Present a racing historian with this arguable fill-in-the-blank question: “The best racehorse to lose in a Breeders’ Cup race was…?” and familiar monikers of all-time greats like Dancing Brave, Giant’s Causeway, and Serena’s Song will be forthcoming. Now reframe the question to read: “The best horse to waste two prime opportunities to win a Breeders’ Cup race was…?” and a single name stands out—Easy Goer. While other Hall of Fame caliber horses tried and failed to win a Breeders’ Cup race once, Easy Goer on two occasions botched his chance as the odds-on favorite.
Leading up to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on November 5th, 1988, the Ogden Phipps-owned and Shug McGaughey-trained Easy Goer was considered as close to being a shoo-in to win as is possible in horse racing. The big red 2-year-old colt by Alydar had triumphed in four of his five races in 1988, losing only in his maiden effort by a nose, and had dominated the competition in winning the Grade I Cowdin on October 1st and the Grade I Champagne on October 15th.
Easy Goer’s Daily Racing Form past performance line for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile pointed to reasonable explanations for his unexpected second-place finish: “Bumped start, jumped tracks.” The experts’ preferred rationale for Easy Goer losing to IsItTrue, a colt that he had easily dispensed with in both the Cowdin and the Champagne, was that he did not cope well with Churchill Downs’ muddy racetrack surface.
Easy Goer prepped for the 1989 Kentucky Derby with victories of 8 ¾ lengths in the Swale, 13 lengths on the Gotham, and 3 lengths in the Wood Memorial. On the first Saturday in May, Easy Goer faced a field of 15 colts in the Kentucky Derby and, based on his dismantling of all challengers in 1989, he was the prohibitive favorite.
Spring rains visited Louisville on Derby Day 1989 and were turned to sleet by the unwelcome winter-like temperatures, resulting in a muddy mess of a racetrack. Easy Goer repeated his performance of six months earlier on the same sort of soggy racetrack by rallying late to finish second, 2 1/2 lengths behind Sunday Silence.
Fourteen days later in the Preakness, the two colts dueled with one another down the stretch with Sunday Silence prevailing by a nose. The finish was so close that radio-TV announcer Dave Johnson could not tell who had prevailed.
Easy Goer got a large measure of revenge in the Belmont, and then some, with a commanding 8-length “take that” thrashing of Sunday Silence. Easy Goer followed up his impressive Belmont outing with a string of effortless-looking wins in four Grade I races–the Whitney, Travers, Woodward, and Jockey Club Gold Cup.
The stage was set for an Easy Goer-Sunday Silence showdown in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Gulfstream Park in early November. The race lived up to its high-noon billing. In another dramatic finish, Easy Goer, the betting favorite, closed menacingly in deep stretch on the front-running Sunday Silence, only to fall short by what the telecast announcer Tom Durkin excitedly described as a “desperate neck.”
The aptly named Easy Goer had the unfortunate timing of being in the same foal crop as Sunday Silence, a colt whose tactical speed and maneuverability gave him a slight advantage over Easy Goer at distances of 1 ¼ miles or less. Moreover, Easy Goer’s loss to IsItTrue in the 1988 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile can be written off as a fluke owing to an off track and a troubled start. Excuses aside, the record books report in black and white that a horse named Easy Goer ran second as the favorite, not once, but twice in Breeders’ Cup championship races, as well as in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness.
Yet Easy Goer should not be remembered as a hugely talented horse that underachieved in the biggest races of his career, not by a long shot, or else his name would not be enshrined in American horse racing’s Hall of Fame in upstate New York.
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