The 2023 Breeders’ Cup World Championships marks the 39th year the best Thoroughbreds in North America meet up to compete in races that usually determine divisional championships at the Eclipse Awards.
Often, they are joined by some of the best racehorses from overseas as well, especially in turf races. With a preponderance of elite racing talent assembled, year-in year-out, one of the most exciting elements of the Breeders’ Cup from a fan’s and a handicapper’s perspective is watching (and hopefully cashing in on) the inevitable upsets that occur.
Only in the Breeders’ Cup do horses that have won multiple Grade 1 races go off as hefty longshots when the starting gates open. Every year, at least one or two improbable winners will elicit questions such as “how did they get overlooked?” or “where did that horse come from?” and those moments are what make the Breeders’ Cup such a special event. Just think back to 2017 when Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup card started off with wins by Caledonia Road ($36.60), Stormy Liberal ($62.40), and Bar of Gold ($135.40).
So, before the entries are announced for this year's World Championships at Santa Anita Park on Nov. 3-4 and everyone delves deep into the past performances with final-exam focus, let’s look back at a baker’s dozen of the most memorable upset wins in Breeders’ Cup history.
** This article was originally published in 2018 and has been updated **
14. Sheikh Albadou, 1991 Breeders’ Cup Sprint
This race’s presence here owes more to whom European invader Sheikh Albadou defeated than to his 26.30-1 odds. Housebuster had already been voted champion sprinter in 1990, and entered the 1991 Sprint at Churchill Downs as a heavy favorite due to his 4-2-0 record in seven starts that year, with his only poor effort coming when stretched out in distance in the Met Mile. But Housebuster broke poorly in the Sprint at odds of 2-5 before recovering to take a brief lead in early stretch, and when Sheikh Albadou engaged him at the eighth pole, the champion had little left. Sheikh Albadou drew clear under a hand ride from Pat Eddery and romped by three lengths over late-arriving Pleasant Tap, who would be voted champion older male in 1992. “I couldn’t believe how easy he was going,” Eddery said afterward. Housebuster faded to ninth, but repeated as champion sprinter at the 1991 Eclipse Awards and entered the Hall of Fame in 2013.
13. Cash Run, 1999 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies
The 1999 Juvenile Fillies at Gulfstream Park brought together highly regarded Chilukki, winner of six in a row to begin her career for Bob Baffert, including five graded stakes, and the D. Wayne Lukas-trained Surfside, winner of the Grade 1 Frizette Stakes, in a highly-anticipated matchup. Instead, it was the other Lukas-trained filly, 32.50-1 Cash Run, who stole the show with a gritty 1 ¼-length win over 3-2 favorite Chilukki, with 5-2 Surfside closing to get third. Cash Run had won two of four starts and finished third in the Grade 2 Alcibiades Stakes at Keeneland for Padua Stables, but gave a career-best effort in the Juvenile Fillies with Jerry Bailey aboard, responding gamely when headed by Chilukki on the far turn to win the stretch battle. She would go on to win two more graded stakes early in her 3-year-old season before going winless in her final eight starts. Chilukki was voted champion 2-year-old filly of 1999, and Surfside champion 3-year-old filly a year later.
12. Caravel, 2023 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint
A full field of 14 lined up for last year’s Turf Sprint at Keeneland, including six runners shipping in from Europe. Even with that level of international firepower, it was a U.S.-based runner that was sent off as the heavy favorite … and it was a U.S.-based filly who pulled off the upset, defeating “the boys.”
Wesley Ward-trained Golden Pal was sent off at 1.32-1 odds in the 5 ½-furlong Turf Sprint based on a career résumé that included a win on the course and at the distance in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint in 2020 and a 1 ¼-length score in the BC Turf Sprint at Del Mar in 2021. He had won three of four starts in 2022 leading into his repeat bid, the only blemish a last-place finish in the King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot after he missed the break, rushed up to compensate, and then faded.
Caravel, a Mizzen Mast mare trained by Brad Cox, had amassed 11 wins through nearly three seasons of racing, nine of them stakes victories, including a last-out score over fellow females in the Franklin Stakes at Keeneland. However, she had also finished 12th, defeated 9 ½ lengths by Golden Pal, in the 2021 Turf Sprint and therefore carried odds of 42.89-1 when the starting gates opened in Race 4 on World Championships Saturday.
Unfortunately for Golden Pal, his Royal Ascot troubles surfaced yet again, as he started slow and was unable to secure his usual prominent early position. Caravel, meanwhile, broke sharply and was able to clear her inside foes from the 10th post position under Tyler Gaffalione. She set a solid early pace with modest pressure from U.S. stakes winner Arrest Me Red but shook clear in early stretch and then held off bids from European invaders Emaraaty Ana and Creative Force to prevail by a half-length. Golden Pal never threatened and finished 10th in his final career start, and Caravel is on path for her own repeat try in the Turf Sprint this year.
