Historical Look at the Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Santa Anita

Breeders’ Cup World Championships Santa Anita Park California racetrack horse racing Mandella Zenyatta Beholder Wise Dan Arrogate Groupie Doll Napravnik Lukas Mike Smith jockey trainer dead heat Johar High Chaparral California Chrome
Arrogate’s win over California Chrome in the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Classic is just one of many highlights from the event over the 10 prior times it’s been held at Santa Anita Park. (Eclipse Sportswire)

The Breeders’ Cup World Championships returns to Santa Anita Park for a record 11th time in 2023 as the two-day event returns to the picturesque Arcadia, Calif. venue for Future Stars Friday on Nov. 3 and Championship Saturday on Nov. 4.

From the first World Championships held at Santa Anita in 1986 to the biggest upset in the history of the event in 1993 to Richard Mandella Day in 2003 all the way through the most recent edition in 2019, Santa Anita has played host to some of the most unforgettable moments in Breeders’ Cup history. Let’s take a stroll down memory lane and remember the many highlights.

1986 Breeders’ Cup

The Breeders’ Cup first came to the Arcadia track in 1986 and to say it was a success would be an understatement as the event set a new record for attendance with 69,155 fans visiting Santa Anita on Nov. 1, 1986. The fans bet $15,410,409 on the day’s races, including $12,510,109 on Breeders’ Cup races alone, to set a North American single-day on-track handle record.

The event continued to flex its muscle as a championship event as five of the seven Breeders’ Cup winners took home Eclipse Awards: Capote won the Juvenile and was named 1986 champion 2-year-old male; Juvenile Fillies winner Brave Raj was named champion 2-year-old filly; Smile won the Breeders’ Cup Sprint and was named champion sprinter; Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Manila won the Eclipse Award as champion turf male; and Lady’s Secret won the Distaff en route to Horse of the Year and champion older female honors. Additionally, Turf third-place finisher Estrapade was named champion turf female and Classic runner-up Turkoman won champion older male.

1993 Breeders’ Cup

The Breeders’ Cup returned to Santa Anita for the second time on Nov. 6, 1993. The event drew a crowd of 55,130 as future Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella won two of the seven races and Lure won the Breeders’ Cup Mile for the second straight year. But the 1993 Breeders’ Cup is undoubtedly best remembered for the biggest upset in the history of the event, which still stands, when little-known European invader Arcangues won the Breeders’ Cup Classic under Jerry Bailey at 133.60-1 odds for a remarkable $2 win payout of $269.20. In fact, the average winning payout of $44.40 is the largest in Breeders’ Cup history almost entirely thanks to Arcangues.

Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Kotashaan, trained by Mandella, took home Eclipse Awards as Horse of the year and champion turf male.

2003 Breeders’ Cup

Santa Anita hosted its third Breeders’ Cup Oct. 25, 2003, and like Arcangues 10 years earlier the event generated a remarkable result as Richard Mandella saddled four winners on the eight-race card, a record that stands today even with the expansion of the event to two days and 14 races. The 51,648 fans in attendance watched as Mandella, who had been inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame two summers before in 2001, won the Juvenile Fillies with Halfbridled, the Juvenile with Action This Day, the Turf with Johar (who finished in a dead heat with High Chaparral), and the Classic with Pleasantly Perfect.

Another Hall of Famer, Julie Krone, became the first woman to ride a Breeders’ Cup winner when she guided Halfbridled to victory from the outside post in the 14-horse field for the Juvenile Fillies.

The 2003 Breeders’ Cup Turf delivered one of the most thrilling finishes in the history of the World Championships as the lone dead heat for first in the history of the event after Johar, High Chapparal, and Falbrav battled through the final strides. A 13-minute stewards review of the photo finish ensued before the race officially was declared a dead heat between Johar and High Chapparal with Falbrav a head back in third. High Chaparral’s jockey, Mick Kinane, told BloodHorse, “I thought the judge was on a tea break, but I knew it was very close. And then the longer it went, well I said, ‘Half a loaf is better than no fish, you know.’”

2008 Breeders’ Cup

The great Goldikova in 2008. (Eclipse Sportswire)

In February 2008, it was announced that for the first time in history, the World Championships would be held at the same site for two consecutive years: Santa Anita Park. The Arcadia venue hosted the event’s 25th anniversary on Friday, Oct. 24 and Saturday, Oct. 25 – which marked the first time the Breeders’ Cup was held at a site with an all-weather main track – and also was selected to host the 2009 Breeders’ Cup.

The first of the back-to-back events at Santa Anita did not disappoint as a then-record 86,588 fans attended the two days, and future Hall of Famer Zenyatta extended her unbeaten record to nine with a win in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic to anchor Friday’s card.

Midnight Lute won the Sprint for the second straight year on Oct. 25, but Breeders’ Cup Saturday was dominated by European invaders who won five of the nine races. Rising star Goldikova secured her first of three straight wins in the Breeders’ Cup Mile and Raven’s Pass won the Breeders’ Cup Classic at 13.50-1 odds with reigning Horse of the Year Curlin finishing fourth as the international contingent dominated.

2009 Breeders’ Cup

The 2009 World Championships on Nov. 6-7 generated a new two-day record attendance of 96,496, sparked in large part by the tremendous interest in unbeaten superstar Zenyatta’s bid to become the first female winner of the Breeders’ Cup Classic. “Queen Z” carried a 13-race unbeaten streak into the 2009 Classic and electrified the 58,845 in attendance with a last-to-first rally to win by a length under Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, improving to 14 wins without a defeat.

Goldikova won the Breeders’ Cup Mile for the second straight year and Conduit was a repeat victor in the Turf – but make no mistake, the 2009 Breeders’ Cup will always be remembered for Zenyatta’s captivating Classic victory.

