From an Oaklawn perspective, the first Breeders' Cup Classic in 1984 spoiled track officials.
How could it get better than the Oaklawn Handicap winner getting the shekels in North America's richest race with the Hot Springs track's leading jockey, Pat Day, who was riding at or near the peak of his powers?
Wild Again, after setting the nine-furlong track record at Oaklawn in April, ran bravely on the lead that November afternoon at Hollywood Park. He had to for any chance against Oaklawn-raced Gate Dancer, the Preakness winner in May, and Slew o'Gold, 4-year-old son of Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew.
That was in 1984, run on the site of what is now Sofi Stadium in Los Angeles. Ten years later, Arkansas Derby winner Concern, a one-run horse whose late move required careful timing, won the Classic at Churchill Downs for Maryland-based trainer Richard Small.
Other Hot Springs runners have fared well in the biggest race on the sport's biggest stage. Curlin, purchased for a reported $3 million after his career debut in Florida, could have sold mud pies on the side as the 2007 Classic winner on an off track at New Jersey's Monmouth Park. The Arkansas Derby and Rebel Stakes winner, moved to Steve Asmussen's barn after beginning his career for Helen Pitts, was named Horse of the Year as a 3-year-old and 4-year-old, going on to become a super sire.
Of late, Accelerate, the 2018 Classic winner for John Sadler, had a near-miss against a fellow West Coast horse (City of Lights) in the Oaklawn Handicap. And though his number could have come down after a bumpy beginning, local winner Bayern took the 2014 Classic for Bob Baffert.
Oaklawn has three past starters in the $6 million Classic today at Santa Anita in Arcadia, Calif. With several changes in the original cast, Arabian Knight has been made the program favorite after beating older horses in the Grade I Pacific Classic at Del Mar.
The Grade III Southwest winner locally must avoid an early pace war with Brad Cox-trained Saudi Crown; Arabian Knight is sired by 2010 BC Juvenile winner Uncle Mo and may glorify a turbulent year for Baffert, who won another Preakness with National Treasure but is ruled off the site of the Kentucky Derby.
Proxy, a late runner for Mike Stidham, won the Oaklawn Handicap in April. He hopes to pick up some pieces, especially if the pace overheats. Senor Buscador, fourth in the same race for Todd Fincher, should offer greater value on the board.
Admittedly, today's Classic is reduced in quality without probable favorite or second choice Arcangelo, Derby winner Mage, Grade I 3-year-old Geaux Rocket Road, who died this week and retired 3-year-old Forte.
Oaklawn is strongly represented in some other races, though, with Cox sending out three in the Distaff and looming strongly in other races. Asmussen, as usual, is loaded for bear with Apple Blossom winner Clariere (Distaff) and King Cotton winner Gunite (Sprint). 2022 Fantasy winner Yuugirl is in the Filly & Mare Turf.