Thursday, November 24, 2011

Giving Thanks: Goldikova

Every Thanksgiving, my family and I awaken to watch the various parades in honor of the holiday as my mom begins to prepare our special dinner.  The scents of our meal and the sights of joy I witness through the television thrust me into a mode of holiday cheer.  On Thanksgiving, there is so much I am appreciative of, but this year, I direct my gratitude towards Goldikova, and her connections.  I am grateful that her owners, Wertheimer & Fere, shared their renowned mare with the racing world for an extended period of time.  As she accumulated her Breeders’ Cup Mile wins, Goldikova could have easily be sent off to the breeding shed with her record intact.  However, they chose to reach for the stars with Goldikova.  In return, she rewrote the history books.

Goldikova on the walk-over for the 2011 Breeders' Cup Mile
Photo courtesy of M.D. West

Over four years ago, Goldikova made her track debut as a two year old.  Little did anyone know that the plain, yet endearing bay filly was making her first steps towards greatness until she crossed the wire victorious by four lengths. 

Goldikova blossomed into a formidable three year old.  Multiple times, she saw the heels of Zarkava early in the year before she went on to triumph in a Group III, followed by a Group I against fillies and mares. In the Prix Du Moulin De Lomchamp, her next start, she denied a field of colts such as Paco Boy and Henrythenavigator a win. 

Goldikova then invaded the United States for a 1 ¼ length victory in the Breeders’ Cup Mile under the San Gabriel Mountains at Santa Anita.  This made her trainer, Freddie Head, the first to win as a jockey, and again as a trainer.  He won two consecutive editions of the Breeders’ Cup Mile aboard Miesque, a filly of legendary status. 

Her first time back to racing in 2009 came in the form of a seventh place effort in the Group I Prix D’Ispahan against horses of both genders.  Goldikova bounced back with a ½ length win against fillies and mares in Newmarket’s Falmouth Stakes, another Group I event.  Goldikova made her two next track appearances wins, one of which was by six lengths against males.  That start was followed by a third place in the Prix De La Foret that positioned her just ½ length off Varenar, who was that day’s champion. 

Goldikova returned to Santa Anita Park in California for that year’s Breeders’ Cup Mile as a four year old filly.  Breaking from the eleventh gate with Olivier Peslier aboard, she settled into tenth place, and slowly crept up on the lead.  At the top of the home straight, about two lengths off the lead, Goldikova was in fifth after traveling four paths wide around the second turn.  Goldikova responded from Peslier’s urges, and stole the lead nearing the wire.  With this outstanding triumph in a blistering 1:32.26, Goldikova tied Miesque’s record for most wins by a horse in the Breeders’ Cup.

This mare flourished at five, having but one loss out of six starts, that being a second place in the Group I Prix Du Haras De Fresney-Le-Buffard-Jacques Le Marois, 2 ½ lengths behind Makfi, a three year old colt.  She showed horses such as Paco Boy, and the popular Rip Van Winkle her heels in the prestigious Queen Anne Stakes.  In the Prix Rothschild, she conquered a field of six other fillies and mares by three lengths.

Goldikova visited the twin spires of Churchill Downs in 2010 to hold her title as the defending champion of the Breeders’ Cup Mile.  She was challenged by a field of ten adversaries including seven-time Grade I winner, Gio Ponti. Peslier, the only jockey to ride Goldikova, kept her in sixth for most of the race.  He repeated the move he made around the final turn in 2009 by taking her several paths wide.  At the top of the stretch, she was positioned in second place with only 1 ½ lengths to gain.  With 1/16 to cover, Goldikova overtook the pacemaker, Sidney’s Candy, before going on to win by 1 ¾ lengths ahead of Gio Ponti, who finished second.  As Goldikova crossed the wire with her third consecutive victory in the Breeders’ Cup Mile, she shattered Miesque’s record of consecutive wins in the weekend-long championships.

She returned to racing in 2011 as a six year old glorious by a neck in the Prix D’Ispahan against colts four and older.  Next time out in the Queen Anne Stakes on opening day of the Royal Ascot meeting, Canford Cliffs dethroned Goldikova with a winning margin of one length.  She revisited the shores of Deauville to defeat seven opposing fillies and mares in the Prix Rothschild, and then for a second place one length behind the impressive filly, Immortal Verse, in the Prix Du Haras De Fresney-Le-Buffard-Jacques Le Marois. 

The Prix De Le Foret was her final start in France, the final time her greatest fans would see her barrel down the homestretch in the flesh.  On this undercard race to the Arc, she had the victory in hand down the stretch.  However, the improving Dream Ahead rushed up for a challenge, and stole it away by a head at the finish.  Goldikova left the French racing scene as a champion in defeat, giving her fans a spectacular culmination to her four year racing campaign in France.
Goldikova looked to extend her historic margin in this year’s rendition of the Breeders’ Cup Mile, again at Churchill Downs.  She was to make her last start in the race that she had owned for the past three years.  Having reigned in the Mile for such a period of time, some people could not recall who the Mile’s champion was prior to Goldikova.

                       Goldikova on the walk-over for the 2011 Breeders' Cup Mile
                                        Photo courtesy of M.D. West

As the sun bade farewell to the final day of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, Goldikova stepped onto the track for the last time; only once more would she hear the call to the post.  Peslier would never again sit atop the little bay.  It is likely that he will never again feel the surge of such a tremendous animal underneath him as he turns for home.

Goldikova in the post parade for the Breeders' Cup Mile
Photo courtesy of M.D. West

Down the homestretch she thundered with her best effort.  In mid-stretch, she grasped the lead with marvelous speed.  In her moment of triumph, golden rays danced in her eyes.  Seeing the oncoming rush of 65-1 shot Court Vision, and Turallure, Peslier called upon his charger of diminutive stature, but behemoth in heart.  She could not hold off the surge from her challengers, and finished a strong third by the margin of one length, and later survived a long inquiry for her actions halfway through the race.

Coming down the homestretch in the 2011 Breeders' Cup Mile
Photo courtesy of M.D. West

I am incredibly thankful to have seen Goldikova firsthand for a week at the Breeders’ Cup.  Though I never met Goldikova, I feel that I got to know her over this time.  Her diva personality was charismatic, and her countenance was charming.  When she came out with her group on a pleasant morning, she could instantly be spotted as the tough little mare tossing her head, and constantly fussing with her rider.

As Goldikova graced the winner’s enclosure with her presence in 2010, a muted scene surrounded her.  A mere round of applause is what she garnered following her historic feat.  I was among those who excitedly anticipated Zenyatta’s run at perfection that day, and feel that Goldikova’s performance went unjustly praised.  She did not garner the esteem from the American audience that she deserved.  Her legendary career has been a gift to racing in every corner of the world, and should be appreciated as such.  I have been so fortunate to see her run over the years, and to be old enough to understand that she is a magnificent creature unlike any other.  Next year will be much different without Goldikova, for I have never witnessed a Breeders’ Cup without this special mare. 

On this special day, I give thanks to Goldikova, and her connections!

Click here to watch Goldikova's track appearance on the Tuesday before the Breeders' Cup

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