With the Triple Crown races fast approaching I thought it would be fun
to take a look at the great events that horse racing offers. These special
events draw racing’s biggest crowds that include both longtime fans and people
attending the races for the first time just to be part of a major sports
Below you will find American Horse Racing’s Top 10 Biggest Events. My rankings
are based on the historical significance of the event, the quality of racing on
that day, tradition, and attendance.
10) Pacific Classic (First
run in 1991) – The Del Mar Thoroughbred Club hosts the west coast’s premier
meeting and the Pacific Classic is the signature event of the summer. Del Mar’s
scenic location is often described by using the title of Bing Crosby’s song, Where the Turf Meets the Surf. Best
Pal won the first Pacific Classic and in 1996 Cigar failed in his attempt to
break Citation’s 16 race winning streak when he lost to Dare And Go.
9) The Haskell Invitational (1968) has been the main event of the summer at Monmouth Park. The Haskell is
run on the last Sunday in July to avoid conflicts with other important summer
stakes races. Haskell Day makes the Top 10 because its traditional hat
giveaway, which began in 1988, is one of the most successful at any track. Go to any place in the area where racing fans
can be found and you will see Haskell hats being worn. In 2007 the Haskell was
won by Any Given Saturday (over Curlin), in 2008 by Big Brown, and in 2009 by Rachel Alexandra.
Attendance hovers around 40,000 each year with a record crowd of 53,638 in
8) Santa Anita Handicap (1935) – Early in its history the race was known as the “Hundred-Grander”
because its $100,000 purse was unheard of at the time. Seabiscuit’s quest to
win the Hundred-Grander captivated the country then and again in 2001 and 2003
with the book and movie about the horse. Also nicknamed “The Big ‘Cap” some of
racing’s greatest champions have won the race:
Affirmed in 1979, Spectacular Bid 1980, and John Henry in 1981 and
1982. Amazingly jockey Bill Shoemaker
won The Big ‘Cap 11 times from 1954 to 1985.
7) Arkansas Derby (1936) is
run on closing day of the Oaklawn Park meeting and year after year it brings in
the largest crowds on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. Attendance in 2012 was
63,804; in 2013 the race drew 66,158; and 63,186 in 2014. Just before this
year’s race, tickets were selling on Stubhub for $95.50 to 362.50. In an
impressive four-year period beginning in 2004, the Arkansas Derby winners were:
Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex, Lawyer Ron, and Curlin.
6) Arlington Million (1981) –
The Arlington Million was the first American race to offer a purse of
$1,000,000. The Million had instant credibility when the great John Henry won
the inaugural running. He came back to win again in 1984. The Million is part
of the International Festival of Racing which features three graded turf stakes
and helped bring turf racing to the forefront in the US.
5) Travers Stakes (1864) – The
Travers Stakes, known as the Midsummer Derby is the signature event at Saratoga
Race Course, the greatest meeting in American racing. The $1,000,000 Travers
was first run at Saratoga in 1864 and is known as the Midsummer Derby. Fans line up at the wee hours of the morning to get a quick start in the race
for the coveted backyard picnic tables. Since 1961 the canoe in the infield
pond is painted with the colors of the Travers winner. Past winners
include: Man O’ War, Whirlaway, Native
Dancer, Buckpasser, Damascus, Alydar, Easy Goer, Holy Bull, and Bernardini.
4) Preakness Stakes (1873) - There
is nothing quite like the infield experience at Pimlico for the Preakness,
where racing’s best parties can be found. Half of the infield is taken up with
the high priced corporate party tents and the other half is geared for the young
crowd with a concert and free-flowing beer. While the well-dressed crowd
attends the corporate parties, the young crowd in shorts and tee-shirts enjoys
the Beerfest and past spectacles like Kegasus and the running of the Port-O-Potties.
3) Belmont Stakes (1866) is
the oldest of the three Triple Crown races and to state the obvious the Belmont
is the only race in which the Triple Crown can be won. There is no greater or
more difficult achievement in racing then winning the Crown. When the Triple
Crown is on the line the crowds and the anticipation grow unlike at any other
racing event. There have, of course, only been 11 Triple Crown winners, the
last was Affirmed in 1978. Twenty-two Derby/Preakness winners have failed to
win the Crown and eight of them finished second. The greatest single
performance in horse racing history occurred in the Belmont Stakes in 1973 when
Secretariat set the track record of 2:24 and won his Triple Crown by 31
2) Breeders' Cup (1984) – For
better or for worse the Breeders’ Cup changed the face of horse racing in this
country. As time passed it became clear that divisional championships depended
on performance in the Breeders’ Cup. Races that were once the most important
stakes in the country became prep races for the Breeders’ Cup. Some of those
races even had to give up their traditional places on the calendar or risk obsolescence.
1) Kentucky Derby (1875) –
There is nothing like the Kentucky Derby for history and tradition. The Derby
is the race that owners, trainers, and jockeys want to win the most. A win in
the Derby is a career changer. The Derby is also the event that racing fans
want to attend the most. Derby traditions run deep whether we talk about mint
juleps (1938), Derby glasses (1938), women sporting their finest hats, men
wearing outlandish suits, the blanket of roses to the winner (1883), or the
playing of My Old Kentucky Home (1930).
The Derby has been run every year since 1875, both the Preakness and the
Belmont Stakes skipped a few years more than a century ago. The Derby regularly
attracts a crowd of more than 150,000.