2012 Breeders’ Cup

Horse of the Year Wise Dan in 2012. (Eclipse Sportswire)

The Breeders’ Cup started a run of three straight World Championships at Santa Anita Park in in 2012 with a two-day event on Nov. 2-3 that served as a reminder that a couple of Thoroughbred racing legends still had plenty of petrol left in the tank.

On Breeders’ Cup Friday, Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas earned his 19th win at the World Championships when Hightail prevailed in the Juvenile Sprint, extending his record as the all-time winningest trainer in Breeders’ Cup history.

Likewise, jockey Mike Smith became the winningest jockey in Breeders’ Cup history when he guided Royal Delta to her second straight victory in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic. That was Smith’s 16th World Championships win, passing fellow Hall of Famer Jerry Bailey, and he would add his 17th Breeders’ Cup win on Saturday when he rode Mizdirection to victory in the Turf Sprint.

Neither Lukas nor Smith was done yet, however, as both had chapters left to write in the Breeders’ Cup history books, while Wise Dan was also authoring a Hall of Fame career and nailed down the first of his two wins in the Breeders’ Cup Mile on the way to 2012 Horse of the Year honors.

2013 Breeders’ Cup

Groupie Doll (Eclipse Sportswire)

The two-day World Championships on Nov. 1-2 was highlighted by an impressive cast of repeat Breeders’ Cup winners and another memorable weekend for jockey Mike Smith, who won his second Bill Shoemaker Award as Outstanding Breeders’ Cup Jockey with three wins to bring his record total to 20. One of Smith’s wins came aboard a horses he also guided to victory in 2012 as Mizdirection repeated in the 2013 Turf Sprint.

Mizdirection was one of four winners from the 2012 World Championships to strike again in 2013. Beholder won the Juvenile Fillies in 2012 and came back on Breeders’ Cup Friday in 2013 as a 3-year-old to defeat older females in the Distaff. On Saturday, Groupie Doll scored a repeat victory in the Filly and Mare Sprint and Wise Dan won the Mile by three-quarters of a length on his way to a second straight Eclipse Award as Horse of the Year.

2014 Breeders’ Cup

For the first time in event history, the Breeders’ Cup World Championships were held at the same venue for the third straight year. Breeders’ Cup Friday was highlighted by an unforgettable moment as jockey Rosie Napravnik guided Untapable to victory in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff and then revealed to her mother in front of a national audience that she was expecting her first child and retiring from her career as a professional rider.

It didn’t take long for the action to heat up on Breeders’ Cup Saturday as front-running Take Charge Brandi struck at 61-1 odds to give D. Wayne Lukas his record-extending 20th win at the World Championships and make the 79-year-old the oldest trainer in history to win a Breeders’ Cup race. Main Sequence completed an undefeated season with a victory in the Longines Breeders’ Cup turf en route to Eclipse Awards as champion older male and champion turf male as Santa Anita drew 98,319 fans for the two-day event.

2016 Breeders’ Cup

Beholder (outside) defeats Songbird. (Eclipse Sportswire)

After a year in Lexington for the first-ever Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland, the World Championships returned in record-setting fashion to Santa Anita Park as a crowd of 45,673 set the record for the largest attending a Breeders’ Cup Friday that stands today. Saturday was just as highly anticipated as 72,811 fans streamed into Santa Anita, the most for a Saturday since the format was switched to a two-day event, resulting in the largest two-day attendance total, 118,484, in Breeders’ Cup history.

More history was made on the racetrack as jockey Mike Smith won the Dirt Mile on Friday with Tamarkuz and then both the Filly and Mare Sprint aboard Finest City and the Classic on Arrogate to extend his record for wins in the Breeders’ Cup to 25. Arrogate’s Classic win over eventual Horse of the Year California Chrome was the third straight for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert and Smith took home the Bill Shoemaker Award as outstanding Breeders’ Cup jockey. Tourist set a Breeders’ Cup record in the Mile, completing the distance in 1:31.71 to defeat 2015 winner Tepin, and Queen’s Trust won the 1 ¼-mile Filly and Mare Turf in a record time of 1:57.75. And in one of the most exciting finishes in Breeders’ Cup history, Beholder captured her third World Championships race in her career finale, edging previously undefeated Songbird by a nose in the Distaff after a stretch-long duel.

2019 Breeders’ Cup

Vino Rosso wins the Classic. (Eclipse Sportswire)

The 36th Breeders’ Cup World Championships drew 109,054 fans for the two-day event that kicked off on “Future Stars Friday” with a massive upset in the TVG Juvenile as 45.90-1 bomb Storm the Court held off 28-1 Anneau d’Or with 39.10-1 Wrecking Crew third in a result that lit up the toteboard. In addition to a $93.80 winner, the exacta in the Juvenile returned $976.40 for a $2 bet and the $ 2 trifecta paid $7,861. The Pick 4 payout for the sequence culminating with the Juvenile paid $18,171.65 for a 50-cent wager while the Pick 5 returned an astounding $45,997.70.

Breeders’ Cup Saturday was highlighted by a parade of star performances as Covfefe won the Filly and Mare Sprint en route to the Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old filly and female sprinter while Mitole rolled in the Sprint on his way to an Eclipse Award as champion sprinter. Uni prevailed in the Filly and Mare Turf and was honored as champion turf female while Classic winner Vino Rosso took home the Eclipse Award as champion older male. However, the highlight of Breeders’ Cup Saturday was Bricks and Mortar edging United by a head in the Turf to cap a 5-for-5 season that resulted in Eclipse Awards as champion turf male and Horse of the Year.

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