing at 7-2 at post time, but the Cowans' runner was the fractional favorite.
Although Drysdale was unperturbed by his colt drawing post position 11--"I prefer to be outside in the Mile. The only danger is if someone inside you blows the turn"--handicappers noted that Mile post positions outside number eight were three-for-82 in Breeders' Cup history. Still, those who fancied War Chant, at 4-1 in Mike Battaglia's morning line the coolest favorite on the card, could take some solace in last year's one-two having come from posts 12 and 10. (The wide-draw demon would be exorcised again this year as 42-1 North East Bound, drawn 14, chased War Chant home.)
The Breeders' Cup race which has averaged the greatest number of starters over the years offered a full field of 14 once again with only Walkslikeaduck getting in off the preference list when Manndar opted for the Turf. Three-year-olds War Chant and King Cugat, winner of five of his previous six races, offered a stout American defense along with Ladies Din, supplemented for $120,000 and trained by Julio Canani, who won the Mile last year with the same owners' Silic.
Europe, trying to rectify a 9-7 deficit in the Mile after losing three of the last four runnings, sent an evenly-matched five into the race with all of them starting between 11-1 and 15-1. With almost no rain in the week preceding the Breeders' Cup, the turf was "firm," but with plenty of watering and a good covering of grass it was to the European's liking with the possible exception of Indian Lodge, the other supplement ($90,000) to the Mile, both of whose group I wins had come in France on soft ground.
Only Arkadian Hero and Muhtathir had previously raced in North America, both in the Atto Mile (Can-IT) where the former spotted the field eight lengths at the start and missed by a nose to Riviera. Arkadian Hero's trainer, Newmarket-based Luca Cumani, won the Mile at Churchill in 1994 with Barathea.
Barathea had blown the first turn at Santa Anita the previous year, compromising the chances of several runners, and this time Arkadian Hero had other trainers on edge before the start. After saddling, where War Chant was a ball of nervous energy controlled by assistant trainer John O'Donoghue and three grooms stroking him everywhere but the soles of his feet as Drysdale saddled him, the entire field took to the track in orderly fashion. Where the American runners carried assorted blinkers, shadow rolls, and hind wraps--the latter a Drysdale trademark on War Chant--none of the "Euros" used any extraneous equipment.Continued. . . .