Historic Races, Fantastic Finishes

Sep 22nd 2009 05:18 pm |

It’s over two weeks later and I still find myself thinking about this year’s Woodward. Rachel Alexandra’s win was the perfect storm: an historically significant race with the kind of ending that makes grown men weep.

This had me thinking about other races that fit that criteria. What races that included a major historical achievement had finishes as memorable as the one we saw a few Saturdays ago?

Here is my top ten list of historically significant races with fantastic finishes:

#10 — 1996 Kentucky Derby
Number ten goes to a human accomplishment: Grindstone’s win in the 1996 Derby gave trainer D. Wayne Lucas six straight Triple Crown winners in six tries. Beginning with Tabasco Cat in the 1994 Preakness and Belmont, followed by a sweep of the Triple Crown with two different horses in 1995, Lukas capped off his remarkable run in the Derby with Grindstone’s run down the center of the track to beat Cavonnier by a nose:

#9 — 1984 Breeder’s Cup Classic
Wild Again beat Slew O’ Gold and Gate Dancer in the inaugural running of the Breeders Cup Classic at Hollywood Park.  It is fitting that the day that changed the sport of racing in this country, ended with one of the most exciting finishes in BC history:

#8 — 2009 Preakness Stakes
Number eight to six is the filly triple crown of fantastic finishes starting with Rachel Alexandra’s Preakness.  Rachel A became the first filly to win the middle jewel of the Triple Crown since Nellie Morse in 1924:

#7 — 1980 Kentucky Derby
Genuine Risk became the first filly to win the Derby since Regret in 1915:

#6 — 2007 Belmont Stakes
In a truly fantastic finish, Rags to Riches held off Curlin to become the first filly to win the Belmont since Tanya in 1905:

#5 — 1981 Arlington Million
In the first throughbred race with a million dollar purse, John Henry just gets there to beat The Bart by a whisker in the inaugural Arlington Million. As many times as you watch this race, it is hard to believe that John Henry actually hit the wire first. Listen to legendary announder Phil Georgeff’s outstanding call and the post race commentary that assumed The Bart had won at 40 to 1.

#4 — 1988 Breeders Cup Distaff
Personal Ensign — looking hopelessly beaten in deep stretch — closes to beat Winning Colors on a muddy track at Churchill Downs. Her win completed a perfect 13 for 13 career and made her the first major racehorse to finish undefeated since Colin.

#3 2001 Breeder’s Cup Classic
The 2000 Horse of the Year and BC Classic winner Tiznow, after a lackluster 2001, beat Arc winner Sakhee.  Tiznow became (and remains) the only two-time winner of the Classic.  The race carried even more weight considering it was run at Belmont Park in New York just weeks after 9/11. Tom Durkin’s call of Tiznow winning it “for America” provides a chilling topper to an already storybook ending.

#2 — 2009 Woodward Stakes
Rachel Alexandra completed a memorable season by beating older males to become the first filly or mare to win the Woodward.  Tom Durkin’s call of this race matches or exceeds his call of Tiznow in the 2001 BC Classic and Victory Gallop’s upset of Real Queit in the 1998 Belmont Stakes.  

#1 — 1978 Belmont Stakes
A Triple Crown on the line and a rivalry between two great horses was the pefect set-up for the 1978 Belmont. Affirmed and Alydar had been knocking heads since the age of two. Their head-to-head battle and Affirmed’s victory to become the eleventh and last Triple Crown winner makes this race the unanimous choice for number one on the list of “Historic Races, Fantastic Finishes.”

DISCLAIMER : My preference was for races where I could find a replay. Also, I have a admitted bias for races that I watched live. The Salvator-Tenny race was historic and had a fantastic finish but it didn’t make the list for obvious reasons. Let me know if you think I missed any.

After a few weeks of catching my breath from the summer and getting back into the swing of things for the fall, I’ll be back next week with some history of Maryland’s Havre de Grace race track. On October 10th, the town of Havre de Grace will host their second annual ‘Graw Days’ to celebrate the former track. More details on that as they come in. It looks to be great event.

Big thanks to everyone who uploads race videos to YouTube especially partymanners whose productivity is astounding.


Filed in fantastic finishes,thoroughbred racing history

16 Responses to “Historic Races, Fantastic Finishes”

  1. Superfecta says:

    Great list. The only thing I would have added is Secretariat's Belmont, just because…well, and perhaps this year's Haskell (although that has definitely got to get image of the year for that fantastic photo).

  2. Brett Hardware says:

    While on the subject of the Haskell… 1987 Bet Twice, Alysheba and Lost Code. A great finish. Not sure if it qould qualify for this list, but was one of the most important races in NJ racing history.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Victory Gallop and Real Quiet in the Belmont has to be on this list. A nostril the other way and we have a Triple Crown winner.

