Race of the Week 2017

Breeders' Cup Flashback: Sunday Silence

Sunday Silence BC 615 X 400
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.


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Older Comments about Breeders' Cup Flashback: Sunday Silence...

My favorite Breeders' Cup race ever ... thanks, Mary!
Their Preakness was their best. I have the photo and they are so close at the line that you can barely make out Easy Goer inside of SS

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