I’ve attended many Breeders’ Cups and seen my share of thrilling races involving superb horses.  One of my favorite memories took place on a rainy and dreary Breeders’ Cup Saturday at Churchill Downs in 1988.  It was a day of highs and lows for the renowned Phipps stable and trainer Shug McGaughey.

Phipps’ future Hall of Fame 2-year-old Easy Goer was a prohibitive favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.  However, he did not take to the muddy track and came in a disappointing second to Is it True, owned by Eugene Klein and trained by another future hall of famer D. Wayne Lukas.

The Phipps family and McGaughey were soon to witness a race that can be described as a rare case of an athlete reversing a nearly irreversible outcome.  At the sixteenth pole, Phipps’ 4-year-old filly Personal Ensign looked hopelessly beaten by front-running 1988 Kentucky Derby champion Winning Colors but rallied in the last few years to capture the win.  It took a photo to determine that Personal Ensign had prevailed.  (Click here to see the 1988 Breeders’ Cup Distaff.)

The conversation that night within the Phipps family must have been one of mixed emotions.  Disappointed over Easy Goer’s performance but elated over Personal Ensign’s feat of snatching victory out of almost sure defeat. 

Personal Ensign retired undefeated. But Easy Goer would provide the Phipps racing clan with more agony and ecstasy the following year, with his four epic battles with Sunday Silence, consisting of three losses (Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Breeders’ Cup Classic) and one win (Belmont Stakes). In my view, the Preakness and Breeders’ Cup Classic were two of the best races of all time.

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