There are several moments that have defined the Breeders' Cup World Championships, arguably the most ambitious, game-changing project in the history of the Sport of Kings. Like all new endeavors, it is beneficial to make an immediate splash and capture the imagination of the public, in this case in both America and Europe. That is why races like the inaugural Classic (gr. I) in 1984, the 1995 Turf (gr. IT), and the 1987 and '88 Classic helped define the Breeders' Cup and its importance as a major international event.
That is also why it is difficult to rate one race over another. But in the case of the Breeders' Cup's first decade, there is one race that is talked about and shown on replay more than any other. It also is the race that has best withstood the passage of time. That race is the 1988 Distaff (gr. I) and the heart-pounding finish of Personal Ensign, as she charged down the Churchill Downs stretch in the slop after appearing beaten to just get up in the final jump and not only defeat Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner Winning Colors, but conclude her career undefeated.
All sports fans love perfection, and Personal Ensign, owned by the Phipps family and trained by Shug McGaughey was the epitome of perfection, as she returned from a severe fracture at 2 to become one of the great fillies of all time. You could feel the tension at Churchill Downs as Personal Ensign went to the gate against the brilliant Winning Colors and the hard-knocking, underrated Goodbye Halo.
With Winning Colors controlling the pace with her dazzling speed and threatening to run her opponents into the ground, as she did over this same track on the first Saturday in May, Personal Ensign appeared to be struggling over the deep, sloppy track. But once she straightened for home and jockey Randy Romero unleashed her run, she kicked into another gear and bore down on Winning Colors. Few thought she could make up all that ground, but with the aid of Churchill's long stretch, she was relentless, first passing a stubborn Goodbye Halo and then making one final surge to nip Winning Colors. It is a moment that has been frozen in time, and remains the defining image of the Breeders' Cup.
1) 1988 Distaff, Personal Ensign — Remains the poster child race for the Breeders' Cup.
2) 1984 Classic, Wild Again — When Pat Day raised his cap to the heavens after his heart-pounding victory against Gate Dancer and Slew o' Gold, it brought the Breeders' Cup into public consciousness and paved the way for its success,
3) 1988 Classic Alysheba — Alysheba needed a victory to wrest Horse of the Year honors away from Personal Ensign, and his gutsy victory over a star-studded field and a track he was thought to dislike solidified his reputation as "America's Horse."
4) 1991 Juvenile, Arazi — No one had ever seen anything like the amazing move turned in by Arazi, the pocket-sized French colt who making his first start in the U.S. and his first start on dirt. His move was so spectacular, Tom Durkin's frantic call remains the greatest call of a Breeders' Cup race ever.
5) 1987 Classic, Ferdinand — This one had Hollywood written all over it, as it pitted Kentucky Derby winners Ferdinand and Alysheba against each other, and the script couldn't have been more perfect, with Ferdinand holding off Alysheba to win by a nose.
6) 1986 Distaff, Lady's Secret — This was the coronation of racing's "Iron Lady," who put together one of the most brilliant, demanding campaigns by a filly ever and established herself as one of the greats of all time. As usual, she went to the lead early and was never threatened.
7) 1985 Turf, Pebbles — If there was one thing the Breeders' Cup needed in its second year it was a European star that Americans could embrace and look upon as a hero, and Pebbles was just that star. She had personality and an equine traveling companion, and her exciting dash up the inside made her one of the Breeders' Cup's most popular winners.
8) 1990 Sprint, Safely Kept — After 30 years, there still has not been a finish to rival that of the 1990 Sprint. Europe's sprint superstar Dayjur came here with a powerful reputation and appeared to have the Sprint won in deep stretch when he jumped the shadow of the grandstand twice costing him a victory. Safely Kept was given a gift, winning by a neck -- a reward for her heart-breaking defeat the year before.
9) 1988 Mile, Miesque — This is the third race from 1988 in the Top 10, demonstrating what a special Breeders' Cup that was. In the Mile, Miesque became the first ever two-time Breeders' Cup winner as she pulverized the best milers from America and Europe. Her jockey, Freddie Head, would go on to train the first ever three-time winner Goldikova, who captured three consecutive BC Miles.
10) 1993 Classic, Arcangues — This will always remain the shocker of all shockers, as French invader Arcangues won the Classic at odds of 133-1 under Jerry Bailey. What no one knew was that Arcangues had been training so well on dirt in France, his trainer, Andre Fabre, said he'd never had a horse train that well over the Allez France dirt track. Arcangues also had back problems, which limited him over the undulating courses of France, but he relished the easy level surface at Santa Anita.