It had never been done.
During the first 26 years of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, a handful of horses managed to win back-to-back championship races. The sensational filly Miesque was the first to achieve the feat, nabbing the 1987 and 1988 editions of the Breeders’ Cup Mile under perfect rides from jockey Freddy Head.
But for more than a quarter of a century, a Breeders’ Cup three-peat proved elusive. Only one horse — 1992-93 Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Lure — even attempted the feat, struggling to a ninth-place finish with history on the line. The third time simply wasn’t the charm, and for many years it seemed as though winning three Breeders’ Cup races was an impossible feat.
Then along came Goldikova, conditioned by none other than jockey-turned-trainer Freddy Head.
With a brilliance that brought to mind memories of Miesque herself, Goldikova dominated the Breeders’ Cup Mile in 2008 and 2009. Her first appearance came as a 3-year-old fresh off back-to-back Group 1 winners in France. With a powerful turn of foot, Goldikova swept past defending Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Kip Deville to prevail by 1 1/4 lengths.
Goldikova was just as impressive in 2009. Although beaten in her final prep race, Goldikova proved tons the best upon her return to the U.S., swallowing the leaders with an undeniable burst of speed to win by half a length.
Winning two straight editions of the Breeders’ Cup Mile prompted owners Alain and Gerard Wertheimer to keep Goldikova in training, their eyes firmly focused on making history with a third consecutive Breeders’ Cup victory.
“I must say, one of the dreams was to beat the record for the Mile at least, and win three times in a row,” Alain Wertheimer explained in an article by Deirdre B. Biles published in The Blood-Horse on Nov. 13, 2010. “That was the idea, when she won twice. I think it was important to make history, to have a horse that can win the same race three times. That would be something very, very difficult to beat.”
But when Goldikova arrived at Churchill Downs for the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Mile, it was fair to wonder whether she could defy history and complete the hat trick. Though her form was as strong as ever, she was getting older, she’d drawn wide in post position 10, and she was lining up against an elite field.
Indeed, Goldikova’s competition was formidable. There was Gio Ponti, voted U.S. champion grass male of 2009 and 2010. There was Court Vision, who would prevail in the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Mile. And there was Paco Boy, who had finished within half a length of Goldikova in the Prix de la Foret (G1) one month before the Breeders’ Cup.
Had fans pondered beforehand what a successful Breeders’ Cup three-peat would look like, they might have envisioned a heart-pounding stretch battle, an epic showdown for the ages in which Goldikova just barely overcame all odds to prevail narrowly.
But logical results are outnumbered by surprises in horse racing, and in this instance, fans underestimated Goldikova’s abundant talent. Rather than struggle, the 5-year-old mare made a seemingly insurmountable challenge appear no more difficult than a taking a stroll in the park.
The 2010 Breeders’ Cup Mile unfolded almost completely without drama. Goldikova broke fine from her outside draw and soon settled into mid-pack while racing outside of rivals. Slowly but surely, she edged closer, drawing within four lengths of the lead with a quarter-mile remaining.
Then regular rider Oliver Peslier asked Goldikova to accelerate, and the race was over practically in the blink of an eye.
Swallowing pacesetter Sidney’s Candy with a fresh burst of speed, Goldikova seized command at the 16th pole and left no doubt about her authority in the final yards. Gio Ponti tried his best to keep up, but he was no match as Goldikova cruised clear by 1 3/4 lengths.
Three straight wins in the Breeders’ Cup Mile, all of them easy as could be.
“Miesque was a fantastic horse, but Goldikova is much easier to ride than Miesque,” Head marveled in The Blood-Horse. “You are able to do a lot of things with her that you couldn’t do with Miesque. I think (Goldikova) has everything an athlete can have. She’s got tremendous nerves. She’s very cool. She’s very fast, and she can carry that speed for a long time. She can relax, she always has another gear, and she finishes faster than the others. She’s a real fighter.”
And a history maker, too.
J. Keeler Johnson is a writer, videographer, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. You can follow him on Twitter at @J_Keelerman.