The immense prestige of the Breeders' Cup Championships is unmatched in the world of North American Thoroughbred racing.
This two-day, iconic event is the brainchild of John R. Gaines and former New York Racing Association executive, John Tweedy.
It all started in 1983 when Tweedy and Gaines developed a detailed strategy for an annual championship for North American racehorses. Their vision was met with approval by the Thoroughbred Racing Associations of North America (TRANA) which led to the birth of the Breeders' Cup World Championships a year later.
The inaugural event was held at Hollywood Park Racetrack in Inglewood, California and featured seven races, each with a purse of a cool $1 million.
With each passing year after its inception, the Breeders' Cup expanded both in the number of races and the size of the purses. By 1985, the event accommodated eight races, and the total purses had doubled to $10 million.
This was also the year that the thrilling action of the Breeders' Cup was broadcast live on television for the first time, giving fans a front-row seat to the spectacle.
In 1986, the Breeders' Cup traveled to Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky for the first time, drawing a record crowd of over 100,000 horse-racing enthusiasts.
Since then, the Breeders' Cup has visited various high-profile American racetracks such as Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, California, Meadowlands Racetrack in East Rutherford, New Jersey, Belmont Park in Elmont, New York, Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Kentucky, and Arlington Park in Arlington Heights, Illinois.
Since 2008 the Breeders' Cup has rotated exclusively between two tracks in California (Santa Anita and Del Mar) and two in Kentucky (Churchill Downs and Keeneland)
These expansions allowed the Breeders' Cup to evolve from seven to a striking fourteen races as of 1992, with total purses soaring to $32 million. This spike in growth quickly established the event as the most prestigious and lucrative horse racing event in North America, significantly raising the profile of the sport.
The Breeders' Cup offers horse racing of the highest calibre. Races are divided into two categories: dirt races and turf races. Each race is meticulously designed for Thoroughbred horses of different ages and sexes.
The entry requirements are stringent, demanding each horse to meet certain criteria such as having made an official start within the year and having been nominated to the Breeders' Cup program. In the end, it is the Breeders' Cup Committee that has the final say on which horses will participate, ensuring that only the best horses globally compete.
The Breeders' Cup has not only been the playground for top-tier racing horses but also the stage of numerous unforgettable victories by some of the most famous horses in racing history. These include Zenyatta, Tiznow, Authentic, Mucho Macho Man, and Goldikova. Each having their own unique reasons for their fame.
Zenyatta is widely regarded as one of the greatest racehorses of all time. She was also a great entertainer and endeared herself to fans with her high stepping dance moves in the pre-parade ring.
She won 19 consecutive races, including a record 11 Grade I races including two Breeders Cup wins. Her first was the Breeders’ Cup Distaff in 2008, in which she gave her rivals a 7 ½ lengths lead before reeling them in to win by 1 ½ lengths.
Next she was entered against male horses for the Breeders’ Cup Classic in 2009, again trailing the field by 15 lengths after the first quarter but finally in the last quarter reeling in the leader Gio Ponti to win by a length.
Tiznow is the only horse to have won the Breeders’ Cup Classic twice. He was renowned for his intelligence and quirky nature. In the barn in which he was stabled he learnt to let himself out of his stall to wander at will in the main hall.
As he got older he was sometimes reluctant to work in the mornings and on one occasion before the 2001 Breeders Cup he resisted the urges of his jockey to break into a gallop.
Authentic won the 2020 Breeders' Cup Classic, being the first 3-year-old to do so since Bayern in 2014.
Mucho Macho Man impressed the world by winning a competitive renewal of the Breeders' Cup Classic in 2013, despite suffering respiratory and hoof problems, as did also his trainer, Katthy Ritvo who had a heart transplant in 2008.
Goldikova still holds the limelight for winning the Breeders' Cup Mile three times.
Each of their stunning performances on the racetrack contributes to their well-deserved fame and distinguishes them and the Breeders' Cup in the annals of horse racing history.
Today, the Breeders' Cup stands as a testament to the thrilling sport of horse racing, its electrifying legacy nurtured and carried through the decades by the passion and dedication of the racing community.
Its humble beginnings, ambitious expansions, and unforgettable champions weave a captivating tale of triumph, growth, and raw equine talent. A story that continues to unfold with each passing year, adding dimensions of thrill and excitement to the world of horse racing.