In 1982, leading owner-breeder John Gaines told a media conference during Kentucky Derby Festival week that racing needed an end-of-year championship day, similar to the Super Bowl or World Series.
Two years later, after some hard work, the first Breeders’ Cup was staged. It featured seven races, all worth at least $1 million: two on grass (the Mile and the Turf), and five on dirt (the Juvenile, Juvenile Fillies, Distaff, Sprint, and Classic). The highlight was the Classic, won by Wild Again in a tight three-way finish with Slew o’Gold and Gate Dancer.
The Breeders’ Cup has since been staged at various North American tracks, with Santa Anita (nine) and Churchill Downs (eight) the most used. During that time, numerous special moments have secured the Breeders’ Cup’s place as the end-of-season championship.
In an early memorable clash, Ferdinand narrowly beat fellow Kentucky Derby winner Alysheba in 1987. Alysheba would win the Classic the following year, the same day that Personal Ensign won the Distaff by a nose to ensure she would retire undefeated, and French filly Miesque became the first dual Breeders’ Cup winner when repeating in the Mile.
Sunday Silence beat rival Easy Goer for a third time in four meetings in the 1989 Classic, and that same year Bayakoa won the first of two Distaffs.
The most memorable editions in the 1990s included Arazi’s sensational Juvenile victory in 1991, the Classic triumph of 133-1 French longshot Arcangues in 1993, Cigar capping an unbeaten season in the 1995 Classic, and dual Mile victories for Lure (1992, 1993) and Da Hoss (1996, 1998).
The gritty Tiznow won the Classic in both 2000 and 2001. Outstanding mare Zenyatta won the Distaff in 2008 and the Classic in 2009 before just failing to catch Blame in the Classic in 2010. French mare Goldikova, a three-time winner of the Mile (2008-2010).
American Pharoah became the first horse to add the Breeders’ Cup Classic to a Triple Crown in 2015, and Beholder joined Goldikova as a three-time winner, adding the Distaff in 2013 and 2016 to her 2012 Juvenile Fillies victory.
In more recent years the Breeders’ Cup has expanded to two days with the addition of the Filly and Mare Turf (1999), Filly and Mare Sprint (2007), Dirt Mile (2007), Juvenile Turf (2007), Juvenile Fillies’ Turf (2008), and Turf Sprint (2008).
With so many races of great quality, the Breeders’ Cup provides many opportunities for players, and some notable challenges. As well as having to assess how the best in North America will match up, they also need to consider the form of horses from Europe, Asia and South America.