This weekend marks 20 years since one of the greatest upsets of all time in the sport of horse racing. It happened during the 1993 Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita, which will play host to the event again this weekend.
A horse from France showed up in California, ran on dirt for the first time and won the Breeders' Cup Classic at astronomical odds. As a result of his victory, every foreigner who has run in the Breeders' Cup since has been given a second glance. Just in case.
When foreign runners take on a dirt race at the Breeders' Cup, it tends to garner both respect and doubt.
When Arcangues lined up in the Classic in 1993, he was dismissed at odds of 133-1. You read that correctly. One hundred and thirty-three to one. Happily, horses can't read toteboards, and the French invader won easy as you please by two lengths. A simple $2 win wager returned a $269.20 payoff, which remains a Breeders' Cup record.
Of course, 20 years ago things were a little different. Social media, the 24-hour news cycle and the freakish speed of communication we all take for granted did not exist. If you wanted to learn something, it was a little harder. It took more time. And there were a lot of other horses to focus on at the Breeders' Cup.
For all that, Arcangues wasn't a total fluke. He was a Group 1 winner in France earlier in the year, and he was a well bred horse. That was all dismissed though, probably because he had never run on dirt before, and few realized he actually had as decent a chance as any.
European horses run primarily on grass, which is vastly different than America's preference for dirt racing. So, when foreign runners take on a dirt race at the Breeders' Cup, it tends to garner both respect and doubt. There is no real way to know if a horse will take to a different surface than the one on which they have previously excelled. Training over it is one thing, but running over it is another.
Two decades removed from Arcangues, this issue of wondering if talent can transcend surface is still being debated when it comes to the Classic. This year's subject of conversation is the vastly talented Declaration of War, who races for Coolmore.
He is a multiple Group 1 winner, and one of his claims to fame is winning the Queen Anne during Royal Ascot this summer. Ironically in that race, Kentucky Derby and Dubai World Cup victor, Animal Kingdom, was trying to take one for America but failed. Now, many are wondering if Declaration of War can win America's richest race for Europe.
On Thursday morning, Declaration of War made an appearance on the track at Santa Anita and he drew plenty of attention. If looks won races, it would be tough to bet against him. He is one of those horses that you know is a nice horse even if you don't know who you are looking at.
Although Declaration of War is one of Europe's top runners to come over for this edition of the Breeders' Cup, he was actually born and bred in the United States before leaving to race overseas. His mother, Tempo West, is a half-sister to 2012 Belmont Stakes winner Union Rags, and his father, War Front, is a very popular young stallion. In fact, 2010 Classic heroine Zenyatta is expecting a foal by War Front in 2014.
The pedigree and ability are there. The question mark is simply if he can run on dirt. Trainer Aidan O'Brien reveled that Declaration of War had been shipped to Southwell Racecourse in England to work before coming to the U.S. This means he got experience over a Fibresand surface, which is a mixture of sand and wispy fibers. O'Brien also revealed he felt it was a more impressive work than a similar one put in by Giant's Causeway, who almost won the 2000 Classic for Coolmore but lost in an epic photo finish to Tiznow.
Another European invader who has cameras and eyes following them whereever they go is the filly The Fugue, who looks to beat the boys in the $3 million Breeders' Cup Turf. She comes into the race off a comfortable win over males in the Group 1 Irish Champion Stakes in September.
A strikingly pretty filly, The Fugue is owned by none other than Andrew Lloyd Webber. She is also known for being "that super unlucky filly in the Filly & Mare Turf" last year. It is a race reply worth watching if you haven't seen it. Zagora ultimately won the race but no one can deny that The Fugue had incredibly bad racing luck. She was blocked in much of the race, and if she could have climbed over horses to get in front of them, she would have.
For longtime fans of the Breeders' Cup, make sure to take a look at Romantica in the Filly & Mare Turf. Regally bred doesn't even begin to describe her pedigree, as she is a daughter of the world's leading sire Galileo and champion racemare Banks Hill.
In 2001, Banks Hill won the Filly & Mare Turf, and she finished second in the race the following year. Her sister Intercontinental would win the race in 2005. Their mother, Hasili, is one of the most revered broodmares of all time, as she is the first Northern Hemisphere broodmare to produce five Group/Grade 1 winners. In other words, Romantica is bred for this race, and it would be historically significant if she won it.
A youngster who has created a lot of interest this week is the gray colt Outstrip, who is set to run in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf. His mother, Asi Siempre, was a popular runner in the United States, but was sent overseas as a broodmare. Outstrip has shown talent so far in his juvenile campaign and might be a fun one to watch going forward.
There are far more foreign-based runners than the ones named here, and if it is a turf race, you probably can't go wrong if you like one of them to win. No matter what, each of their connections who opted to participate in the Breeders' Cup deserves a big round of applause for sending them over.
California is a long way from home, but the event is vastly enhanced by having foreign competitors. After all, could you imagine Breeders' Cup lore without Arcangues in it?
Amanda Duckworth is a freelance journalist who lives in Lexington, Ky. Among her other duties, she is an editor for Gallop Magazine. Write to her at email@example.com.