The three jumbo jets that touched down at JFK International Airport on Oct. 12 and Oct. 23 brought cargo more valuable than anyone could imagine. The first to arrive was Sheikh Mohammed's private 747, bringing Godolphin's Sakhee, Fantastic Light, and Noverre from England.
As the plane taxied up to the Saudi Arabian Airlines Cargo terminal, it bore evidence of our recent troubled times. There to meet the plane were two FBI agents, four customs agents, and three cars filled with Port Authority police. When the three horses departed New York following the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships, they had amassed $1,912,800 in earnings.
On Oct. 23, just after 4:30 p.m., an Air Transport International DC-8 taxied up to the same terminal. Several minutes later, seven Coolmore horses trained by Aidan O'Brien at the famed Ballydoyle Stables in Ireland stepped off the plane. An insurance company had appraised their value at just under $200 million, with the star, Galileo, alone valued at $65 million. Also on the flight were Johannesburg, Milan, Bach, Mozart, Black Minnaloushe, and Sophisticat. When they departed following the World Thoroughbred Championships, they had collectively earned $1,104,800.
About an hour after the arrival of the O'Brien horses, an Air France 747 pulled up to the Air France terminal, carrying three horses -- Banks Hill, Spring Oak, and Slew the Red -- who were trained by Andre Fabre in Chantilly. When they departed following the World Thoroughbred Championships, they had earned $889,600.
That's a total of $3,907,200 in purse money.
Three horse transport planes, from three different countries, all carrying eventual winners of a Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships event -- not to mention five others who finished second or third, and another who picked up a check for fifth.
Banks Hill strolled home by 5 1/2 lengths in the Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT); Johannesburg blew by the best 2-year-old males in America in the Juvenile (gr. I); and Fantastic Light and Milan finished one-two in the Turf (gr. IT), nearly six lengths ahead of third-place finisher Timboroa.
In addition, Sakhee, who had romped by six lengths in the Arc de Triomphe (Fr-I) three weeks earlier, came within a nose of winning the Classic (gr. I) and pulling off one of the most remarkable feats in the history of international racing. To top things off, Bach was third in the Mile (gr. IT), and Spring Oak was third in the Filly & Mare Turf.
The World Thoroughbred Championships had certainly lived up to its new name. Since the horrific events of Sept. 11, America and its European allies have formed a strong bond. As a tribute to that alliance, a group of Thoroughbred racehorses, owners, trainers, and jockeys also bonded on a chilly, windy afternoon at Belmont Park, just a short distance from the rubble of ground zero.
The Europeans finally scaled our highest peaks, and for the first time did it en masse and in rapid succession. At the end of the day, they proudly planted their respective flags deep into the sandy loam of Belmont Park. It was only the nose of America's great warrior and defender, Tiznow, that prevented a European coup of epic proportions.
So, the chasm that has separated the Thoroughbred worlds of America and Europe has been bridged. We had European heroes Fantastic Light, Sakhee, and Johannesburg who were bred in the United States, and we had American heroes Val Royal (winner of the Mile) and Timboroa (third in the Turf) who were bred in Europe.
The Maktoums of Dubai could have played it safe and gone the logical route. Instead, they shot for the moon and darn near hit it. Prince Khalid Abdullah of Saudi Arabia finally won his first Breeders' Cup race. And Coolmore heeded Napoleon's words: "If you start to take Vienna -- take Vienna." They gathered their forces and journeyed to America with one of the strongest arsenals ever assembled.
The foreigners came to conquer, but they also came to give, bearing gifts in the form of millions of dollars to be donated to various relief funds. And so, racing's ultimate conflict took place just beyond the fringes of New York City. When it was over, all the combatants joined together in a display of solidarity, and the link they formed will remain, like America, unbreakable.