While his riding career was winding down by the time the Breeders’ Cup launched in 1984, jockey Bill Shoemaker still managed to stamp the event when he delivered a perfectly timed ride aboard Ferdinand to edge Alysheba by a nose.
The 1987 Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) stretch run had 57,734 fans rocking Hollywood Park and, for many, memories of the stretch duel of Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winners still creates chills.
At age 56, Shoemaker became the oldest rider to win a Breeders’ Cup race. Going into the 2013 edition of the Breeders’ Cup, he still holds that distinction. Gary Stevens made headlines this year by coming back to win the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) at age 50. He’ll have a shot at Shoe’s Breeders’ Cup age record—if he’s still riding in 2019.
While Shoemaker is the oldest rider to win a Breeders’ Cup race, the youngest rider would follow nearly a quarter century later when Joseph O’Brien secured victory in the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. I). He guided St Nicholas Abbey to victory for his father, trainer Aidan O’Brien, in the $3 million race at Churchill Downs.
At the time, the 18-year-old O’Brien acknowledged that he didn’t know how many years his 5-foot-11 frame would allow him to ride. But in 2013 O’Brien continues to compete at the top levels in Europe. In fact, he set the flat season record this year when notching his 116th riding win with some race days still to come.
After guiding Ferdinand to victory in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I), at age 54, Shoemaker made all the right moves to post a nose victory aboard Ferdinand in the 1987 Breeders’ Cup Classic. In a battle of Derby winners at a classic distance, Ferdinand edged that year’s Derby winner, Alysheba, by a nose. Shoemaker avoided potential trouble entering the far turn, put the 4-year-old Nijinsky II colt in position in the turn, and then waited into the stretch before asking Ferdinand for his best. Ferdinand opened a one-length lead and had just enough to hold on.
After the race Shoemaker told William Nack of Sports Illustrated that he had wondered if he’d secure a Breeders’ Cup win. As it would turn out, the victory would be his only Breeders’ Cup score, coming in his final mount from 14 Breeders’ Cup races.
At the other end of the spectrum, Joseph O’Brien secured a Breeders’ Cup win in his first try. Aidan O’Brien said as the regular exercise rider, his son knew St Nicholas Abbey better than any rider and awarded him the mount. Earlier in the year, the younger O’Brien secured his first classic riding win with Roderic O’Conner in the Abu Dhabi Irish Two Thousand Guineas (Ire-I).
Joseph O’Brien confessed to some nerves but said he’d been looking forward to the race.
“Obviously, looking at all the big names and the big horses winning the best races around the world, it’s something that you dream about since I was very small,” he told Blood-Horse.