Breeders' Cup: Top seven Turf moments

January 23rd, 2022

The Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) has served up thrillers and poignant moments over the course of its 37-year history. In the spirit of last week’s walk down memory lane for the Mile (G1), here are my top seven editions of the Turf.

Enable (2018)

For decades, whenever a reigning Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1) winner tried to follow up in the Breeders’ Cup, the attempt ended in frustration. Then the great filly Enable rewrote the record book, turning the Arc/Turf double in the fall of 2018. The Juddmonte homebred had to deal with what smacked of team tactics from Ballydoyle, as Hunting Horn appeared to help stablemate Magical while making life a little trickier for Enable. Magical delivered one of the finest performances of her storied career, but Enable was just too strong in their titanic stretch battle.

Manila (1986)

The Arc winners’ “jinx” began with Dancing Brave, the superhero of the 1986 European turf season, who was only a flat fourth as the 1-2 favorite at Santa Anita. Yet that running is remarkable in its own right as the stage for one of the all-time great American turf horses. Hall of Famer Manila had no room to rally on the inside, had to halt his momentum in midstretch to steer around fellow champions Theatrical and Estrapade, and still got up in time.

High Chaparral and Johar (2003)

The 2003 Turf, another vintage edition with stars from both sides of the Atlantic, produced one of the greatest finishes in Breeders’ Cup history. After a frenetic last furlong that saw Falbrav take command, defending champion High Chaparral finally hit his stride, and Johar fly alongside them nearing the wire, the suspense was prolonged by the 13 minutes (!) it took to decipher the photo finish. High Chaparral did enough to become a two-time Turf champion, but only by sharing the spoils with Johar in a dead-heat for the win.

Found (2015)

When Arc hero Golden Horn swept to the front at Keeneland, the 4-5 favorite looked well on his way to an historic victory. The filly Found, however, kept coming relentlessly to wear him down by a half-length. Found would go on to win the Arc herself in 2016, becoming the first horse to garner both the French championship and a Breeders’ Cup trophy. But she could not achieve that in the same season, as Enable did. 

St Nicholas Abbey (2011)

St Nicholas Abbey compiled one of the most expansive resumes of any Breeders’ Cup winner. An unbeaten champion two-year-old who missed virtually all of his classic season, he regained championship stature as an older horse and became a celebrated globetrotter. “St Nick” turned in a sparkling display in the 2011 Turf at Churchill Downs, creating a father/son moment for trainer Aidan and jockey Joseph O’Brien, the youngest (at age 18) to ride a Breeders’ Cup winner. Joseph has since become an internationally renowned trainer himself, and the youngest (at 26) to saddle a Breeders’ Cup winner (Iridessa in the 2019 Filly & Mare Turf [G1]). 

Theatrical (1987)

One year after being denied by Manila, Theatrical prevailed in the 1987 Turf at old Hollywood Park. Hall of Fame rider Pat Day executed a tactical masterpiece, moving at the right time but saving enough in the tank to repel the bold challenge from Arc winner Trempolino. Theatrical was making his third Turf try, having been unplaced in the 1985 edition described below. 

Pebbles (1985)

As a Guinness-drinking filly with a gelding as her inseparable companion, Pebbles was a natural media darling. But she was a serious racehorse too. The British champion squeezed through on the rail at Aqueduct to beat Australian star Strawberry Road in her only attempt at the 1 1/2-mile trip.