LOUISVILLE — This Saturday, the mare regarded not just as the best female runner in the game, but the best horse in training, period, will step onto the Churchill Downs track in an attempt to secure an unprecedented piece of history.
She is trained by a horseman who commands the utmost respect. She has more top-level wins than some of her peers have starts. And between toying with members of her own sex, she has also trounced some of the best male runners of her generation. No, her name is not Zenyatta.
While the racing community has focused its attention on the undefeated champion Zenyatta and her quest for a second straight win in the Breeders' Cup Classic, there is another brilliant distaffer running Saturday who has also established herself as a future Hall of Famer.
European champion Goldikova quietly arrived at Churchill on Saturday night for her bid to secure a record third straight win in the Breeders' Cup Mile this weekend.
She might not be the subject of a Sports Illustrated spread or featured on 60 Minutes like her more popular counterpart. But the 5-year-old Goldikova has few peers in her sport.
Of her 14 wins in 20 starts, 11 have come in Group/Grade I company — a European record. Of those 11 top-level wins, seven have come against males, including her back-to-back triumphs in the Mile the last two years at Santa Anita Park.
This season, Goldikova has won four of five starts, her only loss coming to Makfi in the Group I Prix Jacques Le Marois at Deauville on Aug. 15.
"Goldikova, I think she's overshadowed a little bit by Zenyatta, but this Breeders' Cup Mile is unbelievable, the horses that are running in it," Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert said. "Me, as a trainer, I'm also a fan. It's going to be exciting to watch Goldikova if she can repeat because she's an amazing animal, and she gets a little bit lost when she comes to the stage.
"But, you've got to put her right up there close to Zenyatta. She's pretty great what she's done."
It doesn't hurt that Goldikova has been guided along by another all-time great. Trainer Freddie Head was best known as the jockey for Miesque, who won back-to-back Miles in 1987 and '88 and whose European record of 10 Group/Grade I wins Goldikova broke.
Head has kept Goldikova in peak form. A prime example of her superb conditioning came during her season debut in the Prix d'Ispahan at Longchamp in Paris on May 23 when she won over 11⁄8 miles and 55 yards in a course-record time of 1:49.40.
"What's extraordinary about her ... she's still the same no matter what horse you put her with," Head said. "She just gallops. All she wants is to run — run, run, run. And she's kept that freshness that sometimes horses with age lose. ... She shows her best all the time."
Goldikova isn't physically imposing, but she can beat her rivals in a variety of ways.
If there is ample speed, she can settle toward the back and rally as she did to win the 2009 Breeders' Cup Mile. She can make the pace herself as she did in winning the Group I, 7-furlong Prix de la Foret at Longchamp on Oct. 3.
Soft ground is not really to her liking, yet Goldikova has two Group I wins in those conditions. The list of horses she has beaten this year alone includes Group I winners Byword, Paco Boy, Dick Turpin and Rip Van Winkle.
"I think she really runs in tough races. I think they were always real Group I races," Head said. "She's been running against the best in Europe, the best milers in Europe for three years now, and she's beaten them all."
The Breeders' Cup Mile is tentatively slated to be the final start for Alain and Gerard Wertheimer's homebred daughter of Anabaa.
"For me, it's going to be a very special day because when I won with Miesque at Churchill (in 1988), that is one of my best wins as a jockey," Head said. "To come back here with a horse like her is something that you can't dream of really. It's something very special."