Jockey Club Gold Cup and Horse of the Year, 1936-2007

Sep 23rd 2008 02:03 am |

For a race fan of my age, the Breeder’s Cup has always been the event that caps off the season. Races like the Jockey Club Gold Cup are important to me because of their historical significance but I have no memory of the race in its heyday. Ask any race fan over 50 and they will tell you how the Breeder’s Cup changed the end of the racing year and relegated great races like the JCGC to the role of prep races. I believe it…but thought it might be interesting to do a little number crunching to see how the BC influenced the role of the Jockey Club Gold Cup on the Horse of the Year award.

Cover of Turf and Sport Digest, January 1963Image: The mighty Keslo owned the Jockey Club Gold Cup on his way to 5 straight Horse of the Year titles 1960-1964. (Cover of Turf and Sport Digest, January 1963)

From 1936 until 1983, 19 of 48 winners of the JCGC went on to capture Horse of the Year honors. Here is the list of champions:

1942 – Whirlaway
1948 – Citation
1950 – Hill Prince
1951 – Counterpoint
1952 – One Count
1955 – Nashua
1959 – Sword Dancer
1960 – Kelso
1961 – Kelso
1962 – Kelso
1963 – Kelso
1964 – Kelso
1965 – Roman Brother
1966 – Buckpasser
1967 – Damascus
1969 – Arts and Letters
1974 – Forego
1979 – Affirmed
1981 – John Henry

Since the first Breeders Cup in 1984, only three winners of the JCGC have won Horse of the Year:

1995 – Cigar
2003 – Mineshaft
2007 – Curlin

In that same period, winners of the BC Classic have taken 11 of 24 Horse of the Year awards:

1987 – Ferdinand
1988 – Alysheba
1989 – Sunday Silence
1991 – Black Tie Affair
1992 – A.P. Indy
1995 – Cigar
2000 – Tiznow
2003 – Mineshaft
2004 – Ghostzapper
2005 – Saint Liam
2006 – Invasor
2007 – Curlin

Cigar and Curlin are the only horses to sweep the JCGC, BC Classic, and Horse of the Year. On Saturday, Curlin will try to become only the second horse to win the JCGC and Horse of the Year in consecutive years (Keslo, of course, was the other).

We don’t need to statistics to determine that the Breeder’s Cup has had a major impact on the Jockey Club Gold Cup. However, it is still interesting to see how the numbers back the anecdotal evidence: During a period from 1936 to 1983, 40% of JCGC winners were awarded the Horse of the Year but only 13% since the inception of the Breeders Cup. Only one horse (Mineshaft), has been awarded Horse of the Year after winning the JCGC and not running in the Breeder’s Cup (injury). Mineshaft did something that was common prior to 1983, capping off a championship season with a win in the JCGC. Curlin could do the same this year if he wins on Saturday then sits out the Breeders Cup and Big Brown flops in the Classic.

One wonders how the infusion of slot money in New York and the “tweaking” of the Breeders Cup might shift the influence back to the big race at Belmont. Now that the BC folks have broken a verbal agreement with NYRA to host the 2010 Cup, I wonder how a multi-million dollar JCGC held in early October might shake things up? As the leaders of the Breeders Cup slowly lose their minds (“Ladies” Day, plastic dirt, the Santa Anita double, high ticket prices, saddle towel fetishes) such a challenge might be welcome.


I compiled stats beginning with 1936 because it is the first year the Horse of the Year award was made official by the Daily Racing Form. If we were to factor in all JCGC beginning in 1919 and use the unofficial HOY’s according to Thoroughbred Heritage, then 25 JCGC winners out of 65 (38%) went on to win Horse of the Year (1919-1983)

I compiled the above lists using the American Racing Manual, 2008 and, as always, I consulted Champions (DRF Press)

Another interesting tidbit: Factor the Triple Crown and other BC races into the equation and only three horses have managed to win Horse of the Year without winning a BC or Triple crown race: Criminal Type (1990), Cigar (1996), and Mineshaft (2003).

Proud Spell with a visibly disappointed Gabriel Saez after the Cotillion at Philadelphia Park, 2008Seattle Smooth into the winners circle with jockey Jose Lezcano after winning the Cotillion at Philadelphia Park, 2008

Images: Seattle Smooth (left) into the winners circle with jockey Jose Lezcano. She beat Proud Spell in the Fitz Dixon Cotillion at Philadelphia Park on Saturday. Proud Spell (right) with a visibly disappointed Gabriel Saez after the Cotillion. I am an amateur when it comes to analyzing horses in the paddock but even I could see that Proud Spell seemed uncomfortable prior to the race. Seattle Smooth on the other hand was as cool as a cucumber. Hope Larry Jones brings Proud Spell back to run in 2009. Nice to see them do the right thing and give her the rest of the year off. See more images from the Cotillion

Counting down to the big day at Belmont on Saturday. I’ll be running between the paddock and the apron all day. Hope to see you there!

Good luck and thanks for reading…

Filed in Horse of the Year,Jockey Club Gold Cup,Proud Spell

4 Responses to “Jockey Club Gold Cup and Horse of the Year, 1936-2007”

  1. Trista says:

    Just wanted to give you a shout out. I love your blog, and I too am an archivist! Its been great to find a blog that combines my two loves of history and racing. Keep up the good work!

  2. libby says:

    Very informative, nice read, thank-you.

  3. Superfecta says:

    OK, Trista’s comment has me wondering – given the afternoon at Laurel planned for MARAC, how many of us horse racing fan archivists are there out there? Should we have our own t-shirt for conferences (or the track)?

  4. Keith - Triple Dead Heat says:

    Great write-up! It’s obvious that Curlin’s owner feels the history of the Jockey Club is important as well.

    Keep up the great work.