In the years since, the number of Breeders’ Cup races have doubled and then some. Fortunately, though, the number of major categories haven’t changed all that much. However, two were added, both for females, one for fast fillies; the other for grass lovers.
On Formerly Filly Friday, three likely champions were crowned and, strangely enough, all were females.
With her front-running victory in the Juvenile Fillies, Beholder, trained by Richard Mandella and ridden by Garrett Gomez, took advantage of a speed-biased racetrack and improved her record to 3-for-5.
The Juvenile Fillies was her first and only Grade 1 but, given her nose defeat in the G1 Del Mar Debutante, her resume is championship enough.
In a division that was very entertaining but without a dominant filly all season, Zagora, adding the Filly and Mare Turf to her resume, improved her record to 5-for-8, good enough for a title even if the F&M Turf was her first G1 of the season.
Zagora was, however, G1 placed in both the Flower Bowl and Diana and won four other graded stakes; three at the G3 level and Saratoga’s G2 Ballston Spa.
For Royal Delta, the repeat winner of the Ladies Classic, not only is a cinch to reprise her Filly & Mare Eclipse title but the victory put her, for the time being at least, in the running for a possible Horse of the Year championship depending on Saturday’s results.
And that's when the scores began to change.
Eclipse Championship Saturday began in earnest with Santa Anita’s fifth race, the Filly & Mare Sprint and, ironically, if this division had not been created, the amazing Groupie Doll likely would have won the open title.
Never out of the money in eight starts, the Filly & Mare Sprint was her fifth consecutive score, adding a third G1 to her G2 victories.
And she did it by tearing the bias to shreds, confidently and patiently handled by Rajiv Maragh, as he looped the speedsters on the way to a dominant victory.
After the filly Mizdirection won the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint off the longest layoff in the history of the event for King of the Jungle Jim Rome et al, Shanghai Bobby not only nailed down a championship but did so with perhaps the gamest performance in the history of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
He did it chasing suicidal fractions from close range after having his training schedule interrupted by Hurricane Sandy, did it on a hot day 3,000 miles from home and—oh, yes—overcame it all without the benefit of Lasix, just as Beholder had on Friday.
In winning the race, Shanghai Bobby extended his undefeated record to five, adding the Juvenile to the Champagne his second G1 title.
An hour later, the three-year-old Trinniberg, extended his record to 4-for-8 for the year by taking the championship-defining Sprint. Will voters consider that enough? Since filly sprinters have their own category, what happens here?
The result of the Breeders’ Cup Turf turned out to be amazingly complex result. Point Of Entry, on the cusp of a possible Horse of the Year championship, now might finish third—in his own division.
How do you deny the winner, Little Mike, who won his third G1 of the year including the Turf and Arlington Million, two of the most prestigious, if not the most prestigious grass races in the country?
Then along comes Wise Dan--who most believe is the best older horse in the country--to win his third consecutive G1 in a specialized category (in this country, anyway) a turf miler. The bigger deal is that he did it while the whole world was watching.
Coupled with his narrow defeat in the G1 Stephen Foster, and Game On Dude’s no-show performance in the Classic, his credentials make him a leader in the Horse of the Year clubhouse.
Will voters punish him for not going for the whole enchilada by running in the Classic, a race which is, on balance, far more valuable to a potential Horse of the Year titlist than any number of one mile victories on grass?
Wise Dan is the Horse of the Year favorite, no doubt, odds-on to be ranked first in the final NTRA Poll on, coincidentally, election day. He was his usually uber impressive self.
But having made his bones in three Grade 1 turf miles, is that greater than Little Mike's three G1s--at a mile and an eighth, a mile and a quarter, and a mile and a half, two of those against international competition?
Of course, Fort Larned, expertly prepared, won the big dance, the Classic, riding a bias that wouldn't allow Mucho Macho Man to catch up. Is the Classic and the Whitney a good enough Horse of the Year resume?
Now consider this: Is any of the above greater than a 4-for-4 American dirt season that includes three Grade 1s, a Grade 2, and two classics?
It is a question that will be argued ad infinitum until all the votes are counted at year’s end. It might even turn out to be closer than the result of Tuesday’s other election.