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Debate the Best Breeders' Cup Classic Champions Since 1984

Updated on August 18, 2011
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Barbara Anne Helberg is a Fiction freelancer, Internet writer, WordPress blogger, former Journalist, and a Famous Writers School graduate.

Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron rode four Thoroughbreds to the winner's circle in the Breeders' Cup Classic, the final event each year to the Breeders' Cup World Championships. Elected to the Hall of Fame in 1989, McCarron piloted winners Alysheba (1988), Sunday Silence (1989), Alphabet Soup (1996), and Tiznow (2000, 2001).

Was two-time winner Tiznow the best ever?

Rider Jerry Bailey, who became a National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame member in 1995, guided the great Cigar. In his 2005 book, Against The Odds, Bailey described Cigar as the best Thoroughbred he ever rode. Cigar won the Breeders' Cup Classic in 1995, then finished third in 1996.

Was two-time competitor Cigar the best ever?

In the irons with the wonderful Zenyatta, jockey Mike Smith many times has tried to make the case for the powerful dark bay mare as the best Breeders' Cup Classic Thoroughbred of all time. Zenyatta won the ladies version of the race in 2008, beat the boys in the Classic in 2009, and narrowly missed completing her career as an undefeated in the 2010 Classic when she lost to Blame in a closing rush that left her a nose short of victory.

Could the game mare be top dog on the list?

Smith, a 2003 Hall of Fame electee, also blazed to the wire triumphantly with the giant gray roan Skip Away in 1997 when the pair set the second longest margin of victory in the history of the Classic--six lengths.

What about Skip Away and Sunday Silence?

Earlier in their careers, Smith gave up to Bailey the ride on Cigar when the Palace Music progeny was a turfer (grass horse), and McCarron rejected Alysheba in no uncertain terms, referring to the son of Alydar as "lazy" before the discovery that Alysheba was suffering from a blocked epiglottis which was suffocating him.

Could Alysheba's rebound make him the best?

Zenyatta was voted Horse of the Year for 2010
Zenyatta was voted Horse of the Year for 2010 | Source

Debate the best Breeders' Cup Classic champions since the inaugural race in 1984

No. 1 Breeders' Cup Classic Horse -- Zenyatta

Zenyatta was voted 2010 Horse of the Year after her narrow miss in the Breeders' Cup Classic to Blame. Her victory in the 2009 Classic was indeed a classic as she powered to the wire in front of the boys from her usual back-of-the-pack style.

But unbeaten filly Rachel Alexandra was voted 2009 Horse of the Year.

No. 2 Breeders' Cup Classic Horse -- Cigar

Over two seasons of racing, 1995 and 1996, Cigar tied the coveted 16-consecutive-race win record of the immortal Citation. He also won the inaugural Dubai World Cup in the UAE in March of 1996.

For twelve years, Cigar held the top spot on the all-time track earnings list in North America with $9,999,815.

He was recognized with back-to-back Horse of the Year trophies in 1995 and 1996.

No. 3 Breeders' Cup Classic Horse -- Curlin

In 2007, the young Smart Strike colt Curlin became a sensation as he grew from a raw Triple Crown races entrant to a complete champion in the Breeders' Cup Classic. He was a lightning strike in the rain as he churned through slop without missing a step around the turn and left the field splashing behind him.

Curlin captured the 2008 Dubai World Cup with ease. Later in that season, he passed Cigar's track bankroll, winning the Jockey Club Gold Cup for the second straight year. He continues to hold the North American career earnings title with over $10 Million.

Although like Cigar, he couldn't defend his Breeders' Cup crown in 2008, Curlin did match Cigar's back-to-back Horse of the Year feat, winning that award in 2007 and 2008.

No. 4 Breeders' Cup Classic Horse -- Skip Away

One of only three Thoroughbreds to win over $9 Million in track purses, Skip Away, the strong son of Skip Trial, had bloodlines tracing to Damascus. He skipped unmenaced to the 1997 Classic title, but suffered defeat by the ballot in Horse of the Year voting. The honor went to Favorite Trick.

He won the Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year in 1998.

No. 5 Breeders' Cup Classic Horse -- Alysheba

Alysheba, a big sturdy son of 1978 Triple Crown threat Alydar, overcame a bundle of adversity to land in the 1987 Breeders' Cup Classic against Kentucky Derby winner Ferdinand. Veteran Willie Shoemaker piloted Ferdinand in the twilight and got his mount to the winner's circle by a hard fought nose.

Rebounding the next season, Alysheba would not be denied again. He won the Classic and got the vote for Horse of the Year, 1988. He is 10th on the all time money list.

Who are your best champions of the Breeders' Cup Classic?


  • The Thoroughbred Times Racing Almanac, by the Staff of "The Thoroughbred Times" magazine, 2006
  • Against All Odds, by Jerry Bailey, 2005


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