What does it take for an athlete to be remembered as one of the all time greats in their sport? Sure, having a remarkable career full of accomplishments is part of the equation, but to truly be considered “one for the ages”, an athlete must be presented with one of those rare occasions where fate and circumstances create the opportunity for something historic to happen – and usually in the face of a worthy foe.
This year’s $5 Million Breeders Cup Classic has the POTENTIAL to be one of those rare opportunities where the winner could go down as one of racing’s true ALL TIME GREATS, putting their names along side the “legends”. But the unique thing about this particular race is that there isn’t just one horse who could possibly claim this opportunity… but TWO. If American Pharoah wins The Classic, he will undoubtedly be remembered as one of horse racing’s all time best; but should Beholder come out on top, she would elevate herself into the discussions of being one of racing’s best females ever. It would be hard to view a win by either one of these horses next weekend a surprise or an upset, and if they lock up in a heated stretch duel, then the race could be the stuff of legend.
American Pharoah captured the hearts of racing world when he became the first horse to sweep the Triple Crown for the first time in 37 years. Racing fans had waited so long for a new equine hero that it was almost natural that some would begin comparing him to past champions and talking about his legacy. Could he be mentioned along with the all-time greats like Citation, War Admiral and even the great Secretariat? His easy win in the Grade 1 Haskell Stakes (watch here), where jockey Victor Espinosa had him on cruise control the entire stretch, seemed to make those comparisons even more plausible. But then… a loss in the Travers Stakes that seemed to hit almost every racing fan in the gut.
Was it the cross country travel? Was it a questionable – almost inexplicable ride – by Frosted’s substitute jockey Jose Lezcano that created a nightmare pace scenario? Was is the fast work the day before in front of more than 10 thousand people? Was it the curse of the “Graveyard of Favorites”? Maybe, just maybe, it was just a loss – which happens to the best of them. Affirmed, Seatle Slew, and yes, even the great Secretariat all suffered defeats shortly after winning the Triple Crown. Does Pharoah’s loss in the Travers take him out of the debate of who is among the all time greats? No. The only thing that stands between him and that distinction is his final test – the Breeders Cup Classic.
Beholder provides American Pharoah the “worthy foe” that is often part of the legend accompanying great feats in sports. But she is running for more than that – as she stands to write her name in the history books as an all time great if she wins the Classic. A win would make Beholder the first horse to win THREE DIFFERENT DIVISIONS in the Breeders Cup, as she has already won the Breeders Cup Juvenile Fillies and Breeders Cup Distaff Stakes.
Beholder seems to embody that fighting spirit that sports fans – well, almost everyone – loves. She has come back after losses, illnesses, and injuries – and she just seems to get better after each setback. Her win against older males in the Grade 1 Pacific Classic at DelMar (watch here) this summer was almost breathtaking – and it looked VERY easy. Then she followed that up by winning her THIRD Grade 1 Zenyatta Stakes. Would a victory over American Pharoah – the Triple Crown Champion – put her into the conversation of the greatest female racehorses with the likes of Ruffian, Personal Ensign and even Zenyatta? It certainly wouldn’t be out of the question.
The Breeders Cup Classic is shaping up to provide fans a chance to see American Pharoah and Beholder each use their strengths and just see who’s best. With Liam’s Map opting to run in the Breeders Cup Dirt Mile, it looks like American Pharoah is the likely pace setter in the race, which would give Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens the opportunity to settle Beholder into her preferred stalking position. I would be VERY surprised to see a Travers-like strategy from Frosted this time – where he pushed (almost harrassed) Pharoah into a brutal speed duel through the middle portions of the race. Although there are some other worthy challengers in the field, I look for Pharoah to have the lead at the top of the stretch and Beholder to make her move to catch him coming home. If the race follows this scenario and everyone gets a safe trip, this could be a stretch duel to remember.
My pick? I think this year’s hero of the racing world – American Pharoah – will come out on top and indeed put his name in the discussions of the All Time greats. The deciding factor for me – Pharoah has shown the ability to travel – and travel well. He was won races in SIX STATES during his 10 race career. Beholder, on the other hand, has for the most part only campaigned in California, and on her two trips outside the Sunshine State, she lost both times.
So what is your opinion? If American Pharoah wins the Classic, is he worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Secretariat or Man of War? If Beholder wins, is she one of the best race mares of all time? Comment and let me know what you think.
Good luck at the windows!