At about 7 p.m. last Saturday night, with the Breeders' Cup revels finally ended and darkness settled over the back-stretch at Gulfstream Park, trainer Neil Drysdale emerged from a tack room at the end of Barn 3 in the stable area. He was hustling to catch a flight back to California but stopped to take a final look into Stall 27. A groom named Danny Lopez had just set a floor fan in front of the stall, and now its handsome inhabitant, A.P. Indy, a powerful bay with a white stripe on his face, swung slowly about and came to the door, as if to inquire about all the commotion. The 3-year-old colt stood for a moment in the breeze of the fan and pricked his cars at the voices in the shedrow.
"I feel good for this horse tonight," Drysdale said. "He's definitely the 3-year-old of the year, and he's now a strong contender for Horse of the Year. This is a very, very good horse, and he proved it today. He vindicated himself!"
Indeed, only 90 minutes earlier, the royally bred son of 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew and the broodmare Weekend Surprise—herself a daughter of 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat—came charging off the pace on the turn for home, with jockey Eddie Delahoussaye pushing him through a hole between horses at the top of the stretch, and bounded away to a two-length victory in the $3 million Breeders' Cup Classic. Since the Cup series of seven races was inaugurated in 1984, the 1¼-mile Classic has evolved into the most important race in determining the Horse of the Year—in fact, the Classic has produced four of the last five winners of the title. In this racing season, in which no horse sustained a claim as indubitably the finest performer in the sport, A.P. Indy has emerged as a favorite to win its most coveted award.
If Indy's victory in the Classic was a vindication of his obvious gifts as a racehorse, so it was, too, an affirmation of Delahoussaye's decision to stay with the horse and of Drysdale's patience and skill in campaigning the colt through a year with as many setbacks and disappointments as triumphs on the course. After a 1¾-length Santa Anita Derby victory that made him the leading American prospect in the Triple Crown races, A.P. Indy suffered a bruised hoof that forced Drysdale to scratch him from the Kentucky Derby, a race a healthy Indy probably would have won. At Churchill Downs on Derby Day, Drysdale watched in stony-faced silence as the heavily favored French colt Arazi laded in the stretch and the 17-1 shot Lil E. Tee came galloping home like a giraffe to win the 1¼-mile race in a slow 2:04. Indy missed the Preakness, too, but Drysdale had him cranked for the May 24 Peter Pan, which he won easily, and 13 days later he prevailed in the Belmont Stakes.
Drysdale gave Indy the summer off, aiming for the Classic, but what happened when he brought him back to the races, for the Sept. 13 Molson Million at Toronto's Woodbine Race Course, hardly inspired dreams of a championship season. Indy flattened out in the stretch to finish fifth, beaten by 2½ lengths, and Delahoussaye thought the colt was a tad short on conditioning after the layoff. "He just didn't run," the jockey said. When Drysdale pointed Indy for the Oct. 10 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park, Delahoussaye was faced with the enviable task of choosing between Indy and another regular mount, the resourceful and consistent Pleasant Tap, whose handlers had their sights on Horse of the Year.
Delahoussaye stuck with A.P. Indy, not only because he had ridden for Drysdale for years and felt a pull of loyalty to him, but also because Indy had proved himself as a performer around two turns, while Pleasant Tap had not. Delahoussaye thought that Drysdale had the horse dead fit to win the Classic. "I wasn't turning down a good horse for a bad one," he said. "I was looking down the road at this race and beyond."
As things turned out, Indy never had a chance in the Gold Cup. Coming out of the gate, horses on either side of him squeezed him in a vise, and as he dropped back, Indy caught the heel of the horse on his right, tearing off a shoe and nearly going down. "I don't know how he stayed up," Delahoussaye says. Running on three shoes, Indy tried to get back into the hunt, surging in the stretch as Pleasant Tap pulled away to win by 4½ lengths. Indy finished third, beaten by nearly seven. Fortunately, when he lost his shoe, he did not suffer a tearing of the hoof wall. "We got lucky," Drysdale told his rider. "We should be all right."
An unusually powerful contingent of foreign horses—21 in all—had shipped to Florida for the Breeders' Cup, and the day began in disaster for the invaders when Mr Brooks, one of Britain's fastest sprinters, fractured his right front cannon bone and went down on the turn for home. Mr Brooks's jockey, 56-year-old Lester Piggott, the great British rider, was thrown forward as Mr Brooks tumbled to the ground. Piggott was pinned under the fallen horse, and observers from a nearby clocker's stand rushed to pull Mr Brooks off his rider. The semiconscious Piggott was taken by ambulance to Hollywood Memorial Hospital, where doctors determined that he had suffered a broken left collarbone, two broken ribs and a partially collapsed lung. Mr Brooks was humanely destroyed on the track.
By the time the horses went to the post for the Classic, the last race on the card, it had become clear that most of the European horses either could not handle the tight turns of the Gulfstream Park oval or were undone, in their early winter coats, by the 87° heat and high humidity of South Florida. Many of the foreign horses looked washy in the paddock before their races, and the best they could do all day was two third places—with the Irish colt Brief Truce in the Breeders' Cup Mile, in which Britain's finest miler, Selkirk, finished fifth and Arazi 11th; and with France's filly Jolypha in the Classic, in which Britain's leading 3-year-old miler, Rodrigo de Triano, showed no interest and finished last of 14.
The crowd of 45.000 made Indy the tepid Classic favorite, at 2-1, with Pleasant Tap the second choice at 5-2, in what was most likely the race for Horse of the Year. As Delahoussaye drove Indy past a tiring Jolie's Halo just after the quarter pole and raced to Defensive Play at the top of the straight, jockey Gary Stevens was bouncing after him on Pleasant Tap, who got clear on the inside and strained through the final eighth to close the gap. But it was A.P. Indy's day.
In opting for the mount on Indy, the 41-year-old Delahoussaye had made the right choice at a critical moment of his riding career. "Look at what happened to this horse this year," he said. "After missing the Derby and the Preakness, he comes back to win this. I knew he was the horse! Don't get any better than this."