The 31st annual Breeders’ Cup is fast approaching on Friday, October 31 and Saturday, November 1, 2014 at Santa Anita Park near Los Angeles. While the Breeders’ Cup is not nearly as popular with the general public as the Triple Crown races, and in particular the Kentucky Derby, it is nonetheless one of the two times a year when horse racing is showcased in North America.
Since its inaugural in 1984 at the now-defunct Hollywood Park, the Breeders’ Cup has provided some scintillating races that are now historical classics. For example, in the 1988 Distaff, Personal Ensign looked to be hopelessly beat until she put on a devastating rally in deep stretch to catch Winning Colors, who is one of only three fillies to win the Kentucky Derby. Another memorable finish came in Sunday Silence’s win in the 1989 Classic, when the colt barely survived a late rush by the magnificent Easy Goer. Tiznow and the Irish sensation Giants’ Causeway fighting for the lead near the wire at Churchill Downs in 2000 was a heart-pounding testimony to the gallantry of both horses, as well as to the Thoroughbred breed. More recently, the celebrity mare Zenyatta nearly equaled Tiznow as the only two-time winner of the Classic, winning with her come-from-behind charge in 2009 and falling just short in 2010. For the ultimate in gameness and heart, the 1994 Juvenile Fillies is the race to look to. Flanders managed to defeat Serena’s Song despite incurring a career-ending injury during the race.
Some observers believe that the Breeders’ Cup unwisely watered down its offering by expanding the original 1-day, 7-race card to a 2-day, 13-race card in 2014. Even a devoted fan of Thoroughbred horse racing would be challenged to sit through a three-hour telecast on Friday and a six-hour telecast on Saturday.
The Breeders’ Cup has also not achieved its claim to be a world championship. Though some of Europe’s best horses have competed in the Breeders’ Cup over the years, many of the top horses in Europe and Asia have bypassed it to run in important autumn races in England and France. Imagine the intrigue and buzz if the Breeders’ Cup could have attracted the great European champions Sea the Stars and Frankel.
The 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic will be interesting with the expected presence of Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome, Belmont winner Tonalist, and the undefeated Shared Belief. Only Zenyatta in 2009 won the Classic while being undefeated. Horse of the Year is likely in the balance in the Classic. This race–held in prime time on the east coast—does not have a Zenyatta to attract a huge television audience, but looks competitive enough to draw a sizeable audience of viewers. Moreover, California Chrome has considerable residual name recognition from his popular wins in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.
In addition to the Classic, the other races on the card appear to be good betting races full of talented and closely matched horses.
Despite the fact that the Breeders’ Cup may be watered down by too many races and is not truly a world championship, the event is still a terrific two-day celebration of some of the best in worldwide horse racing.
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