A CLASSIC FINISH
Awesome Again lived up to his name in a wild Breeders' Cup finale
As he swept off that final bend at Churchill Downs, his feet
still on the breaks while he rocked on the back of Awesome Again,
Pat Day felt the power of the horse beneath him and sensed that
all he needed to get to the wire first was an unobstructed path.
The horse was running fluidly, with his head in to the bridle and
the bit between his teeth, waiting for Day's command to begin the
Looking straight ahead, Day saw the big gray, 1997 Kentucky Derby
winner Silver Charm, under Gary Stevens, and just to Silver
Charm's outside the crack British invader, Swain, with Frank
Dettori up. There were about 400 yards to run in last Saturday's
1 1/4-mile Breeders' Cup Classic, and Day had arrived at one of
those bends in time when, it often seems, the whimsical goddess
of racing chooses to intervene. "Watching Swain and Silver Charm
in front of me, I was thinking that I'd ease outside of them, get
in the clear and run 'em both down," Day says.
What happened next, in the fading light of five o' clock, led to
one of the strangest finishes in the 15-year history of the race,
a stretch drive that looked more like the end of a quarter-horse
race at Ruidoso Downs, with horses running all across the track,
than the climax of a historic Classic. Not only was this the
richest horse race of all time, with a total purse of $5.12
million, but its collection of 10 runners was also the strongest
ever assembled for this event.
Skip Away had won nine straight stakes since the fall of 1997,
including seven Grade I races, before meeting defeat in the slop
at Belmont Park on Oct. 10 in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Facing
him now, aside from Silver Charm and Swain, were the hard-driving
campaigner, Gentlemen, and two proven 3-year-olds, Belmont Stakes
winner Victory Gallop and Travers winner Coronado's Quest. And,
of course, there was Awesome Again, unbeaten in five '98 races.
He had been training like a beast for Patrick Byrne, but except
for a one-length victory over Silver Charm in the June 13 Stephen
Foster Handicap at the Downs and a three-length win in the
Whitney at Saratoga, he had been feasting on underachievers.
By the time Awesome Again turned into the final straight,
Gentlemen was being eased because of pulmonary bleeding, and Skip
Away was drifting back to sixth in his final race. Coming to the
eighth pole, as Day was about to swing his mount to the outside,
Swain started drifting way right, toward the fence. Silver Charm
tends to run harder when he's next to another horse, so Stevens
angled him right, to stay at Swain's side, a maneuver that left
Day facing a wide open track. Day hit the gas, and his mount,
joined by Victory Gallop inside, took off.
Stevens straightened out Silver Charm and glanced left. "I saw a
black flash on the inside," he said. It was Awesome Again drawing
off to win by three quarters of a length. Horses were all around
at the wire--Silver Charm and Swain outside, finishing second and
third, respectively, and Victory Gallop and Coronado's Quest
behind on the inside. Skip Away remains the consensus horse of
the year pick (he regularly whipped the toughest competitors in
1998, winning seven stakes at six tracks), but there is no
denying Awesome Again's gifts. His Classic victory is the
crowning achievement of his owner-breeder, Frank Stronach, who
presides over one of racing's fastest-growing empires. He has
spent millions buying horse farms in Florida and Kentucky and
acquiring quality bloodstock. After the Classic it was announced
that he signed a letter of intent to buy Santa Anita Park, the
crown jewel of California tracks.
Not a bad day for a man who started out washing dishes in an
Ontario hospital. "I consider myself very lucky," Stronach said.
This was his first victory in the Classic, and it was
accomplished by a horse who is a product of his vast breeding
operation. Luck be damned. The bet here is that this win will not
be his last.
DA HOSS AND DA MAN
More than 100 Breeders' Cup races have been run, but few have
created the buzz that Da Hoss's win did in the Mile. The
6-year-old gelding took the lead midstretch, lost it to Hawksley
Hill at the 16th pole, then regained it to win by a head. What
drew attention, though, was not the finish but the fact that Da
Hoss, who had won this event two years ago, had raced only once
in the intervening time, winning a modest allowance race on Oct.
11 at Colonial Downs.
The architect of Da Hoss's comeback was Michael Dickinson, a
transplanted Englishman who got the injury-plagued horse ready at
his Tapeta Farm in Maryland, a 200-acre spread that resembles a
European training center, with rolling cross-country gallops and
wooded trails. Though he was criticized for bringing Da Hoss into
the Mile with only one race for preparation, Dickinson would have
rather not even run him in that race. "But I had to show the
Breeders' Cup committee that he was back," he says.
"Can we call you a mad genius?" Chris McCarron, one of the losing
jockeys, asked Dickinson. "Or just mad?" Call him what you will;
Dickinson has announced himself as trainer of the year....
The record shows that Answer Lively won the Breeders' Cup
Juvenile, making him the favorite for the 1999 Kentucky Derby.
It does not show that the two best 2-year-olds to run at
Churchill on Saturday were not even in the race. The Iroquois
Stakes matched Exploit and Crowning Storm, colts too lightly
raced to get into the Juvenile but perhaps the best youngsters
out of California. Or maybe anywhere. Exploit beat Crowning
Storm by 2 1/4 lengths in what may well be a Run for the Roses
Catching Up With...
CIGAR'S GRASS ISN'T SO GREEN
Standing in the middle of the five-acre field, nibbling a
browning rug of grass, the 8-year-old horse looked as trim and
handsome as he did in the days when he was the dominant racehorse
on the planet. It was just past 2 p.m. on Nov. 4 at Watercress
Farm in Paris, Ky., and the manager of the spread, Aaron Delgado,
was beckoning him over for a visit. Cigar lifted his nose,
smelling for the peppermint that he knew Delgado had, and began
the long walk toward the fence, ears pricked forward, head
bobbing, black mane blowing in the wind. "He's a very nice
horse," said Delgado, as Cigar grabbed the candy. "And he's doing
Three years ago, as he swept to victory in the Breeders' Cup
Classic, the bay was in the middle of a 16-race winning streak
that would tie Citation's record for consecutive victories. When
he won the Dubai World Cup in March 1996, he received a
tumultuous ovation as he entered a winner's circle filled with
Arab sheiks and racing princes. Now Cigar spends most of his
waking hours alone in that field and his nights in a barn lined
with stalls filled with pregnant mares, like a palace eunuch
watching over a harem.
Cigar has undergone a variety of therapies for the last 19
months, but he remains as sterile as he was the day he began
standing at stud in 1997. His owner, Allen Paulson, had sold 75%
of the horse to Irish interests (as a breeding stallion) for $25
million, but when Cigar proved infertile, they collected on a $25
million insurance claim. The insurance company suddenly owned
controlling interest in the horse and sent him to Watercress.
Paulson says he is considering buying back the horse, but for
now, one of the greatest thoroughbreds of modern times grazes in
a pasture and every once in a while breaks into a sprint, his
legs churning, his hooves pounding the ground and his neck
stretched out as if he were back in Dubai, but with only the
rustle of leaves for applause.
COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES Swain (left) and Silver Charm opened up a clear path to the wire for Awesome Again (right). [Horses Swain, Silver Charm and Awesome Again in race]
COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON A star of Cigar's magnitude doesn't deserve to be put out to a lonely pasture. [Horse Cigar]