Breeders’ Cup Fantastic Finishes: Classic Duel of Derby Winners

Ferdinand, inside, and Alysheba, outside, duel to the finish line in the 1987 Breeders’ Cup Classic. (Anne Eberhardt/Blood-Horse)

The Breeders’ Cup World Championships headed into its fourth year of existence firmly established as a signature event to accompany the springtime Triple Crown, and in 1987 it returned to the track where it was launched in 1984, Hollywood Park in Los Angeles.

1987 Breeders’ Cup Classic

Date: Nov. 21, 1987

Venue: Hollywood Park

1st: Ferdinand

2nd: Alysheba

3rd: Judge Angelucci

Payouts: $4 to win, $3 to place, $2.60 to show; $5 exacta paid $34.50

Winning jockey: Bill Shoemaker

Winning trainer: Charles Whittingham

Winning owners: Howard and Libby Keck

Winning breeder: Howard Keck (Ky.)

The premier Breeders’ Cup race, the $3 million Classic, closed out the action on Nov. 21 with a marquee matchup that brought together the two most recent Kentucky Derby winners, 1986 victor Ferdinand and Alysheba, who captured the Derby and Preakness earlier in the year for owners Dorothy and Pam Scharbauer and trainer Jack Van Berg.

Ferdinand, a homebred of Howard and Libby Keck, had upset the ’86 Derby at 17.70-1 odds for legendary trainer Charlie Whittingham and jockey Bill Shoemaker, who became the oldest rider to win the Derby that year at age 54. The son of Nijinsky II raced competitively through the rest of the year and into early 1987 but entered the summer on a six-race losing streak before he turned it around with three straight wins in his home base of Southern California.

Alysheba, meanwhile, couldn’t complete the Triple Crown when fourth to rival Bet Twice in the Belmont Stakes, but was also on the upswing when he arrived at Hollywood Park coming off of a win in the Super Derby in Louisiana.

The ’87 Classic drew 12 starters overall but Ferdinand and Alysheba stood out, and that was reflected in their post-time odds of even money and 3.60-1, respectively. Both colts raced near the back of the field early as longshots Candi’s Gold and Judge Angelucci contested the pace through the first mile. By that point, Ferdinand had ranged up to third, with Alysheba not far behind in fifth.

Ferdinand joined the leaders in early stretch but did not forge ahead until just past the sixteenth pole, and by this time Alysheba was charging furiously to his outside.

The pair dueled to the finish, with Ferdinand prevailing by a nose. It was the third close call in the first four runnings of the Classic after Wild Again and Proud Truth both won by a head in 1984 and ’85.

Adding to his incredible legacy, with Ferdinand’s victory Shoemaker became the oldest jockey to win a Breeders’ Cup race at 56, a record that still stands. Ferdinand’s Classic win helped him earn Horse of the Year for 1987 and would be his final career victory, although he raced six more times in 1988. Alysheba’s best was yet to come, however. He raced nine times in 1988, winning six Grade 1 stakes and one Grade 2. His final Grade 1 win came in another memorable Breeders’ Cup Classic, held for the first time at Churchill Downs, where he gamely outdueled Seeking the Gold on a muddy track to prevail by a half-length. “America’s Horse” would cap his career with 1988 Horse of the Year honors.

newsletter sign-up

Stay up-to-date with the best from America's Best Racing!