For one heart-stopping Moment, as the field of 13 horses made its wild dash into the first turn of the Breeders' Cup Mile on the turf, a strapping bay colt named Lure appeared to be heading for valet parking beyond the outside fence at Santa Anita. Indeed, he was being herded so wide coming to the clubhouse turn that his jockey, Mike Smith, found himself caught in that most notorious of California fixes.
"It was like a traffic jam on some Los Angeles freeway, with everybody honking," Smith said later. "I was in the seven path, and everybody inside of me was getting knocked around. I was forced out, and my horse had everything to overcome right there."
And the colt ultimately overcame it all. In fact, in the course of a Breeders' Cup afternoon spent in search of the 1993 Horse of the Year, Lure's dazzling 2¼-length victory last Saturday in the $1 million Mile not only confirmed him as a leading contender for racing's highest honor but also stamped him as one of the most-gifted horses seen on the American turf in recent years. As it turned out, Lure, owned by Claiborne Farm, was the only horse from the eastern U.S. to win one of the seven Breeders' Cup races.
In what appeared to be a kind of home court advantage, California horses won the first three races: Cardmania, the Sprint; Phone Chatter, the Juvenile Filly race; and Hollywood Wildcat, the Distaff. Eastern fans, however, hoped that Lure's victory in the fourth race was a harbinger of what would happen in the next race, the $1 million Juvenile at 1[1/16] miles. The prohibitive favorite in the Juvenile was Dehere, named for former Seton Hall basketball star Terry Dehere and owned by Garden State Park's Robert Brennan. The 2-year-old colt had five wins in his six races coming into the Juvenile and had been touted as the early favorite for next year's Kentucky Derby. But Dehere finished a disappointing eighth, 12½ lengths behind the winner, Brocco—another California horse. Owned by Hollywood film producer Albert Broccoli (of the family who actually developed the namesake vegetable), Brocco went off as the second favorite at 3-1 and won by five lengths, making him the new darling for the '94 Derby. Dehere's jockey, Chris McCarron, had no excuses for the colt's miserable showing, saying simply that Dehere "just didn't run his race."
By the end of the afternoon, however, the defeat of Dehere barely registered on the scale of Breeders' Cup surprises. In the final race of the day, the 1¼-mile Classic, the favorite, Bertrando, was sailing down the stretch with victory in sight. And with a win Bertrando would be virtually assured of Horse of the Year honors. But deep into the final furlong a French invader named Arcangues, the longest price on the board at 133-1, came charging along the inside to run past the leader and win by two lengths. "Where did that son of a bitch come from?" Bertrando's jockey, Gary Stevens, asked upon dismounting. He wasn't the only stunned rider; Arcangues's jockey, Jerry Bailey, said after the race, "I don't even know how to pronounce the horse's name." (It's ar-CONG.)
That shocking win was the biggest upset in the history of the Breeders' Cup—as well as the first time a foreign horse had ever won the $3 million Classic. "This French horse has just proven that your dirt horses aren't very good," crowed English horseman John Gosden.
Earlier in the day, though, it was the Europeans who were paying tribute to the American turf horses—and to one of them in particular. In a crowning toast to Lure's display of gameness and speed, legendary French trainer Maurice Zilber reached back to 1987-88, when the filly Miesque was the back-to-back winner of the Mile, to find anything comparable to the colt he saw on Saturday. "Lure is the best miler we have seen in a very long time, since Miesque," Zilber said. "Maybe better than Miesque."
Lure's win was his second straight in the Mile, making him only the third horse in the 10-year history of the Breeders' Cup series to score repeat victories (the other, besides Miesque, was Bayakoa in the Distaff in 1989 and 1990). In a year when favorites had been beaten or bowed and there was no clear champion, Lure's triumph gave some focus to the racing year and the fans a hero to cheer for.
Lure's trainer, Shug McGaughey, is having one of the finest years of his career. On Oct. 16 at Belmont Park, in an unprecedented feat that may never be equaled, McGaughey won five stakes races on one card, including the Kelso Handicap with Lure. Nothing he has done in the last five seasons more vividly illustrates his patience and skill as a horseman than his development and handling of this colt. Coming to this year's Mile, Lure had won five of his seven races on the grass, and in two of his most notable performances last spring—in the Early Times Classic at Churchill Downs and in the Early Times Dixie Handicap at Pimlico, both run at 1‚Äö√Ñ√∂‚àö√±‚àö¬µ miles—he beat another gifted grass horse, Star of Cozzene, in racehorse time. (In both of his losses this year Lure had finished second to the Star in even faster times.)
But the Breeders' Cup Mile is really Lure's game, as he showed last year, and the only fateful twist on his way to victory on Saturday came three days before the race, when the front-running colt drew post 12—just one door from the far outside on a narrow course that has but 836 feet of straightaway from the gate to the first turn. The dream mile, as it appeared on paper, nearly turned into a nightmare on a Breeders' Cup card that, by day's end, had racing industry people giving thanks for an event that remained remarkably free of injury.
At the break Smith set sail for the lead aboard Lure, but at least half a dozen other riders had similar designs, and Smith got caught in the middle of the racetrack, with a pack of horses on his left as the turn loomed. Suddenly the fine French miler Ski Paradise bore out from the rail. She set off a chain reaction of horses bumping to the right. There was nothing Smith could do but steady his colt and let him drift right.
"I let Lure move outside a little more," said Smith. "I was trying to release the pressure on him, but I didn't want him to drift too far out. I was already way out there as it was." Then, in a trice, some of the inside speed checked, taking back, and Smith angled the colt to the inside. Lure took off in a rush, charging to the flank of Ski Paradise and bounding for the lead as they straightened into the backstretch. He powered to the lead, racing the half mile in :45[4/5] on the way to a quick three quarters in 1:09[2/5]. "He knows what he's all about," Smith says. "He left me shaking in my boots. He's incredible."
Lure turned for home in front by a length, and Smith merely hand-rode him to the wire, opening up daylight in mid-stretch to win it as he pleased in 1:33⅖ only four fifths off the course mark. It was, by any measure, a magnificent performance—swift and dead game.
His victory, however, did not clinch the contentious battle for Horse of the Year. In the 1½-mile Breeders' Cup Turf, Kotashaan, French-bred but American-raced, scored a grinding half-length victory over America's Bien Bien. It was Kotashaan's sixth win this year on the grass, and it left him, too, as a leading candidate for the Horse of the Year title. He will be joining Star of Cozzene in the $3.5 million Japan Cup, the world's richest horse race, on Nov. 28; either horse could take the title by winning that final race.
But on Saturday, Lure ran like the best racehorse in the land. "He's the best miler I've seen in America," says Gosden, who trained for 11 years in the U.S. before returning to England in 1988. "I think he's your Horse of the Year."