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It all evolved on a cool, gray New York afternoon into that final picture of a horse race at the turn for home. At the close of a day that had already brought some of the most riveting finishes in the recent history of the sport, suddenly there were six heads bobbing almost together. Jockeys' whips were slashing, and the crowd was jumping up and down through the length of the homestretch at Aqueduct Racetrack last Saturday.
As eight horses swept into the final quarter mile of this second running of the 1¼-mile Breeders' Cup Classic, with $3 million on the line, long shot Imperial Choice forged to a head lead over favored Chiefs Crown, with the pace-setting Track Barron half a length behind and a tiring Vanlandingham in close pursuit. Turkoman was right there, looming up, while the 1984 Preakness winner, Gate Dancer, was just beginning his run, five horses wide. Outside him, with jockey Jorge Velasquez pumping hard, Proud Truth moved up with a rush.
They came into the stretch like that, in a bunch, as if it were any horse's race. Jockey Chris McCarron drove Gate Dancer to the front, and for 100 yards it appeared that the race was theirs. It was, and then it was not. They had Proud Truth to answer to in that long, final 220 yards. Flailing his whip lefthanded, Velasquez urged Proud Truth home. He was a length away, then half a length, then a neck.
"I was charging on his side," Velasquez said later. "My horse was strong all the way. He was willing and strong."
Willing and strong enough. With the wire coming up and Velasquez and McCarron now both whipping lefthanded, Proud Truth inched forward to take the lead in the closing jumps, finally getting up to win by a head. The colt's trainer, John Veitch, sat for a moment in his box seat, looking stunned, then he stood up and said, "Did he win it? It looked awfully close."
Kentucky horse breeder Will Farish grabbed Veitch's hand from an adjoining box and told him, "You won it, John. Congratulations!"
Meanwhile the colt's owner and breeder, John W. Galbreath, the 88-year-old sportsman and real-estate tycoon, came to his feet and patted Veitch's bald pate and then turned and bear-hugged his son, Dan. The elder Galbreath said, "Oh, gee! Wasn't that something? Oh, my, oh my! What a race he ran! What a race!"
And what a day it had been. The Breeders' Cup—a card of seven races offering $10 million in purses raised largely by American breeders and owners—was launched at Hollywood Park last year as a kind of Super Bowl of racing, designed to showcase the sport annually at a different racetrack. About $3 million was spent painting and refurbishing Aqueduct, and in only its second year the Breeders' Cup achieved all it was ever intended to. In fact, the quality of the horses and the races they ran set a new standard in a town that has long prided itself on being the sport's most competitive venue.
"For seven races, this is the greatest bunch of horses ever assembled in the history of racing," said John Nerud, the Hall of Fame trainer and one of the founders of the Breeders' Cup. "We've seen some good cards, but we have never seen anything like this." What made this year's Breeders' Cup especially eventful was the high quality of the horses that shipped in from France and England. It was truly a day for international racing.
The event is supposed to identify divisional winners, but on this occasion it clarified little. Indeed, the outcome of the race for Horse of the Year remained as clouded as the cream gravy in the chicken potpie that was served at the Cup's $350-a-plate prerace gala dinner in the American Museum of Natural History. No matter.