NEW YORK – Goldikova is the best horse in the world. In winning the Prix de la Foret at Longchamp on Oct. 3 she set a European record of 11 Group or Grade 1 victories. That is one more than the total racked up by the filly to which she is most often compared, Miesque. No European-trained horse has won as many such races since the group race system was introduced in 1971.
Both Goldikova and Miesque have two Breeders’ Cup Mile titles to their names and, as anyone who hasn’t been in a coma for the last year knows, Goldikova will go for a third Mile at Churchill Downs on Nov. 6. Her appearance in Louisville overshadows that of any other Thoroughbred who will be there, Zenyatta included.
Naysayers will point out Zenyatta’s perfect 19-for-19 record, but without disparaging what she has accomplished, it must be pointed out that Zenyatta has been dodging top-quality competition for most of her career. Had she been challenging and beating the best of the breed the way Goldikova has done since the middle of her 3-year-old campaign, Zenyatta backers might have an argument. But her stay-at-home Southern California campaigns at the ages of 4, 5, and 6 against a modest bunch of fillies and mares paints her as a provincial champion with only a single world-class performance to her credit, that when beating one of the weaker Breeders’ Cup Classic fields last year in her backyard at Santa Anita.
Goldikova, on the other hand, has never dodged the best of her own generation, the best of the previous generation, or the best of the next generation. Nor has she evaded males of any age. Nor has she stayed home in the Paris region and waited for horses to come to her.
Her 11 Group or Grade 1 triumphs include two against older males when she was 3 in the Prix du Moulin de Longchamp and the Breeders’ Cup Mile. At 4, she defeated males twice in the Prix Jacques Le Marois and the BC Mile. This year, three of her Group 1 scores have come at the expense of males. The first came in Longchamp’s Prix d’Ispahan at 1 1/8 miles, 55 yards, a distance that was supposed to be too long for her, and one that is longer than 18 of Zenyatta’s 19 victories. The second came in her second trip to England, where she won the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot. The third and most recent was her supremely confident victory in the seven-furlong Prix de la Foret at Longchamp two weeks ago.
What sets Goldikova apart form the rest is her instant and sustained acceleration. The manner in which she quickened clear when winning her first Breeders’ Cup Mile title at Santa Anita was breathtaking. In the blink of an eye she had her 10 outclassed opponents beaten at the eighth pole.
It was more of the same in what the Racing Post rates as her best performance ever. That came in last year’s Prix Jacques Le Marois, when she slammed her eight rivals by six lengths, earning her a Racing Post Rating of 131, the best she has received to date.
But perhaps her most accomplished effort came in last year’s Mile. Drawn widest of all in post 11, Goldikova was taken back to last behind a fast pace set by Gladiatorus and Cowboy Cal. Moved up to ninth entering the backstretch, she still had a lot to do entering the short Santa Anita stretch. Normally, horses coming wide off the tight turns on American turf courses tend to lose some ground. Not Goldikova. Although she was at least five wide, she continued to gain on the leaders, her patented ability to quicken apparently carrying her to yet another big race victory.
But in midstretch, trouble suddenly reared its ominous head. Courageous Cat began drifting out as he assumed the lead. Goldikova was about to run up onto his heels but Olivier Peslier saw it coming. He checked her slightly and angled her a bit wider. She responded by quickening again, cruising past Courageous Cat with Peslier never having to raise his stick.
Goldikova’s performance in the Prix de la Foret at a furlong short of her best was just as impressive, but in a different way. In the 2009 Foret, her chances had been compromised when Peslier rushed her up from a wide draw to contest a hot pace. This year, trainer Freddy Head gave his rider instructions to take back behind the pace. But in breaking from the rail, Peslier found that no one else was going for the lead. Always on the ball, the Frenchman allowed Goldikova to set the pace before letting Regal Parade to assume command just before entering the stretch a little more than three furlongs from home. Approaching the eighth pole, Peslier pushed the button and the response was immediate. Goldikova regained the lead as Regal Parade faded. She still had more than enough to hold her arch-rival Paco Boy safe by a half-length.
Goldikova’s third-place finish in last year’s Foret served as a perfect prep for her second Mile title. Her victory in this year’s race should do likewise in a race that looks tougher than last year’s, even with the withdrawal of Makfi, the colt who had beaten her into second in this year’s Jacques Le Marois on very soft ground.
The ground at Longchamp for the Foret was also listed as very soft, but had been drying out through the afternoon. Very soft ground would probably be Goldikova’s biggest worry at Churchill Downs, where the longish stretch – at least by American standards – will give her plenty of time for her merciless acceleration to carry her to victory.