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Two strides later, as Cordero rushed away from him, Stevens glanced over again and there was Sunday Silence, striding boldly against the bit for McCarron. "He passes me too, chasing Angel," said Stevens. "Then I look over again, and here comes Pat on Easy Goer. He was riding that horse like hell."
By now the grandstand and the jerry-built bleachers erected to accommodate the crowds were vibrating in the din as the horses rounded the final turn. Blushing John, who was nearly 22-1, was still feeling like a winner to Cordero. But as he peeked over his right shoulder, Cordero saw that distinctive black head with the little white kite on the forehead. Cordero did a double take. "I thought. Oh, no! Here's the big little horse. All of a sudden Sunday Silence was right there next to me."
Just behind the leaders, Day had gone to the whip on the turn and was driving Easy Goer forward. But the horse was having trouble staying in the chase, a consequence perhaps of his recent racing schedule. Trainer Shug McGaughey ran Easy Goer four times between the Belmont and the Classic, first winning the 1⅛-mile Whitney and the 1¼-mile Travers at Saratoga and then the 1¼-mile Woodward Stakes at Belmont Park. At the time of the Aug. 19 Travers, McGaughey had shown little inclination to run Easy Goer in the 1½-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup on Oct. 7 at Belmont. Sometime after the Sept. 16 Woodward, however, he changed his mind.
This came as no surprise. After all, Easy Goer's owner, Ogden Phipps, is a former chairman of The Jockey Club, after which the race is named; his son, Ogden Mills Phipps, is the chairman today. Over the past few years, faced with competition from the richer Breeders' Cup Classic, the Gold Cup's prestige has waned, and it certainly would have been a further blow to its reputation had Phipps chosen to pass up the race with his champion horse.
In the end, Easy Goer beat six ordinary horses in the Gold Cup, winning by four lengths and earning $659,400 for his exertions, but that victory may have exacted a dear price. It meant that Easy Goer would be coming to the 10-furlong Classic off the 12-furlong Gold Cup—a potentially tricky parlay for a trainer, because the longer race can have the dangerous effect of dulling the colt's natural speed, of blunting the quickness that he might need in the shorter race.
In contrast, trainer Charlie Whittingham had run Sunday Silence only twice in the five months since the Belmont, both times over a 1¼-mile distance—in the Swaps Stakes at Hollywood, where he finished second, and two months later in the Sept. 24 Super Derby at Louisiana Downs, which he won by six. Time and again, the 76-year-old Whittingham has shown that there is no trainer more adept than he at preparing a horse for a single goal over an extended period of time. In the week before Breeders' Cup Day, he was plainly buoyed by what he perceived to be his advantages going into the Classic.
"My colt will win," Whittingham said on the eve of the Classic. "He's fresher than Easy Goer, he's quicker, and I know from experience that the longer races are harder on a horse than the shorter ones. Easy Goer just had a long one. You don't get over them so easy."
Whatever the reasons, when McCarron put his hands forward and Sunday Silence dashed away from Easy Goer into the turn, there was no denying Whittingham's point that Easy Goer's chances in the Breeders' Cup Classic—and hence his bid to be voted Horse of the Year—may have been compromised by his efforts in the Gold Cup. Turning for home, Sunday Silence had to beat only Blushing John and Cordero, who screamed at his mount and pumped on him as Sunday Silence drew alongside. "Come on, Johnny!" he shouted. "Go on with it, Johnny!"
For all of Cordero's whooping and hollering, Blushing John could not hold on. From the quarter pole to the stretch, Sunday Silence whittled into his lead, with McCarron tapping his colt lightly on his shoulder, pushing on him and waving the stick in front of his left eye. Sunday Silence has never responded well to the whip, and Whittingham had instructed his jockey accordingly. "Charlie said to use the stick only as a last resort," McCarron said.
He did not use it even then, despite the fury of the final drive. At the eighth pole, with 220 yards to the wire, Sunday Silence was pinning his ears as he pulled away from Blushing John and took off for the wire in the gathering dusk. It was so dark by the time they ran the Classic, the final event on the seven-race Breeders' Cup card, that Gulfstream officials had turned on the lights to illuminate the wire for the photo finish camera. As Silence raced for the wire, the crowd grew frantic, the noise deafening.