A moment that was truly a Classic

December, 28, 2013

There are moments in every year that stand out for their singular brilliance. Others are compelling for that spark which ignites a cascade of so many wonderful memories.

The 30th Breeders Cup Classic was that fragment of time in 2013 which produced, for me, racings most memorable scene of the past 12 months.

It was, simply put, a dazzling race. The years richest race, with Horse of the Year honors at stake, and three horses came charging to the wire, with just a nose and a head separating them at the finish line. Mucho Macho Man was the victor, by inches. Will Take Charge was the hard-luck runner-up, with a European, Declaration of War, settling for third.

It was as good and as exciting a finish as anyone could ask to see.

The storylines behind it were just as poignant. The winning trainer, Kathy Ritvo, had survived a heart transplant in 2008 to reach such an amazingly high pinnacle of success in her sport. The trainer of the runner-up was 78-year-old D. Wayne Lukas, who has amassed more earnings than any other trainer in the sports history. Yet this one loss moved him to say afterward that "It's just a heartbreak that he lost … How tough are these losses? Tough. That one ate me up. I realize the ups and downs of it better than probably most, but those are hard to take. This is the ultimate. Other than the Derby, this is the one you want. I thought we had a shot to get it today and just came up a jump short.

In 2013, the Breeders Cup has become a staple of the racing industry. Yet in 1984 it was an idea that seemed pure folly some five years earlier.

Yet for as magical and special as this moment in 2013 was, it also brought back the memories of a very similar day in 1984. For me, seeing the 30th Breeders Cup at Santa Anita resurrected images of watching the very first Breeders Cup Classic at Hollywood Park back in 1984.

Both took place on a sunny, vibrant day in California and generated a spectacular finish. Both capped an unforgettable day of racing, with one major difference.

In 2013, the Breeders Cup has become a staple of the racing industry. Yet in 1984 it was an idea that seemed pure folly some five years earlier. There was a widespread notion that it would never work or that enough corners of the sport would not make the sacrifices necessary to sustain it beyond a couple of editions.

Now, 30 years later, its nearly impossible to imagine racing without it, and that should serve as a lesson to todays industry leaders.

Racing has more than its fair share of problems, and many answers for them have been offered. In 2011, The Jockey Club released the McKinsey Report, which outlined a plan of attack for some of those ills and how to better promote the sport.

Some of the recommendations have been adopted, while others have generated the type of gridlock that has slowed the sports growth for years.

Every idea in the report may not be brilliant, but some, like uniform medication rules, fall into the same category as the Breeders Cup -- a proposal that met resistance when first proposed but decades later had people wondering how the sport survived without it.

Too often, some of racings most beneficial ideas -- like tracks and racing circuits working together to solve issues such as medication woes and cluttered stakes schedules -- are viewed as nothing more than daydreams. But the 1984 Breeders Cup Classic showed how the seemingly impossible can indeed become reality, and the 2013 Breeders Cup Classic illustrated the long-lasting benefits of having vision as well as the perseverance to continue moving forward in the face of resistance.

Who knows? Maybe in 2043, ideas that are scoffed at now may be mainstream elements of the sport.

If anyone has their doubts, just think about the 2013 Breeders Cup Classic, a moment that shined brighter than any other this year, for not one reason but for a myriad of them. What other moment brought together racings past, present and future in one neat and mesmerizing package?

• Bob Ehalt grew up a few furlongs from Belmont Park and has followed horse racing as a fan, turf writer or owner since 1971.
• Has won three Associated Press Sports Editors awards and was the recipient of the '09 Breeders' Cup media award for outstanding social media.



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