Alphabet Soup (gray horse, middle) outfinishes Cigar (outside) and Louis Quatorze (inside) to win the 1996 Breeders' Cup Classic. (Photo by Horsephotos.com)
A steal of a deal, 1996 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Alphabet Soup didn’t meet his reserve when he went through the ring at two different auctions as a yearling. Buyers put in the final bid for the Cozzene son at $28,000 and $29,000, respectively, neither sufficient for his owner.
Alphabet Soup went on to win $2,990,270 as a racehorse.
Like many Breeders’ Cup Classic winners, Alphabet Soup’s win came near the end of his career. The horse was a late starter, debuting in April of his 3-year-old year and taking three starts to break his maiden. It took him four more starts to win his next race and, although he won his following start as well, he went back on a losing streak soon after.
Alphabet Soup didn’t win a stakes race until the 12th start of his career, but he followed that up with a graded stakes victory and then finished third to some of the best horses in California at the time in the Goodwood Handicap. It was clear that as a more mature 4-year-old, Alphabet Soup had finally woken up.
As a 5-year-old in 1996, Alphabet Soup officially won three graded stakes before the Breeders’ Cup. That tally would have been four but he was disqualified from first to third in the Goodwood in his final start before the Classic.
Alphabet Soup had to take on America’s Horse, Cigar, in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and that wouldn’t be an easy task. Cigar had spent the past two years putting together a 16-race winning streak, and although that had been broken during the summer of 1996 he still was a tough horse to beat.
Alphabet Soup went off at odds of 19.85-1, the eighth choice in the race. As they entered the far turn, Cigar was even with Alphabet Soup while the two were still behind the leader. Both horse went wide as they entered the stretch with Louis Quatorze and Mt. Sassafras on their inside in what would set up to be an awesome four-horse race to the finish.
The four horses battled all the way to the finish line with the final margin between the group ending up at about three-quarters of a length with the rest of the field four lengths behind. Alphabet Soup’s victory came by the length of a nose with Louis Quatorze beating Cigar out for second in a race completed in a track-record time of 2:01.
1996 BREEDERS' CUP CLASSIC
The win also secured Alphabet Soup’s future at stud as Frank Stronach purchased part of the horse after the race.
Alphabet Soup came back in 1997 for another season of racing as a 6-year-old. But in his first start of the year, an attempt to score a repeat win in the San Antonio Handicap, Alphabet Soup was injured.
“[Jockey] Chris [McCarron] said that at the half-mile pole, [Alphabet Soup] ducked in and he felt something," said David Hofmans, Alphabet Soup’s trainer, told the Los Angeles Times. "But then he seemed all right. He was fine for the next couple of days, but when we took him back to the track, his ankle filled up."
His connections aimed for a comeback later in the year but the injury was worse than expected. Alphabet Soup was retired to Adena Springs in June 1997 to prepare for his new career.
ALPHABET SOUP AFTER WINNING THE BREEDERS' CUP CLASSIC
Photo by Horsephotos.com
Alphabet Soup received a strong group of mares in his first books, with many of his top horses coming in those crops including a Canadian champion in his first crop.
From the beginning, Alphabet Soup took to his new job like a professional, albeit carrying a high opinion of himself.
“He is a complete pro,” said Eric Hamelback, Adena Springs’ General Manager, “He never turned a hair. He’s always been, ever since I worked with him, a very laid-back individual. He’s a very proud horse; he’s always very much one that wants attention but he’s never been a nervous-type horse or one that was difficult to deal with. He’s always been very professional in his new job, just as he was as a racehorse.”
While Alphabet Soup isn’t a big commercial sire, he has proven to be a good breed-to-race sire. Adena Springs moved him to New York in 2011 after brief stints in Florida and Canada, and there Alphabet Soup has seemed to flourish.
In his three seasons at stud in New York, Alphabet Soup hasn’t been worse than 10th on the sire list, sitting ninth in the standings for 2013 as of Aug. 6. Alphabet Soup is still in high demand by those looking to race their foals and has also been an asset to Adena Springs, especially as an outcross with the farm’s other stallions.
“He’s had a great effect on us, and in particular with his daughters,” Hamelback said. “His breeding very much lays into the outcross theory that Mr. Stronach built Adena Springs on. And those Alphabet Soup daughters and that Cozzene line has turned around and proven very beneficial when crossing to Awesome Again, and subsequently now Ghostzapper. So, his affect as a broodmare sire will also continue to have a great effect on Adena Springs’ program.”
Hamelback also is looking forward to seeing how the horse affects the breed in coming years. Alphabet Soup’s lack of inbreeding brings in an outcross that allows mares to have a break from the lines seen so often in many of today’s stallions.
“I think his pedigree will continue to shine because of that lack of inbreeding that allows many Deputy Minister- and many Mr. Prospector-line horses to come back into having him as a broodmare sire. You’re allowed to come back into those Deputy Minister-inbred horses and/or Mr. Prospector-inbred horses because he doesn’t have them,” Hamelback explained.
“When you see the likes of Caro and Arts and Letters and Ribot in the third generation, that’s a pretty substantial list when you talk about broodmare sires and the definitive nature of how they perform in our time, and hopefully in years to come.”
As for fans, Alphabet Soup may have broken the hearts of Cigar fans when he won the Classic but he’s still a popular horse. His thrilling Breeders’ Cup Classic win no doubt earned the stallion a following and those fans still keep track of him today.
“As he’s gotten older, he has maintained a good fan base,” Hamelback said. “There have been a lot of people that still remember his Breeders’ Cup win and just his striking beauty. His sheer attractiveness was always gaining fans, because of his overall look and that white stature that he had. He is very impressive.”
ALPHABET SOUP IN 2013
Photo courtesy of Melissa Bauer-Herzog
Adena Spring’s love for the horse can be summed up in one statement Hamelback had about the stallion, who has been part of the farm’s roster for 15 years.
“He’s just a great horse. Obviously he’s getting older … he’ll be  this upcoming year. He’s a wonderful horse to be around, he’s certainly earned his recognition, and I certainly hope he will continue to help the breed, especially through his daughters.”