Photo: Breeders' Cup
Rivalries enhance the world of sports, igniting arguments
between zealous fans and enhancing the thrill of the competition. Heightened
pressure and anticipation, exciting finishes, and controversy define horse
racing rivalries, which have the remarkable ability of both dividing and
uniting racing fans. An abundance of rivalries have enriched the racing
industry, but there are a select few that are heralded as racing’s all-time
greatest rivalries. Among those is that between Easy Goer and Sunday Silence.
The two were polar opposites. Easy Goer, a blue-blooded chestnut raised on the
renowned Claiborne Farm, was the champion two-year-old colt of 1988, winning a
pair of grade ones at Belmont Park and finishing second in the Breeders’ Cup
Juvenile (gr. I). Sunday Silence, a true black colt registered as a dark
bay/brown, was an unwanted colt with a modest pedigree and unremarkable conformation
who was lightly raced as a juvenile, winning one of three starts in 1988.
But, as Easy Goer carried his brilliance into his three-year-old year, Sunday
Silence blossomed into a superstar, capturing three consecutive races at Santa
Anita Park – including a pair of graded stakes. It was on to Churchill Downs on
the first Saturday in May for both of these colts, where they would compete for
American racing’s most illustrious prize. It was also the stage on which they
would commence their legendary rivalry.
Easy Goer was sent off as the heavy favorite and many expected him to be a
dominant winner of the Run for the Roses. But Sunday Silence rained on his
parade, defeating Easy Goer by 2 ½ lengths beneath the Twin Spires.
Nonetheless, doubters of Sunday Silence remained and two weeks later at the
Preakness Stakes (gr. I), Easy Goer was again sent off as the heavy favorite.
Perhaps the race that defined their rivalry, the second leg of the Triple Crown
has since been heralded as one of the all-time great races. After Easy Goer
took an early lead near the end of the backstretch, Sunday Silence set his
sights on his adversary, drawing even with him around the turn. A
spine-tingling battle down the lane resulted in an electrifying nose victory by
Sunday Silence, which kept the hope for a Triple Crown sweep alive.
But, of course, Easy Goer was prepared for revenge and achieved just that in
the final leg of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes (gr. I), in which he left
Sunday Silence 8 lengths behind in the second-fastest Belmont ever contested – a
time second only to the great Secretariat.
Sunday Silence and Easy Goer did not meet again until the Breeders’ Cup Classic
(gr. I) at Gulfstream Park in November of 1989 – their final match-up. Easy
Goer left the gate slowly from the inside as the odds on favorite, whereas
Sunday Silence broke sharply from the outside. As Slew City Slew led the
Classic field before the stands for the first time, Sunday Silence galloped
down the center of the track, rating off the leaders. Meanwhile, Easy Goer settled
into a position near the rear, racing ten lengths behind the pacesetter as the
horses crossed under the wire for the initial time.
Both Sunday Silence and Easy Goer raced several paths off the rail, with many
lengths between them as Slew City Slew recorded blistering fractions. Inching
into third down the backstretch, Sunday Silence remained nearly four lengths
behind Slew City Slew a half-mile into the race. As he gradually grew closer to
the front, so did Easy Goer, who was beginning to make his move as the field
neared the far turn.
Easy Goer reached Sunday Silence’s flank as the horses entered the final bend,
but the Derby winner found more, gaining ground on the leaders as he loomed
large on the outside turning for home. But Easy Goer had regained his momentum
and was flying down the center of the track.
As Sunday Silence stole the lead from Blushing John in the final furlong, Easy
Goer continued to pursue the lead, but the power and perseverance of Sunday
Silence allowed the Derby and Preakness winner to cross the wire in front,
leaving Easy Goer to finish a
fast-closing second. Despite Easy Goer’s impressive rally, Sunday
Silence emerged the proud winner.
The West Coast rejoiced after Sunday Silence’s Classic triumph. The continuing
rivalry between the horses representing each coast had reached an end, with
Sunday Silence exiting the racetrack with a score of 3-for-4. He’d won the race
for divisional honors and Horse of the Year of 1989. But the argument
concerning which was the better horse continues today, twenty-four years after
the colts battled each other in America’s most prestigious races. But when it
was all said and done at the Breeders’ Cup, Sunday Silence got the last word.