Stars of Yesterday: Looking Back at Best Arkansas Derby Winners
Goldikova, a three-time Breeders' Cup Mile winner and two-time Eclipse Award winner, died on Jan. 6, 2021, at age 16. America's Best Racing is sharing a profile of the Irish-bred superstar written prior to her induction into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 2017.
The physical package was not one that inspired awe. However, the attitude that came with it might as well have been on a billboard proclaiming the benefits of brute force.
To know Goldikova was to know better. Indistinct as her bay appearance was, it housed a hickory constitution that spent five seasons carving out a career for the ages. And if one thought she was vicious to those paying her kindnesses around her stall, her pinned ears were never more fierce than when they flattened against her head during one of the 17 stretch runs that left opposition of either sex defeated.
She made four appearances in the United States during her 27-race career, three of which followed the daughter of Anabaa’s no-nonsense script: get the glory, make history, and leave those who witnessed wondering what had just hit them.
It is fitting that Goldikova is the only equine inductee in the contemporary category for the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame 2017 class, because she made a habit out of making her presence the overwhelming one. Based in Europe and conditioned by former champion jockey-turned-trainer Freddie Head, Goldikova raced from 2007 to 2011 and amassed 14 Grade/Group 1 victories — a record among European-based fillies and mares — including nine wins against males.
North American race fans best know Alain and Gerard Wertheimers' homebred mare as the only horse to win three consecutive Breeders’ Cup races. She captured the Mile in 2008, 2009, and 2010, and her last two World Championship victories resulted in Eclipse Award honors as champion turf female.
The regular rider for two-time Breeders’ Cup Mile heroine and fellow Hall of Famer Miesque, Head was well versed in the art of being associated with a distaffer who defied superlatives. When Goldikova bettered champion Gio Ponti in the 2010 Mile, Head sat at the Churchill Downs podium absent of the right words in any language to describe his fortune of overseeing another standard bearer of sustained excellence.
“I think, really, my English is not good enough, and ... I’ve got so many things coming up to my mind right now that it’s a thing I can’t realize,” Head said. “Winning for the third time at Churchill after winning with Miesque, the first filly to win back-to-back Breeders’ Cup Miles. And this time we win it for the third time. It’s something unreal.
“I think [Goldikova] has everything an athlete can have. I mean, she’s got tremendous nerves. She’s very cool. She’s got great speed. She’s very fast, and she can carry that speed for a long time. She’s a real fighter. She’s extraordinary.”
Goldikova’s lack of physical imposition was about her only aspect that could be labeled a deficit. She didn’t make her debut until September 2007 and promptly rattled off two open-length wins at Chantilly, her only juvenile starts.
After taking a different path from the brilliant undefeated filly Zarkava during her sophomore season, she broke through with a victory in the Group 3 Prix Chloe in 2008, which set the stage for her first top-level score in that year’s Prix Rothschild.
What made Goldikova the queen of the turf mile ranks from that point on was that — for all her ornery ways — she was a most agreeable partner on the track. She could beat you in any manner of her choosing, something she was kind enough to demonstrate in each of her Breeders’ Cup scores. In 2008, she rated just behind pacesetter Thorn Song before accelerating from between horses in the final 200 yards at Santa Anita Park. The following year, she rallied from next to last on the Santa Anita course to defend her crown by a half-length, and for her final Breeders’ Cup win, she struck the happy medium of racing midpack at Churchill Downs.
What rarely changed was the tremendous gear she would shift into during the final furlong. When given the cue from jockey Olivier Peslier, Goldikova could separate from her rivals in just a few strides and was exceptionally powerful on firmer ground.
“She can always change gears and finishes faster than the others,” Head said. “You can do a lot of things with her. As long as she’s got enough pace, you can do whatever you want. That’s very, very special. In my riding career, I haven’t ridden a horse with such versatility.”
Worse than third only once in her career, Goldikova captured the Prix Rothschild an unprecedented four consecutive times from 2008 through 2011.
Her final Prix Rothschild triumph in 2011 also marked her final victory. Back under the twin spires that November for a fourth try in the Breeders’ Cup Mile, Goldikova briefly kicked to the lead in midstretch before she was overtaken in the late running by an upset-minded Court Vision and runner-up Turallure.
Producing an equal to herself would mean she again achieved the improbable, but Goldikova’s broodmare days have already stamped her a success on that front. Her daughter Terrakova, by Galileo, scored Group 3 success at Saint-Cloud in May and finished third in the Prix de Diane Longines (French Oaks) in June.
In a turf mile division that has produced a parade of runners that stand among the sport’s all-timers, the plain bay girl with a snarl to her game left a clear-cut mark at every turn.
“When she started winning ... I think that was important to try to make history to have a horse that can win three times the same race,” Alain Wertheimer said after the 2010 Breeders’ Cup. “That would be something very, very difficult to beat. Since we’ve had horses for almost 100 years, that’s part of the thing which was amusing.”