Commentary

Cup memories begin and end with Z

Updated: November 10, 2009, 11:55 AM ET
By Jeremy Plonk | Special to ESPN.com

Zenyatta's remarkable Breeders' Cup Classic blitz quickly sent the minds of racing fans into a scurry. Could this have been the most memorable moment in Breeders' Cup history? Whether or not it was, the mere fact that it sent the mental Rolodex into an instantly wild spin like a slot machine tells you that you just witnessed something special. You just don't get that feeling every race.

After 48 hours of reflection, I tried to put the monstrous mare's victory into personal perspective. Such an exercise requires no research materials other than the brain. After all, if you have to look it up to remember it, the performance miserably fails the test as most memorable of all time.

I'll put them in reverse order, 10-1, and count down my recollections of the most memorable Breeders' Cup moments (personal betting scores aside, of course).

10. Arcangues stuns the 1993 Classic at 133-1 odds.

When you can remember the odds of a winner you didn't have 16 years after the fact, you know you've witnessed one of the great upsets in sports history, much less racing history. Jockey Jerry Bailey had never seen the horse before being legged up, and Arcangues' French connections couldn't speak enough English to give their Hall of Fame rider instructions.

9. Da Hoss does it again, taking the 1998 Mile.

With only one prep race at Colonial Downs in the two years since winning the 1996 Mile, trainer Michael Dickinson earned a "Mad Genius" moniker and Da Hoss ensured he'd never be forgotten. The peculiarity of it all left conventional wisdom at the doorstep, and to this day still makes you wonder how he did it.

8. Sunday Silence survives Easy Goer's late dash in the 1989 Classic.

Sure, we saw them three times previously in the Triple Crown, but this one had the kind of season-ending match-race that we can only dream about today. The darkness added to the drama, as did brave-leading Blushing John, leaving us all with a race we wish we could have seen go around again. Two decades later, New Yorkers still spew hateful words about Pat Day for his late move on Easy Goer.

7. Pat Day keeps perfection alive in "his" house, winning the 1998 Classic on Awesome Again.

Mr. Churchill Downs himself shone under the Twin Spires when guiding the winner past undeniably the greatest field ever assembled for a Breeders' Cup race (Silver Charm, Skip Away, Swain, Victory Gallop, Touch Gold, Coronado's Quest, Gentlemen, Running Stag and Arch). My hand to the good Lord, I just named the entire 10-horse field without looking them up 11 years after the race; that tells you all you need to know.

6. Tiznow wins the 2001 Classic for America. Mere weeks after the September 11 terrorists attacks, Belmont Park provided the American landscape's first major international sporting event post-9/11, just miles from Ground Zero. Weeks earlier, Belmont Park served as a staging area for emergency personnel and vehicles. In the Classic, defending champion Tiznow dug deep to hold off Dubai raider Sakhee by a nose in a stirring finish that, quite fittingly, had international implications.

5. Arazi runs right by him in the 1991 Juvenile!

Tom Durkin's awe-struck race call in the 1991 Juvenile forever rings in the ears of those who listened as the remarkable French 2-year-old blew past California speedball and eventual Grade 1 superstar Bertrando. Even if you never heard the race call, no 2-year-old before or since in Breeders' Cup history has left such a memorable visual impression, even if just for that fleeting burst of brilliance.

4. Alysheba lights up the night and sets another record in the 1988 Classic. The 1986 Derby winner returned to Churchill Downs at age 5, winning the Classic and becoming the sport's all-time earnings leader by surpassing John Henry's money total. Under a veil of darkness, he completed a season that saw him set not only the earnings record, but multiple track records at 1- miles during the BC run-up.

3. Go For Wand leaves it all on the track in the 1990 Distaff. It's a moment we'd rather never happened, much less be able to forget. But the breakdown of the brilliant filly Go For Wand in mid-stretch of her Distaff showdown with Paseana left an indelible impression on racing fans worldwide, and thus left us all wondering just what might haven been.

2. Personal Ensign wills her way past Winning Colors in the 1988 Distaff. A marvelous career that almost wasn't was capped off in unbeatable fashion as Personal Ensign overcame a disdain for the sloppy surface and wore down Kentucky Derby winner Winning Colors in the final jumps at Churchill Downs. On surgically repaired legs that required screws to maintain soundness, Personal Ensign never lost a horse race and will never lose her lofty place in Breeders' Cup history.

1. Zenyatta leaves them all applauding in the 2009 Classic. After a highly maligned and politicized campaign, the big mare did exactly what her handlers aimed her for all season -- she peaked on racing's championship day and beat the boys in dramatic style. All the pre-race drama added to the post-race jubilation, exacting some perceived vindication for a career that should not have needed it. Whether you loved her or hated her, thought she was a surface specialist or a one-circuit wonder, you had to stand, applaud and smile when she came home the final quarter mile in about :23 to leave all horses, and doubts, in her massive wake. This Hollywood cliff hanger had its leading lady turn in an Oscar-winning, dramatic performance for the ages.

No doubt you have fond Breeders' Cup recollections tucked away in your mental Rolodex as well, whether it's Favorite Trick capping his remarkable Juvenile season in 1997 or Cigar dominating the 1995 Classic to keep his winning streak alive. The decades of the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s pumped out the memories as the Breeders' Cup firmly established its importance on the racing landscape. Now we turn the page to the 2010s, fresh off an '09 Classic that could not have provided a more exciting and powerful springboard to the future.

Jeremy Plonk has been an ESPN.com contributor since 2000 and is the managing partner of the handicapping Web site Horseplayerpro.com. You can e-mail Jeremy about this topic or anything racing-related at Jeremy@Horseplayerpro.com.

In addition to being a longtime contributing writer to ESPN.com's Horse Racing section, Jeremy Plonk is the editor of The HorsePlayer Magazine.