There was excitement and uncertainty entering the inaugural Breeders’ Cup in 1984, but the initial championship had exceeded the hype even before it came to an unforgettable conclusion when three tenacious racehorses rumbled toward the Breeders’ Cup Classic finish line unwilling to give an inch.
1984 Breeders’ Cup Classic
The card at Hollywood Park featured a dominant seven-length romp by superstar Princess Rooney in the Distaff to close her Hall of Fame career and a fourth Grade 1 win of season for Chief’s Crown in the Juvenile to cap a championship season. Fans watched the disqualification of a 74.80-1 bomb in Fran’s Valentine in the Juvenile Fillies to elevate 22.90-1 winner Outstandingly to victory as well as a pair of thrilling finishes with Eillo edging Commemorate by a nose in the Sprint and Lashkari defeating All Along by a neck in the Turf in a 53.40-1 upset.
Really, what more could you hope for in the inaugural Breeders’ Cup? How about a wild finish?
The Classic was expected to be a coronation of sorts for 1983 champion 3-year-old male Slew o’ Gold, who was a perfect 5-for-5 in 1984 entering the Classic and looked like he already had the older male Eclipse Award wrapped up after winning the Grade 1 Whitney and sweeping New York’s Fall Championship Series of the Woodward, Marlboro Cup, and Jockey Club Gold Cup. But Slew o’ Gold was far from perfect physically entering what would be the final start of his career as he had issues with both front feet. “He never missed a work, but he was not always just right,” said Dr. Judd Butler, who was called in to patch Slew o’ Gold.
Meanwhile, 4-year-old Wild Again had won the Grade 1 Meadowlands Cup in September for trainer Vincent Timphony and finished third in an allowance race 12 days before the Classic, but he needed to be supplemented to the Breeders’ Cup for $360,000 by owners Bill Allen, Terry Beal, and Ron Volkman.
Considering the winner’s share of the purse was $1,350,000, that was a heck of a gamble. Asked about it before the inaugural Breeders’ Cup, Allen told the New York Times, “Vince and I don’t mind [betting].” And Allen reportedly bet $3,000 on Wild Again in the Classic.
That year’s Preakness winner, Gate Dancer, also would have a say in the outcome entering off back-to-back wins in the Ak-Sar-Ben Omaha Gold Cup and Grade 1 Super Derby.
Mugatea jumped alertly from the starting gate to take command but Wild Again – ridden by replacement rider Pat Day after Track Barron was rerouted from the Sprint to the Classic and regular rider Eddie Maple committed to ride him instead for Leroy Jolley – came through from between horses to set the pace through a blistering opening half-mile in 45 3/5 seconds.
Slew o’ Gold made an early move on the backstretch to challenge Wild Again while Gate Dancer swept up to join them near the eighth pole.
Wild Again dug in about as gamely as a racehorse can and just would not let Slew o’ Gold past on his outside as they bumped several times in early stretch. Gate Dancer then lugged in on Slew o’ Gold and forced him into Wild Again, who simply would not be denied despite the bumpy final strides in a dramatic three-horse battle through the Hollywood Park stretch.
Wild Again held off Gate Dancer by a head with Slew o’ Gold another half-length back, but all three stewards agreed after the race that the late contact was initiated by Gate Dancer, who was disqualified and placed third.
Wild Again paid $64.60 to win, which no doubt helped ease the cost to supplement.
“We thought he’d win it, or we wouldn’t have put up the money,” Allen told BloodHorse. “There was no hesitation. If you’re going to be in racing, and you have one of the best horses in the U.S., you should run in it.”
Not everyone agreed. Two days after the Classic win in a restaurant in Philadelphia, Allen was asked, “Aren’t you the crazy guy who bet that $360,000 in California?”
A wild gamble indeed!