The Breeders' Cup, a $10-million card of races designed to sort out championships, instead made a three-way muddle out of the horse-of-the-year picture when three contenders eliminated themselves and two horses became candidates for the title Saturday at Churchill Downs.
Black Tie Affair, after running unsuccessfully in the six-furlong Breeders' Cup Sprint the last two years, won the 1 1/4-mile, $3-million Classic Saturday by 1 1/4 lengths. Neither his owner, Jeff Sullivan, nor the colt's trainer, Ernie Poulos, began a hard-sell campaign for national honors, but Black Tie Affair became a contender because of other developments during the day.
Dance Smartly, the Canadian filly with the white-diamond on her forehead, won the Distaff by 1 1/2 lengths for her eighth victory in an undefeated season.
Dance Smartly and Black Tie Affair are joined in the horse-of-the-year hunt by Arazi, the French colt who won the Juvenile by 4 3/4 lengths in the most electrifying performance of the afternoon. Arazi had never run on dirt, losing his first race overseas before winning six consecutive stakes on grass.
Three horses--In Excess, Tight Spot and Festin--saw horse-of-the-year possibilities evaporate.
In Excess and Tight Spot finished in a dead heat for ninth in the Mile. In Excess, who began the day as the horse-of-the-year favorite, ran in the grass race instead of continuing a year-long campaign on dirt, and after leading the Mile at the head of the stretch, faded badly. Tight Spot, who was undefeated in eight turf races, five of them this year, was right behind In Excess with less than a quarter-mile to run, and he also had nothing left in the stretch.
Festin was sent off the 3-1 favorite in the Classic, which had been diluted considerably with the defection of In Excess and an injury early last week to Farma Way. As is his style, Festin lagged badly at the beginning. He was in 10th place and more than 16 lengths behind the front-running Black Tie Affair down the backstretch. He wound up sixth, beaten by nearly six lengths.
When the turf writers, track racing secretaries and Daily Racing Form representatives fill out their ballots next month, Black Tie Affair might have an edge over Dance Smartly and Arazi, because females and 2-year-olds seldom win horse of the year. Only two distaffers, Lady's Secret in 1986 and All Along in 1983, have won national honors in the last 25 years, and the last juvenile to win the title was Secretariat in 1972.
The eighth Breeders' Cup, which drew 66,204, began in a 38-degree chill that was helped only slightly by bright sunshine. Two horses--Housebuster, the 2-5 favorite in the Sprint, and Filago in the 1 1/2-mile Turf--were injured, but there was no repeat of the threedeaths, including that of the brilliant Go For Wand, that marred Breeders' Cup day at Belmont Park last year.
This Breeders' Cup was remarkable for its unpredictability. Joining Black Tie Affair, Dance Smartly and Arazi in the winner's circle were:
--Miss Alleged, who ended a 16-month, seven-race losing streak with a half-length victory in the Turf. The French filly, the first horse from the mutuel field to win a Breeders' Cup race, paid $86.20.
--Opening Verse, who with Arazi gave owner Allen Paulson and jockey Pat Valenzuela two victories for the day, won by 1 1/4 lengths in the Mile. He paid $55.40.
--Sheikh Albadou, the first of three European horses to win Saturday, won the Sprint by three lengths, paying $54.60.
--Pleasant Stage and La Spia, who finished first and third, respectively, in the Oak Leaf at Santa Anita three weeks ago, ran one-two in the Juvenile Fillies. Pleasant Stage, who caught La Spia at the wire to win by a head, paid $13.60.
The win payoffs for the other winners were $10 for Black Tie Affair, $6.20 for Arazi and $3 for Dance Smartly.
Front-runners had been faring poorly all day, but Black Tie Affair and his new jockey, Jerry Bailey, had an edge in the Classic because the field lost two front-runners when In Excess and Farma Way dropped out.
"I was concerned about the way the track was playing," Poulos said. "But as the day went on, it seemed to tighten up, and then when I saw those slow fractions (a 48 2/5 half-mile and a 1:12 3/5 three-quarters), I said to myself, 'How sweet it is.' "
And it became even sweeter as Black Tie Affair finished the race in 2:02 4/5 on a track that went from good to fast.
"This horse got better with age," said Poulos, 65. "I wanted to run him in the Classic, and Mr. Sullivan and I went back and forth, because he wanted the Sprint. This horse would run from here to China and back and only drink a little bit of water."
A month after running third in last year's Sprint, Black Tie Affair won a 1 1/4-mile stake at Hawthorne, one of Paulos' home tracks in the Chicago area. Black Tie Affair went back to sprinting early this year, but after his ninth-place finish in the Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont--won by In Excess--the 5-year-old gray won five consecutive races, all at 1 1/8 miles. Poulos vanned the horse in and out of Chicago, estimating that they covered about 14,000 miles.
Bailey, who had ridden in 10 previous Breeders' Cup races without a winner, got the mount on Black Tie Affair because Pat Day, who had won three races with the horse this summer, was committed to Summer Squall.
Twilight Agenda, near the pace all the way in the Classic, finished second, 2 1/2 lengths ahead of Unbridled, who was far back with Festin early. Unbridled, the 1990 Kentucky Derby and Classic winner, was a neck ahead of Fly So Free, who had a half-length on Strike The Gold, this year's Derby winner. Summer Squall, who was fourth after three-quarters of a mile, finished ninth.
Black Tie Affair might run one more time, in the Hawthorne Gold Cup, before he is retired to stud. "I may never see another one like him in my whole life," said Poulos, who runs a public stable. "I'll hate to see him go."
Chris McCarron took the mount on Twilight Agenda after his stablemate, Farma Way, suffered an ankle injury in training. "I didn't expect Black Tie Affair to be loose on the lead," McCarron said. "My horse stumbled leaving the gate, and he was on the wrong lead (the left). I shifted real hard on his mouth to make him switch leads, and that slowed him down. Jerry (Bailey) was chirping to his horse, and I didn't think he had as much horse as he did. I asked my horse to run (in the stretch), and he sailed on. I thought we had him, but this gray horse doesn't quit."
Bailey was confident about Black Tie Affair being able to make the lead. "When Farma Way and In Excess dropped out," he said, "the only question in my mind was how slow a pace I would be able to get away with. I think the middle fractions were softer with those two horses out."
Asked about the stretch run, Bailey quoted pitcher Satchel Paige, who played major league baseball into his 50s. "Satchel always said that you shouldn't look over your shoulder, someone might be catching you," Bailey said. "I didn't even look. I had no reason to look for anybody else."
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