Indeed, Lukas spent much of Saturday messing up the plans of his foes, just as he had in previous editions of Breeders" Cup races. Coming into this fifth running, Lukas had won more Cup races—six—than any other trainer; nevertheless, there were serious students of the sport who suggested that Lukas might not win a single race this year, citing the overall strength of the competition. Lukas ended that speculation quickly enough when he saddled Gulch in the first of the seven Cup races and saw him win the six-furlong Sprint in a driving rush for the wire. In the very next race, for 2-year-old fillies, Lukas sent out a five-horse entry, shunning the old racetrack axiom that says racing is supposed to decide who has the most horse, not the most horses. Three of them, led by owner Eugene V. Klein's Open Mind, finished 1-2-3.
Enjoying things every bit as much as Lukas to that point was jockey Angel Cordero Jr. The third-winningest rider in history in races won (trailing Bill Shoemaker and Laffit Pincay Jr.), Cordero is no longer the consistent presence he once was—back when he was the most brilliant and creative of American riders. In his 25 earlier Breeders' Cup races, Cordero had won only once, on Life's Magic in the 1985 Distaff. But now, three days shy of his 46th birthday, the old guy flashed his special style.
It was Cordero who rode Gulch to victory in the Sprint, taking back off an unimaginably torrid early pace on a gooey surface that would yield slow final times all afternoon. In the Sprint, however, the flat-out fastest thoroughbred in America, Olympic Prospect, blazed a quarter mile in 21 seconds, a half in 44[1/5], and five eighths in a startling 56[2/5]. By then, though, sucked along in the slipstream, Gulch was running the fastest of all, with Cordero whooping and gunning him from the eighth pole home, and slicing into the leaders' margin with every stride. "The last eighth of a mile," he said afterward, "when my horse was moving for the lead, I was saying to Gulch, 'Please don't quit on me now! I am so close!' "
Cordero himself was sporting a not-so-secret weapon; he is one of the first jockeys to wear the formfitting jockey silks that are designed to reduce air drag and water weight (SI, Nov. 7). And on this wet and windy day in Louisville, his garb may have made a difference. "You bet these silks helped," Cordero said after Gulch had won by three quarters of a length. He also wore them in the second race, which he won on Open Mind by 1¾ lengths. Altogether, Cordero rode in six of the Cup races, and the horses he straddled took home a nifty $1,538,000 in prize money. He will get a 10% cut of that, or $153,800, for his day's work.
Neither silks nor strategy proved enough for Cordero in the 1½-mile Turf race. Aboard Sunshine Forever and lying just off the pace most of the way, in perfect position, he had dead aim on the leader, the long shot Great Communicator, every step of the race. When he set the colt down in the drive, however, Great Communicator, guided by Ray Sibille, simply outran him from the eighth pole and won it by a half length. The other turf race, the Mile, was more formful. Last year's champion, the dashing French filly Miesque, became the first horse ever to win two Breeders' Cup races when she collared the pacemakers in the stretch and won with a flourish, by four lengths—the day's largest margin of victory.
In the fifth Cup race of the afternoon, McGaughey's earlier fears were realized: Lukas finally did ruin his day. In the Juvenile, for 2-year-old colts and geldings, Lukas sent out Is It True, another Klein horse. McGaughey saddled a golden chestnut named Easy Goer, the prohibitive favorite at 3-10, who had met Is It True three times and routinely had him for breakfast. A son of the great stallion Alydar, out of a champion race mare named Relaxing, Easy Goer was truly born with designer genes. So wondrous were his recent races in New York that some handicappers were already comparing him to Secretariat.
Meanwhile, Is It True was perceived as no more than the second-best 2-year-old in the Lukas barn, behind a son of Seattle Slew named Houston. That colt broke his maiden last summer, but then he bucked his shins and has not raced since. Lukas, however, didn't need his top gun on Saturday. Is It True galloped to the lead and never came back, winning by 1¼ lengths, with Easy Goer a slow-closing second. Immediately after pulling off the upset of the day, Lukas poked his son Jeff, his chief assistant trainer, and said, "And Houston's in the barn!"
Easy Goer never got comfortable in the mud. "He didn't like the racetrack," said his jockey, Pat Day. "He was jumping up and down." Easy Goer undoubtedly will still be voted the 2-year-old champion, and he will rule as the winter book favorite for next year's Kentucky Derby. But Lukas, once again, showed the extraordinary depth of his stable. Is It True was his third winner. By day's end the trainer had also saddled three second-place finishers and one third-place horse. In all, Lukas-trained horses earned $2.19 million. "Best day I've ever had," Lukas said. "I came here hoping to win one. Amazing."
With the exception of the Distaff, with Personal Ensign's matchless exertions, the earlier races served chiefly as stepping-stones to the Classic. This was the one on which would turn the grand championship of racing: If Alysheba did not excel, there would be irresistible sentiment to award the Horse of the Year title to Personal Ensign off her undefeated career and her remarkable final race. But Alysheba had had a memorable year as well. The 1987 Kentucky Derby winner had won six of eight races and $2,458,600, had run on six different racetracks coast to coast—Churchill Downs would be his seventh—and had fractured two track records along the way. His lifetime earnings stood at $5,329,242, and a victory in the Classic would make him the biggest money-winner in racing history, vaulting him past the iron horse John Henry, who had earned $6,597,947 in an eight-year career. But beyond the formidable field Alysheba would be facing in the Classic, what looked most troubling was the condition of the track. More than an inch of rain had recently fallen, and with no sun to warm the track and a steady, bone-chilling wind whipping over it, the surface had the texture of what Lukas called "rolled peanut butter."
Not incidentally, the fact that the Breeders' Cup races would be contested on such a surface this year had been the source of controversy. The Breeders' Cup was conceived as a television spectacular, a Super Bowl of racing in which a TV audience could watch many of the world's best horses racing for $10 million in one day. Of the first four Breeders' Cups, three were held in Southern California, where the sun tends to shine, and on fast racetracks. Next year the series will be run at Gulfstream Park, in sunny Florida. The question was and is: Why hold the Breeders' Cup in a location like Louisville or New York (it was held at Aqueduct In 1985), where there is a chance that rain will alter horses* form and turn a colorful celebration of the sport into a dreary TV image of horses splashing around a sunless, muddy track in cold rain?