MY FAVORITE BREEDERS’ CUP CLASSIC

By the time that Sunday Silence and Easy Goer entered the starting gate for the 1989 Breeders’ Cup Classic, darkness was descending on Gulfstream Park in southeastern Florida.  This race would decide Horse of the Year and how these talented and gallant colts would rank in history.  One announcer described the atmosphere as being similar to a world’s heavyweight title fight and another said afterwards that it was the “race of the decade.”  In my view, it is the most thrilling Breeders’ Cup Classic ever run.

Easy Goer–owned by Ogden Phipps and trained by Claude “Shug” McGaughey III—was reigning 2-year-old colt of the year.  Sunday Silence—owned by Arthur Hancock III, trainer Charlie Whittingham and Dr. Ernest Galliard—had won the Kentucky Derby by 2 ½ lengths and the Preakness Stakes by a nose, with the favored Easy Goer finishing second in both races.  Pat Day, Easy Goer’s jockey, had been roundly criticized for his rides in both races.  In the Belmont Stakes, Easy Goer turned the tables by beating second-placed Sunday Silence by eight lengths and ruining his Triple Crown effort.  Whittingham  commented that 1 ½ miles might be beyond Sunday Silence’s range.

The 1 ¼ mile Breeders’ Cup Classic would be the fourth and last meeting between the two colts.  If Easy Goer prevailed, he would be 2-2 against Sunday Silence and most likely judged to be the better runner in that he would have won the Belmont and Breeders’ Cup Classic.  On the other hand, if Sunday Silence won, he would be 3-1 against Easy Goer and Horse of the Year. 

Sunday Silence’s regular jockey, Pat Valuenzuela, had been suspended for substance abuse shortly before the Breeders’ Cup Classic and  replaced by Chris McCarron.  Although McCarron was a top rider, he had never been up on Sunday Silence in a race and this was a complicating factor in handicapping the outcome.

Two of the four races between Easy Goer and Sunday Silence stand out in the annals of racing—the Preakness and the Breeders’ Cup Classic.  The Preakness is one of the best stretch duels ever and the Breeders’ Cup Classic is memorable for how Sunday Silence held on at the wire by what announcer Tom Durkin called “a desperate neck.”  The Daily Racing Form listed it as a nose.

Sunday Silence was born sickle-hocked, a fault that racehorse buyers disdain.  In fact, it worried Charlie Whittingham so much that he sold part of his ownership interest in the colt to Dr. Galliard.  As a yearling, Sunday Silence was rejected for inclusion in the Keeneland July Select Sale and was relegated to a sale of supposedly lesser quality horses.  At the Keeneland non-select sale, Sunday Silence received the third lowest bid of the day of $17,000 and Hancock bought him back.  Then, while traveling in a van from California to Kentucky, the truck driver had a heart attack and wrecked, leaving Sunday Silence with bruises and cuts.  Finally, Hancock was unsuccessful at selling the colt at a 2-year-old sale in California.

Sunday Silence and Easy Goer are inductees in the National Museum of Racing & Hall of Fame.   Sunday Silence is number 31 on the Blood-Horse list of the best racehorses of the 20th century and Easy Goer is number 34.  Easy Goer died at age eight and Sunday Silence lived to be 16.   Sunday Silence had an esteemed record as a sire in Japan.

I’ll forever remember the confrontations between these two great racehorses, especially in the Preakness and Breeders’ Cup Classic.  Thanks for the memories.

Copyright © 2010 Horse Racing Business

Click here to see the 1989 Preakness Stakes

Click here to see the 1989 Breeders’ Cup Classic

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