Goldikova's 2009 racing campaign began with a whimper, but by the time it was done, the phenomenal filly had banged out her second straight Breeders' Cup Mile victory, earning a place among the elite performers in Breeders' Cup history and an Eclipse for top turf female.
Goldikova is one of only 11 horses to win multiple Breeders' Cup races, but her circumstance possesses even rarer characteristics. She is trained by Freddie Head, the only person (and what are the chances there will be another?) who has both ridden and trained a two-time Breeders' Cup winner. And to crown this singular situation, the horse Head rode to consecutive Breeders' Cup victories also was a filly, Miesque, who doubled up in the same race as Goldikova, the Mile.
Even before Goldikova won the 2008 Mile, Head hinted that this filly, this Goldikova, might have an edge on the mighty Miesque. Miesque could be a handful to ride, Head explained last year. Goldikova was kinder, more responsive for the human upon her back.
But the question on the evening of this past May 17 was whether the real Goldikova would be coming back. Her breeders and owners, Gerard and Alain Wertheimer, wasted little time after the 2008 Mile committing Goldikova to a 2009 campaign. After a typical European winter break, Goldikova made her seasonal debut in the Prix d'Ispahan on May 17 at Longchamp, where, as the
4-5 favorite, she barely ran a lick. The filly that had never finished worse than third in seven previous races checked in a distant seventh.
Some top horses never come all the way back once they lose their edge, and Goldikova would not fully quell such skepticism until November. Oh, she got back on track quickly enough. Head and the Wertheimers gave her a full physical to rule out any maladies following the Ispahan flop, and none were found. When Goldikova returned July 8 at Newmarket, her spark came with her. There, she won the Group 1 Falmouth Stakes, and she would whir through the rest of summer, headed back toward the top of the mountain. Aug. 2, she beat 11 foes in the Group 1 Prix Rothschild at Deauville, and two weeks later, she won the Group 1 Prix Jacque le Marois by six lengths.
That was the end of summer fun, and now Head focused on a Mile repeat. He chose the Oct. 3 Prix de la Foret for Goldikova's prep, and there it happened again - Goldikova suffered a surprising setback. She finished third at odds of 2-5, and it was hard not to connect the dots back to the loss in her 2009 debut.
But this time, there were things Head could put his finger on. Goldikova was poorly drawn in the Foret. She wound up pushing a scalding pace in a seven-furlong race shorter than her preference. She was beaten but a half-length with a trip that could have throttled a lesser performer.
So, it was back to Santa Anita, where the post position draw saddled Goldikova with the outside gate in an 11-horse field, a draw that would require entirely different tactics than those employed the previous year. Goldikova had taken up an inside pressing position in 2008, but this time, she and jockey Olivier Peslier dropped back to 10th in the early going. On the far turn, the pack of horseflesh was too thick to thread with an inside run, so Goldikova went around. She rallied four wide, picked up the leaders in midstretch, and whooshed past Courageous Cat in the final half-furlong to win by a half-length.
Yes, the filly was every bit as good as the Goldikova who had wowed the Breeders' Cup crowd in 2008. She had sustained her finishing explosion for a remarkable three furlongs, which kind of mirrored the great filly's entire 2009 season: Slow early, fast late.