  4. The_Knight_Sky says:

    I agree with Brett Hardware. The 1987 Haskell is the one race that has stood the test of time.

    True fans knew something special had happened the moment Bet Twice-Alysheba-Lost Code had crossed the wire. A tremendous three-ply battle of heavy weights. They still show it on the replay booth at Monmouth Park – and it still elicits chills down the spine.

    That's a must include in this list or we won't let you cross the state line again. 😛

  5. sbloomer says:

    It's a fine list, but…

    1. 1978 JCGC – 2 Triple Crown winners defeated, 1st race ever featuring 3 thoroughbred millionaires, loser bathed in more glory than the winner, my vote for greatest 1 1/2 mile race at Belmont in 1978

    2. 1976 Marlboro Cup – probably the last time we'll see a horse carry 137 pounds to victory in a major handicap, epic stretch run

    and if you need to be in the Breeders Cup era

    3. 1989 Preakness – the greatest race between the greatest rivals in the Breeders Cup era

  6. Colins Ghost says:

    Thanks for the comments!

    Superfecta: Thought about Secretariat but I was going for "fantastic" as in down to the wire, close finishes. Secretariat's win in the Belmont is as fantastic as they come but the exact opposite of a close finish.

    Anonomous: (I think I know who you are) As great as the ending was – the 1998 Belmont will go down in history as another missed Triple Crown shot. I had it as an honorable mention in my first list but decided to throw it out for this reason.

    Knight Sky and Brett Hardware: The 1987 Haskell was also one under consideration but as great as that finish was the race itself did not carry the same historical weight as the others. Monmouth Park-ers are a loyal bunch — thanks for chiming in!


  7. Susan Kayne says:

    Fantastic blog! Thank you for sharing, Susan Kayne

  8. Anonymous says:

    Sbloomer absolutely nailed two races that must be on the list: Exceller's win over Seattle Slew and Affirmed in the '78 JCGC and Forego's win over Honest Pleasure in the '76 Marlboro Cup. You also might want to consider the '62 Travers of Jaipur/Ridan battle. The six-horse photo at Saratoga this summer ain't too bad either. Great topic!


  9. ML/NJ says:

    2002 Test at Saratoga. One of the best races ever to my mind. So much going on jockeywise, a really great Durkin call; and I still think Carson Hollow won!

  10. Erin says:

    Not the biggest names in racing but one of the biggest displays of heart on the track: You vs. Carson Hollow in the 2002 Test.


  11. Bob says:

    If Tom Durkin puts in an extra long "Aaaaaaannnnnnnnddddddd" at the beginning of his race call it usually means that he's stepping his game up a few notches. It's was the perfect announcer giving us the perfect call for the Woodward.

  12. Laura says:

    What abt Broad Brush/Waquoit in the Mass 'Cap ?

  13. Anonymous says:

    How about Afleet Alex , 2005 Preakness

  14. Anonymous says:

    35yrs….SECRETARIAT STILL #1.At the track for VG/real quiet….tremendous,considering triple crown at stake…Durkin said it best"a picture is wort a thousand words,this photo is worth 5 million dollars".ALSO AT THE SPA FOR RACHEL biggest roar from crowd since Secretariat '73.Had to be at the track to really,really appreciate this one. Terrific accomplishment by maybe the best filly ever.

  15. Hugo Dittfach III says:

    How about “Blue Light” 1961 Queen’s Plate (Canada). My Dad was aboard and won by a nose and beat “Just Don’t Shove” right at the wire, check it out……..

  16. Big Red's Shadow says:

    That 78 Belmont is still the most heart stopping race I’ve ever seen. It was fate those two horses, both great in their own rights would race in the same year at the same age. The last of the truly great ones. We haven’t seen any truly great horses since Affirmed retired. Breeders breed for speed and fashion here in the USA thats why I’ll Have Another wasn’t considered for stud here. We’ve ruined racing here. Will we have another horse who can outsprint the sprinters and outstay the stayers? Maybe, when breeders and owners get back to racing Thoroughbreds and not glorified Quarter Horses.
    The idea that only one stallion, Tiznow goes back to Man O’ War who sired how many Belmont winners, Jockey Club Gold Cup winners, two Derby winners and of course War Admiral and was grandfather to Seabiscuit..its depressing. Stallions don’t look like Thoroughbred stallions did either. Just do a Bing search of the names Alsab, Citation, Man O’ War, Red God, Fair Play, Bull Lea etc. and then compare them to the studs standing at our farms now. Its so obvious the breed has been forsaken. Where are our stayers? Where is the stamina? Where’s the long distance horse who can gather himself to win easily at 6 furlongs? WHERE?