11. Adoration, 2003 Breeders’ Cup Distaff
Juddmonte Farms’ Sightseek had the spotlight entering the 2003 Distaff at Santa Anita Park, having won four consecutive Grade 1 stakes. Puzzlingly, she failed to fire at 3-5 odds, finishing a distant fourth. The David Hofmans-trained Adoration, on the other hand, moved immediately to the front under Pat Valenzuela and kept six challengers at bay throughout, pulling away to a 4 ½-length romp at odds of 40.70-1. Her win was the second of three Breeders’ Cup victories for Hofmans to date – the other two were longshots as well, Alphabet Soup (19.85-1) in the 1996 Classic and Desert Code (36.50-1) in the 2008 inaugural Turf Sprint.
10. Lashkari, 1984 Breeders’ Cup Turf
One of the biggest upsets in Breeders’ Cup history occurred during the inaugural World Championships in 1984 at Hollywood Park, when France-based, English-bred Lashkari rallied through the stretch to edge Hall of Fame racemare All Along by a neck at odds of 53.40-1. The Aga Khan’s 3-year-old son of Mill Reef entered the Breeders’ Cup off of a win in a Group 2 stakes at Longchamp. He defeated a stellar field, including 1983 Horse of the Year All Along, winner of that year’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and three Grade 1 races in North America. Lashkari won one of four races in 1985 leading up to the second Breeders’ Cup at Aqueduct. There, in his final career start, he finished fourth but was disqualified from purse money after a medication violation was discovered.
9. Shared Account, 2010 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf
After winning the 2009 Filly and Mare Turf, Juddmonte Farms’ Midday went 3-for-4 in Europe with one second (all three wins in Group 1 stakes) before shipping back to the U.S. for the 2010 Filly and Mare Turf at Churchill Downs. She was sent off as the 9-to-10 favorite in a race where several high-quality turf distaffers were overlooked by bettors. One of those was Sagamore Farm’s Shared Account, a two-time graded stakes winner who had also finished second in three Grade 1s during 2009-’10 for trainer Graham Motion. In a thrilling race, Shared Account, who saved ground throughout under an expert ride from Edgar Prado, defeated Midday by a neck at odds of 46-1, with 31.70-1 longshot Keertana another neck back in third. It was Motion’s second Breeders’ Cup win at the time; his first was also an upset, when Better Talk Now defeated champion Kitten’s Joy at odds of 27.90-1 in the 2004 Turf.
8. Volponi, 2002 Breeders’ Cup Classic
A well-matched 12-horse field clashed in the 2002 Classic at Arlington Park, featuring the likes of 2002 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner War Emblem, Jockey Club Gold Cup winner and iron horse Evening Attire, European Group 1-winning invader Hawk Wing, and Travers Stakes winner Medaglia d’Oro. On the other hand, Volponi had gone 2-for-7 in ’02 prior to the Breeders’ Cup and had done his best running on turf for Hall of Fame trainer P.G. Johnson. The end result was one few could have envisioned, as Volponi stalked from fifth through the first six furlongs before moving up through the far turn and then powering clear under Jose Santos to win by 6 ½ lengths over favorite Medaglia d’Oro. Volponi’s 43.50-1 odds represent the second-highest among all Breeders’ Cup Classic winners, bumping inaugural 1984 Classic winner Wild Again (31.30-1) to third place. His win also proved to be the undoing of a trio of conspirators, including a rogue Autotote employee, who had attempted to manipulate the tote system in order to take down the Pick 6 only to be discovered due to their improbable final ticket.
7. One Dreamer, 1994 Breeders’ Cup Distaff
Three fillies were sent off at odds of 2.10-1 or lower in a loaded 1994 Distaff at Churchill Downs – Ogden Phipps’ champion 3-year-old filly Heavenly Prize, champion older female and eventual Hall of Famer Sky Beauty, and 1993 champion 3-year-old filly and Distaff winner Hollywood Wildcat. Meanwhile, Glen Hill Farm’s One Dreamer entered the Distaff off of a third-place finish in a turf stakes at Dueling Grounds in south-central Kentucky (now Kentucky Downs). That being said, the gray daughter of Relaunch had plenty of talent, as she’d gone 11-for-24 up to the Breeders’ Cup, and in Louisville she reunited with Gary Stevens, who rode her to a pace-setting victory in a Grade 2 stakes at Churchill a year earlier. In the Distaff, horse and jockey employed the same tactics again, shooting out to the early lead, setting comfortable fractions, and then going all out in the stretch to hold off a game Heavenly Prize by a neck at odds of 47.10-1. That performance, which inspired one of announcer Tom Durkin’s many classic race calls, was One Dreamer’s last career race before she was retired to Leonard Lavin’s Florida farm.
