After the inane preliminaries, Kelly got around to the reason for the call. "This last Breeders' Cup," Kelly said. "It's gotta be on your first-five list, right?" We always talk about our five favorite--not necessarily best--Breeders' Cups, and Zenyatta in the last two years has forced a shuffling of the deck.
Kelly emphasized that I wasn't the one paying for the call. So I cut to the chase and named my first five:
1. Hollywood Park, 1984. You'd have to be a churl not to love the Zenyatta story, but I'm not giving in at the expense of Wild Again, in a photo as tight as Blame-Zenyatta. It was the first Breeders' Cup, a classic three-horse finish also involving Slew o' Gold and the disqualified Gate Dancer, Horse of the Year implications, Pat Day's breakout winner as a jockey. And the rest of the day was more than a ham sandwich, starting with Chief's Crown's win in the Juvenile, Fran's Valentine's disqualification in the Juvenile Fillies, Royal Heroine's 1:32 3/5 Mile and Lashkari's 53-1 bomb in the Turf.
2. Churchill Downs, 2010. Arguably, Blame-Zenyatta is the most thrilling Breeders' Cup race ever run. Icing on the cake was Goldikova's scintillating win in the Mile, as she became the first horse to win three Breeders' Cup races. Mix well with the Calvin Borel-Javier Castellano scuffle on the first day of the festival.
3. Santa Anita, 2009. The Zenyatta-Goldikova show. Zenyatta, becoming the first female to beat the boys in the Classic. The crowd's love affair with the mare, coming into full bloom. The second time dirt horses tried to run on synthetic, and they regretted it, every step of the way. The European contingent, evening a few old scores.
4. Santa Anita, 2003. The sensible good old days, when one day a Breeders' Cup makes, and eight races were enough to sate us all. Five races had been run, and the trainer Richard Mandella had won only one. Then he won the Juvenile with Action This Day, a 26-1 shot. Then his Johar, another longshot, finished in a dead heat with High Chaparral in the Turf. Mandella again in the Classic with Pleasantly Perfect, at 14-1? No way. This was a day when Mandella always found a way. Leo Durocher was wrong. Nice guys don't finish last.
5. Churchill Downs, 1988. Randy Romero, riding the undefeated Personal Ensign in her final race, said he had the finish line measured perfectly. He was the only guy in the house who believed that. A half-length separated Romero's filly, Winning Colors and Goodbye Halo at the wire. There is that race, Wild Again's race, Blame-Zenyatta, both of Tiznow's wins, and then all the rest. In '88, a rainy day, a muddy track and temperatures made for mittens couldn't ruin what the horses wrought. The incomparable Miesque, repeating in the Mile; Wayne Lukas saddling three winners, one of them Gulch in the Sprint; Angel Cordero, riding in every race and winning a pair; and Alysheba's Classic win in the gloamin'. We went home with chilblains, but we didn't care.