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Top 10 Breeders' Cup moments

10/29/2012

The Breeders' Cup never lets you down. You may walk away from the two-day event with less money in your pocket, but never without memories and thrills. Entering its 29th year, it has produced dozens of moments that rank among the most pulsating in racing history.

From someone who has covered all but two Breeders' Cups, here are my 10 most memorable moments:

1. 1988 Distaff (Personal Ensign): Only twice in my life have I literally been shaking after a horse race. The first was when Affirmed beat Alydar in the 1978 Belmont, the other on a miserable wet day at Churchill Downs when Personal Ensign miraculously ran down Winning Colors in the final strides of the 1988 Distaff. One win away from retiring with an undefeated record, victory seemed impossible as she spun her wheels in the Churchill mud and was not making up any ground on the Kentucky Derby winner. Somehow, she summoned the will to win. For a moment you actually believed that Personal Ensign understood what was at stake and realized that losing was unacceptable.

2. The 2010 Classic (Blame): Though Zenyatta's fans were bitterly disappointed that their heroine lost, even they had to take some solace in the fact they had just seen one of the most thrilling horse races ever. The race had all the elements: boy vs. girl, a wild late charge from a horse that seemed hopelessly beaten three furlongs from the wire, an undefeated record on the line, $5 million up for grabs. There may have been a loser, but both horses performed like the champions they were.

3. 1991 Juvenile (Arazi): Arazi will go down as one of the great disappointments in racing history, but his struggles as a 3-year-old cannot take anything away from perhaps the most electric flash of speed ever seen in racing. In an eighth of a mile he blew past 12 horses, prompting a shocked Tom Durkin to call out, "And Arazi runs right by them."

4. 1989 Classic (Sunday Silence): The last great rivalry in racing, Sunday Silence and Easy Goer would, once and for all, prove who the better horse was. After a classic Triple Crown, Easy Goer had won the latest round, winning the Belmont in a knockout and the betting public made him the 1-2 Classic favorite. Sunday Silence looked to have the race in the bag turning for home, but Easy Goer waged a furious late rally that fell just short.

5. 010 Mile (Goldikova): It had never been done before and may not ever be done again. Goldikova will forever be one of the greatest performers in Breeders' Cup history, and she put the exclamation point on the end of her career with an historic third straight win in the Breeders' Cup Mile. Her burst of acceleration was remarkable.

6. 2009 Classic (Zenyatta): Only a narrow favorite at 5-2, Zenyatta had to prove that she could beat males after routinely thrashing members of her own division. As was her custom, she lagged behind, seemingly disinterested, but took off like shot out of a cannon as Trevor Denman made the dramatic staccato call, "This is Un-Bee-Leeee-Vaaa-Bulll."

7. 1987 Classic (Ferdinand): Two great riders -- Shoemaker and McCarron -- and two Kentucky Derby winners -- Ferdinand and Alyshaba -- and all that separated them at the wire was a mere nose.

8. 1984 Classic (Wild Again): No one knew quite what to expect when the Breeders' Cup had its inaugural running in 1984, and some were suspect that the concept would work. But when Wild Again, Gate Dancer and Slew O'Gold battled to the wire in the first ever Classic the event was made. Anything that could produce thrills like this was a keeper.

9. 2001 Classic (Tiznow): No horse had ever won the Classic in successive years and Tiznow wasn't supposed to do it either. He was third in the Goodwood in his final Classic prep and was sent off at 6-1. He came to run that day at Belmont Park, but so did European invader Sakhee. In a long and dramatic drive, Tiznow prevailed to win by a nose.

10. 1995 Classic (Cigar): Eleven wins into a streak that would eventually stretch to 16 straight, Cigar had to contend with the mud and 10 rivals. But he came through, with style, wowing the hometown fans at Belmont Park with a 2 1/2-length win to conclude an undefeated year.

Honorable Mention: 1985 Turf (Pebbles); 2003 Turf (Johar-High Chaparral dead-heat); 1995 Distaff (Inside Information); 2011 Turf (St. Nicholas Abbey); 1993 Classic (Arcangues); 1998 Mile (Da Hoss).

Bill Finley is an award-winning racing writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated. Contact him at wnfinley@aol.com.