6. Spain, 2000 Breeders’ Cup Distaff
The 2000 Distaff was also held at Churchill Downs and featured both 1999 Distaff winner Beautiful Pleasure and a heavy favorite in 2-5 Riboletta, a Brazilian import who had won seven of 10 races in 2000, including five Grade 1 stakes. Riboletta would win the Eclipse Award as champion older female in 2000, but she threw in a clunker in the Distaff, fading to seventh in the nine-horse field. The winner was 55.90-1 Spain, owned by Prince Ahmed bin Salman’s The Thoroughbred Corp. and trained by Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas. The epitome of a hard-trying racemare, Spain would retire at the end of 2002 having won nine of 35 starts, with nine seconds and seven thirds and more than $3.5 million in earnings. She nearly scored a repeat win in the 2001 Distaff, losing by a head to Unbridled Elaine, and fetched $5.3 million as a broodmare at the 2002 Keeneland November breeding stock sale when she was sold following Prince Ahmed’s death.
5. Marche Lorraine, 2021 Breeders’ Cup Distaff
Prior to 2021, no horse based in Japan had ever won a Breeders’ Cup race (Karakontie, who authored a 30-1 stunner in the 2014 Mile, was bred in Japan but raced in Europe). But by the time the 38th World Championships finished up on Saturday, Nov. 6 at Del Mar, the land of the rising sun was officially on the board thanks to an improbable duo. Actually, the first Japan-based winner on the day, Loves Only You, was entirely logical: already a multiple Group 1 winner, the Deep Impact filly was the third post-time betting choice in the Maker’s Mark Filly and Mare Turf and was much the best once she found late running room to score by a half-length. That figured to be that, however, as the remaining Japanese entrants on the Nov. 6 were both serious outsiders facing the best America and Europe had to offer. One of those contenders, Vin de Garde in the FanDuel Mile Presented by PDJF, ran to expectations, finishing 12th of 13. The other one, competing against a loaded field in the Longines Distaff, most decidedly did not.
Marche Lorraine had assembled a solid 8-for-20 record in Japan prior to her Breeders’ Cup start. She had won four stakes races, but all of them were held at lower-rung tracks that were not part of the Japan Racing Association circuit. She was the afterthought in trainer Yoshito Yahagi’s Breeders’ Cup contingent, overshadowed by Loves Only You. Her first-time rider, Ireland-born Oisin Murphy, was a champion jockey in England who had done business riding several of Yahagi’s horses during trips to Japan but was unfamiliar with this Orfevre filly.
Sent off at 49.90-1, Marche Lorraine settled near the rear of the 11-horse field and Murphy’s racing strategy was quite clear: as he told BloodHorse after the Distaff, “I tried to ignore her odds and just give her every chance in the run and hopefully she could finish off.” That decision would be aided considerably by a fast early pace – and as it turned out, the front-end fractions in the Distaff set by Private Mission and eventual champion older female Letruska were beyond blistering.
When that pair folded midway through the final turn, Marche Lorraine and a handful of top-class U.S. horses moved into contention. Against all odds, it was the unheralded Japanese filly that summoned the most courage in a thrilling stretch run, giving Yahagi and his staff a blissful second trip to the Del Mar winner’s circle and supporters of Japanese racing a day they’ll never forget.
4. Court Vision, 2011 Breeders’ Cup Mile
A case could be made that the 2011 Mile is the biggest upset in Breeders’ Cup history, even if the winner didn’t carry the longest odds in the event’s history. It’s not that Court Vision wasn’t a good horse – he certainly was that, a millionaire who’d won four Grade 1 stakes over four-plus seasons (although he was unplaced in four prior starts in 2011). But, for most fans and gamblers, Churchill Downs was the expected site for a history-making fourth consecutive Breeders’ Cup Mile win by the incomparable globe-trotting Goldikova, who was justifiably sent off as the 13-10 favorite in a loaded 13-horse field. The Wertheimer brothers’ Irish-bred superstar had toyed with her competition in her three prior Miles, seemingly capable of taking over each race at will. This time, Goldikova was bottled up on the inside entering the lane, bullied her way through traffic to take a brief lead, but then was overwhelmed by an onrushing Court Vision and Grade 1 winner Turallure to her outside. One of the slimmest margins ever separated the top two, with Court Vision nosing out Turallure for a million dollar-plus career finale and Goldikova settling for third. The winner’s odds: 64.80-1.
