It was billed as a two-horse race, and it lived up to expectations. On November 5th, nine of the fastest Thoroughbred racehorses in North American lined up in the starting gate at Santa Anita Park to contest the Breeders’ Cup Classic, arguably the most important horse race in the United States.
The early advantage went to California Chrome, who came out of the starting gate quickly and alertly to take the lead. After setting an easy pace, he appeared to be poised to pull away and win his seventh straight race with ease, but Arrogate—charging hard under the guidance of Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith—relentlessly closed the gap and passed California Chrome in the final strides.
“That was incredible,” Smith told Santa Anita publicity after the race. “I’m at a loss for words. He’s such a young horse. He’s so talented. He’s got amazing stamina. He doesn’t quit. He could have gone around again. He’s incredible.”
Arrogate’s trainer Bob Baffert, best known as the trainer of 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, was impressed by Arrogate’s performance.
“Going in, we knew we had a great horse,” Baffert said. “We thought we could be competitive. But down deep I really wasn’t sure if we could beat California Chrome because I still have total respect for the horse. He’s a great horse.”
The Breeders’ Cup Classic was the Saturday highlight of the two-day Breeders’ Cup World Championships, 13 prestigious races held over a variety of distances and track surfaces. On Friday, some of the best fillies and mares in North America competed in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, which saw the champions Beholder, Stellar Wind, and Songbird face off in a highly anticipated showdown. In a race that was decided in a photo finish, the six-year-old Beholder—a winner of two past Breeders’ Cup races—narrowly caught the previously unbeaten three-year-old Songbird to win by a nose.
Riding Beholder was the Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens, who returned from knee replacement surgery in 2014 to continue riding at the highest level.
“It’s probably the most emotional race of my career because she’s so special to me and it’s her last race,” said Stevens. “…She gave me absolutely everything. I have a new respect for Songbird even in defeat. Beholder, even in the past, has never given me everything like she gave me today.”
Mike Smith was aboard Songbird, who ran a tremendous race while finishing second. “She ran incredible and I’m so proud of her. The real Beholder showed up today. That was probably the best race she has run in her life. My filly made her reach down as deep as she has. In losing, I feel like we won. We got beat a short nose. It’s easy when you are winning and you have to take it when you lose. Beholder is retiring but my filly will get bigger and stronger next year as they all do when they get older. She’s a true champion.”
Another exciting race was the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, a race that showcased contenders for the 2017 Kentucky Derby. In another thrilling finish, Classic Empire took the lead in the homestretch and narrowly held off Not This Time to win by a neck in a fast time, stamping them both as two very talented young horses.
All told, it was a fantastic set of races! Which Breeders’ Cup races did you enjoy the most?
About the Author: J. Keeler Johnson is a writer, blogger, videographer, and racing enthusiast who considers Zenyatta to be his all-time favorite racehorse. He is the founder of the horse racing website TheTurfBoard.com and writes for the Bloodhorse.com blog Unlocking Winners.