personal ensign breeders cup distaff 1988 video
personal ensign breeders cup distaff 1988 video

Click above to watch Personal Ensign in the 1988 Breeders’ Cup Distaff

(Footage : Breeders Cup)

ZENYATTA vs RACHEL ALEXANDRA

bill oppenheim
bill oppenheim

Bill Oppenheim Thoroughbred Daily NewsShe did raise the roof. I was at Churchill Downs in 1988 when Personal Ensign came from an impossible position to nail G1 Kentucky Derby winner Winning Colors in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Distaff (now Ladies’ Classic) in the slop, completing an undefeated sevenrace four-year-old campaign and an undefeated 13-race career. Since last weekend, I’ve spoken to a lot of people who saw that race, and we are all in agreement : this topped it. Zenyatta broke Personal Ensign’s record by coming from last to finish undefeated in 14 races, and she beat (good) colts in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Classic to do it. I don’t know what caused our publisher, Barry Weisbord, to have this sudden fit of diplomacy, but I have to say I completely disagree. Yes, Rachel Alexandra beat colts three times, and that makes her champion three-year-old filly, by a country mile. But, for whatever reasons, her connections declined the invitation to send her to California. Meanwhile, Zenyatta broke Personal Ensign’s record and won the Classic. Whether we have an archaic system of voting for championships is another question, but this is one current Eclipse voter speaking : no contest. No debate.

Zenyatta is Horse of the Year. Rachel Alexandra can come back next year and beat colts on her owner’s preferred dirt at Churchill Downs, and then she can be Horse of the Year. But in 2009 there can only be one winner, and her owners get the vote for the Eclipse Award in their category, too.

Zenyatta’s epic win capped another highly successful two-day Breeders’ Cup festival at Santa Anita - so successful, in fact, that one Breeders’ Cup faction is already lobbying for a permanent move to Santa Anita after Churchill in 2010. That will be a far more interesting debate for the industry than who is Horse of the Year, and the reason it’s even up for debate is that Southern California and the Breeders’ Cup are pretty much made for each other. I don’t know that it could have gone better. Attendance was up over 10,000 from last year for the two days, the atmosphere was crackling, and the planning and execution by Breeders’ Cup and Santa Anita officials came off beautifully. Oh, and no horses died on the racetrack - another great result. You know yourselves, there are an awful lot of things wrong with this industry, (in America) but all those concerns disappeared for last weekend. Zenyatta’s win really did show that it really can still happen, that there really is something going on here.

Whatever the politics, whatever the issues, whatever the concerns, short and long-term, the Breeders’ Cup should be congratulated for really and truly showcasing our sport the way we hope it will be.

Comment