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What is the history of the Breeders' Cup?

Since its inaugural running in 1984, the Breeders' Cup has served up some of the most spine-tingling finishes in racing history, propelling champions into legends, and giving fans memories to savor for a lifetime. And if you've backed the winner, you have an added, tangible reason to celebrate.

The $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic has been won by some of the greatest American Thoroughbreds over the past three decades. That honor roll includes the extraordinary mare Zenyatta; Tiznow, the race's only two-time winner; Cigar, who capped a perfect 10-for-10 season; the sensational Ghostzapper, son of Classic winner Awesome Again; future supersire A.P. Indy; and most recently, Triple Crown champion American Pharoah.

Historical Distance and Prestige

Although the Classic is contested over the same 1 1/4-mile distance as the Kentucky Derby, American Pharoah is only the fifth Derby winner to turn the double. There was a famous clash of Derby winners in the 1987 Classic, where Ferdinand prevailed in a photo-finish winner over the younger Alysheba. Alysheba gained a Classic victory the following year. In 1989, Sunday Silence made it three straight Derby winners to take the Classic when holding off archrival Easy Goer. Unbridled captured both the Derby and Classic in 1990, but no Derby winner managed to accomplish that feat for 25 years – until American Pharoah.

The $2 million Breeders' Cup Distaff is likewise a "Who's Who" of the female set. The 1988 edition remains the most memorable: Personal Ensign, despite spinning her wheels in the mud, closed in time to edge Derby heroine Winning Colors and retire undefeated. Other Distaff winners include Zenyatta (in 2008, the year before her Classic triumph), Dance Smartly, Lady's Secret, Azeri, Ashado, Beholder, and two-time champs Bayakoa and Royal Delta.

The lone three-peater in Breeders' Cup history is the spectacular French mare Goldikova, who won three consecutive runnings of the Mile on turf. Before Goldikova, there was another French legend in two-time Mile queen Miesque. American stars Lure, Da Hoss, and Wise Dan also scored two Mile wins. In 2015, Tepin became the sixth female to defeat the boys in the Mile, but the first without a European background to do so.

European Historical Significance

Europeans have historically dominated the 1 1/2-mile Turf, led by two-time champs Conduit and High Chaparral (his second win came in a dead-heat with Johar). This trend was in full force in 2015, when the finish was fought out between Irish filly Found and British-based star Golden Horn. Found prevailed, becoming the first three-year-old filly, and only third female (after Pebbles in 1985 and Miss Alleged in 1991), to win the Turf. In 1999 the Turf received a companion event for females, the Filly & Mare Turf, whose greatest luminary so far is two-time champion Ouija Board from England.

And that's just scratching the surface of a multifaceted event that spans additional divisions, all posing a fascinating clash of the best against the best. The Breeders' Cup thus offers an unparalleled handicapping challenge, a puzzle to sort the contenders from the pretenders, made all the more exacting by the presence of the internationals. The rewards can be handsome for getting it right.

Historical Trends Information

Analyzing how favorites have fared in the Breeders’ Cup

From a total of 104 Breeders’ Cup races this decade, post-time favorites have posted 26 wins, a 25% strike rate. The 2013 edition at Santa Anita played kindly to chalk, with five of 13 races (38.4 %) being won by the favorite. By comparison, only 1-of-13 favorites (7.6%) won at Santa Anita in 2016.

Odds-on favorites (less than even-money) are generally considered to possess an overwhelming advantage on the competition but haven’t won at a 50% clip in the Breeders’ Cup, with only six-of-13 prevailing this decade (46%). The aforementioned Liam’s Map has been the shortest-priced favorite. Dortmund (fourth at .70-1 in 2016 Dirt Mile) and Bolt d’Oro (third at .70-1 in 2017 Juvenile) have burned the most money, and both odds-on favorites in the 2017 Breeders’ Cup lost (Lady Aurelia and Bolt d’Oro).

Read the full Breeders' Cup Historical Trends report by James Scully here.

Read more on the history of the Breeders' Cup races

Breeders' Cup Classic
Breeders' Cup Distaff
Breeders' Cup Mile
Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint
Breeders' Cup Turf
Breeders' Cup Juvenile
Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint
Breeders' Cup Sprint
Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf
Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies
Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf
Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile
Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf
Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint

Past Breeders Cup Events Historical Archive

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