Kilroy's Top 10 Breeders' Cup Classics of All Time

October 6th, 2022

If Flightline, Life Is Good, Olympiad, Epicenter, and Taiba all line up in the starting gate on the first Saturday in November, I anticipate one of the most electric editions of the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) races ever on Nov. 5. The question everyone will be asking the following day, "Where does the 38th running of the Classic rank all time?"

Let’s get our ducks in a row and rank the best Classics to this point.

Here’s the criteria I had in mind: how dramatically the race unfolded, how big of an adrenaline rush did the final stages produce, what were the storylines going into it that fueled elation and heartbreak, and how big did the winner run.

Here’s my Top 10:

10. 2013 Mucho Macho Man

What a field and what a finish! Mucho Macho Man stalked close up and got first run to take the lead in the stretch. And when Will Take Charge and Declaration of War came flying at the leader in the final yards, it turned out to be one of the most exciting finishes in Classic history.

9. 1998 Awesome Again

A deep field was assembled and the stretch run proved memorable under the Twin Spires, a wild finish where the sea parted for the winner in the latter stages. With Pat Day aboard, Awesome Again denied Silver Charm, Skip Away, and a wayward Swain.

8. 1990 Unbridled

Breaking from the far outside post in a field of 14 at Belmont, Unbridled is stuck wide and far back early, but Pat Day eventually works out a rail-skimming ride until there’s only one option if he wants to win: jump off the rail and fight through a shrinking hole to split the foes. Unbridled is one of four three-year-olds to win the Kentucky Derby (G1) and the Classic in the same year.

7. 2004 Ghostzapper

A monster effort! Ghostzapper had never won on the lead before, but he seized command at the break and comfortably led wire to wire, earning a 116 Brisnet Speed rating, the top figure in Classic history. The powerful colt forced a fine field (including Funny Cide, Pleasantly Perfect, Birdstone, and Azeri) to hold on for as long as they could before crumbling behind him.

6. 2001 Tiznow 

In 2000, up-and-coming Tiznow took to the front and won the Classic, beating Giant’s Causeway, Lemon Drop Kid, and Fusaichi Pegasus. Could he repeat as a four-year-old? The California-bred colt switched tactics in 2001, racing wide from off the pace, and he battled through the stretch to edge Godolphin's Prix de l'Arc winner Sakhee, as well as Galileo. Chris McCarron earned his record-tying fifth Classic victory, and Tiznow became the only two-time Classic winner.

5. 1988 Alysheba

After a heartbreaking nose second the year before, four-year-old Alysheba came back to win what Ferdinand had denied him. The Kentucky Derby winner proved unyielding at Churchill Downs, as honest as you will ever see, and Alysheba hit the finish line first to become the world's richest Thoroughbred.

4. 1989 Sunday Silence 

One horse stood in Sunday Silence’s way of winning the Triple Crown, Easy Goer, who denied him glory in the Belmont (G1). In the Classic, Sunday Silence, one of Charlie Whittingham’s finest, turned the tables, prevailing in a nail-biting edition. What a great rivalry between gallant warriors!

3. 2009 Zenyatta  

The only filly ever to win the Classic, Zenyatta captured hearts of the masses. There’s two races baked into this ranking, including her courageous nose setback to Blame in 2010 — the last race and only loss of her career. In 2009, she stretched her unbeaten streak to 14. With the handling of a Porsche, Zenyatta dexterously passed 10 horses in front of her, unleashing one of the most devastating late kicks in racing history.

2. 1995 Cigar 

The list wouldn't be complete without five-time Classic winner Jerry Bailey. He reported his fingers almost popped off holding back Cigar, who was bursting for the lead. When Bailey finally lets go, Cigar sweeps wide to the front and delivers one of the most powerful sustained runs in Classic history. Bill Mott’s horse overcame a wet track and a wide post, sealing the deal on 1995 Horse of the Year honors.

1. 1987 Ferdinand

The top spot goes to the year when two Kentucky Derby winners hit the wire together. The roar of the crowd says it all—this was the best Classic of all time! Bill Shoemaker asked Ferdinand for more going into the turn, but the 1986 Derby winner couldn't get separation from an all-out and formful field. The foes in front of him kept dueling and digging deeper in, while behind him 1986 Classic winner Skywalker and 1987 Derby winner Alysheba began unleashing late runs that would make Flightline call for his mama. Ferdinand built a ferocious late rhythm, but Alysheba’s final surge will take your breath away. Photo finish.