3. Bar of Gold, 2017 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint
What do you get when you combine the shocking defeat of a superstar fan favorite who had won her previous five starts by a combined margin of 32 ¼ lengths with a winner who had never before won a graded stakes race? How about a 66.70-1 upset! Bar of Gold, a 5-year-old by Medaglia d’Oro, entered the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint in 2017 with little fanfare coming off a sixth-place finish in the Grade 1 Spinster Stakes. It’s not as though Bar of Gold had not earned her spot in the race, having won the Yaddo Stakes in August and finished second in both the Grade 2 Presque Isle Downs Masters and Grade 2 Ruffian Stakes. But most of her best efforts had come on grass or synthetic surfaces. Unique Bella, on the other hand, entered the race on a five-race winning streak and appeared to tower over her opposition … on paper.
Horse racing, of course, is not settled on paper. After setting a blistering pace through a half-mile in :44.35, Unique Bella had no fuel left in the tank by the stretch and faded to seventh. Bar of Gold, reserved in 13th behind the lightning-fast half-mile, used the fast pace to her advantage and swept past 12 horses to prevail by a nose over Ami’s Mesa in the closing strides. The Filly and Mare Sprint was the final race of Bar of Gold’s career, while Unique Bella capped her season with a victory in the Grade 1 La Brea Stakes and took home champion female sprinter honors with five graded stakes wins on the year.
2. Order of Australia, 2020 Breeders’ Cup Mile
For runner-up on this list, let’s take a look back three years ago (although it seems longer – COVID-19 stretches one’s short memory into eternity). The Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland was held despite attendance being extremely limited due to the pandemic, and the turf races as usual attracted top-class talent from Europe. The Mile drew an overflow field including One Master, two-time winner of the Group 1 Qatar Prix de la Foret and fifth-place finisher in the 2018 Mile, and Coolmore’s Circus Maximus, who had won the prestigious Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes during the Royal Ascot meet earlier in the season. From the U.S, defending race winner Uni was back for a repeat bid, and other accomplished contenders such as Ivar, Halladay, and Digital Age made the Mile arguably the most competitive race on the two-day World Championships card.
On race day, however, One Master was unfortunately scratched from the Mile, and that enabled another Coolmore-owned horse, Order of Australia, to draw in from the also-eligible list. The 3-year-old Australia colt had won a couple of weight-for-age handicaps during September but was thumped by 47 ¾ lengths in a Group 3 stakes at the Curragh in Ireland just three weeks prior to the Breeders’ Cup. That result, plus his draw in the far outside 14 post, made Order of Australia a 73.20-1 longshot as the gates opened. To further stack the odds, Order of Australia’s named rider Christophe Soumillon did not travel to the U.S. after testing positive for COVID-19; instead, Pierre-Charles Boudot, who was originally slated to ride the scratched One Master, picked up the mount.
Strategizing on the fly, Boudot managed to give his new assignment a perfect stalking trip in fourth through the backstretch as Halladay set the pace in the Mile. Order of Australia angled out and rallied three wide at the top of the lane and was all out to hold off stablemate Circus Maximus by a neck in a thrilling finish, setting off cries of disbelief among bettors who ignored the late entry and ones of celebration from Coolmore affiliates who secured a lucrative trifecta (their third entry, Lope Y Fernandez, finished third). Amazingly, Boudot picked up his second win on the day with a replacement mount, as he piloted Audarya to score in the Maker’s Mark Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf earlier when that filly’s original jockey also had to cancel his trip due to a COVID-19 positive. The win payout for Order of Australia came to $148.40, behind only the first horse on this list as the highest-priced victor in Breeders’ Cup history.
1. Arcangues, 1993 Breeders’ Cup Classic
Arcangues’ 1993 Classic win over champion Bertrando at no-it’s-not-a-misprint 133.60-1 odds is the type of mark that may well endure for 133 years of World Championships, or longer. The cosmos of good fortune aligned perfectly over Santa Anita Park that year – an unknown European horse with decent but inconsistent turf form, a top French trainer’s hunch that his horse would perform well on a surface he’d never tried, and an elite American jockey (Jerry Bailey) given minimal riding instructions in a language he couldn’t really understand. For the first mile or so of the Classic, Andre Fabre-trained Arcangues ran just about up to the expectations of a 133.60-1 shot … until he didn’t. His explosive run through the stretch from seventh to first still amazes, and all these years later still leads Bailey to humorously flash back to that day on occasion from the NBC Sports TV booth.