The first time I watched the Breeders’ Cup was the 1996 edition, when the championships were held at Woodbine in Canada. I was excited to see the legendary Cigar try and repeat in the Classic. Cigar would fail in his quest, to a grey horse named Alphabet Soup and the Preakness winner Louis Quatorze, but a plain brown horse named DA HOSS would be the one to leave a lasting imprint on my memory. That was still when I picked horses off their names, and who wouldn’t go for a horse named HOSS?
DA HOSS won the Breeders’ Cup Mile easily in ’96 with Gary Stevens up for trainer John “The Genius” Dickinson. Dickinson is a master turf trainer. He even invented a tool to determine a grass course’s exact condition (firm/yielding/soft/etc) and also developed a type of synthetic racing surface, named after his Maryland farm, Tapeta. But Dickinson’s genius would not be fully realized until the 1998 Breeders’ Cup Mile.
Shortly after the ’96 Mile, Da Hoss was out of training due to a chronic foot injury. He was out for the entire year in 1997, and spent most of 1998 recuperating as well. But Dickinson recognized the competitive fire still burning within the then 6yo Da Hoss. He brought the horse back slowly, entering him in one allowance prep 30 days before the Breeders’ Cup, held at Churchill Downs that year.
I was tuned in to the ’98 BC for Skip Away’s attempt to be the first dual Classic winner, and prove to the world that he was Cigar’s equal, if not superior. What I got instead was a heckuva blast from the past: DA HOSS, on da LEAD, in da MILE…and then a gritty duel with Hawksley Hill in deep stretch…DA HOSS looked beaten…but then the old gelding, who had only ONE START in TWO YEARS surged to put his nose in front at the WIRE! Race caller Tom Durkin called it “The greatest comback since Lazarus!”
Da Hoss was also SuperJock John Velasquez’s first BC winner. Johnny V would go on to ride 5 more BC winners, most recently English Channel in the 2007 Turf.
Today, Da Hoss resides in luxury at the Kentucky Horse Park’s Hall of CHampions, where he gets to stick out his tongue at Cigar and say, “Neener neener, *I* won TWO Breeders’ Cups!”
Alas, the iron horse Skip Away could not capture a 2nd Classic, either. It would take a national tragedy, a beloved veteran jockey and a lame ex-champ with nothing but grit to do that. But that is for another story.