Several months ago at the height of the Rachel Alexandra/Zenyatta debate, a turf writer penned a column in which she expressed her dismay at the intensity and (sometimes) nastiness that accompanied any discussion of the two super fillies. She questioned why fans and players couldn't see the greatness within each horse (a point I agree with) but also thought that the combative nature of the two sides was unprecedented in racing history. She asked the question, "we're Sunday Silence and Easy Goer fans as nasty to one another as Rachel's and Zenyatta's are?" Apparently, the writer wasn't covering the sport during the year 1989.
If you think the debate between Rachel and Zenyatta fans is/was intense, click on any video on YouTube containing either Sunday Silence or Easy Goer and (if you dare) peruse the comment sections. Or better yet, get two fans together in the same room - one a passionate fan of Easy Goer and the other an unreformed follower of Sunday Silence - and simply say "Pat Day" or "Belmont Stakes". Twenty-one years later, the four-race match-up between the Pride of the West Coast and the Beast of the East invokes strong emotions from die hard fans on both sides.
On the day that Pat Day retired as a jockey, a local sports radio station here in Seattle had Andrew Beyer on as a guest to discuss Day's legacy within the sport. You didn't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that Beyer was an Easy Goer man as he lamented the riding of the man he called Pat "Wait All" Day. And that's the way much of the debate has gone from 1989 until today - Easy Goer fans curse Day's rides and the fact that he moved either to late or too early, while Sunday Silence fans celebrate his 3-for-4 record against the giant from New York. It's a debate that will go on as long as there are people alive that saw these two great thoroughbreds compete on the track. And make no mistake, each was great, both on the track and for the sport.
As intense as the Easy Goer - Sunday Silence debate was (and still is) both on and off the track, it was undoubtedly good for racing. The 1989 Breeders' Cup saw a 28% increase in handle from the previous year with off-track handle jumping 34%. I couldn't find data on TV ratings from the time but I would imagine that they were also new highs for the Breeders' Cup. Personally, the rivalry was the pivotal event that brought me into the sport, and while I probably didn't become the die hard fan I am today for another decade, the four races between these two three-year-olds in 1989 hooked me for life.
Sunday Silence and Easy Goer was arguably the greatest thoroughbred rivalry since Affirmed and Alydar staged their epic duels during the 1977 Triple Crown. Sunday Silence prevailed in the Derby and the Preakness, with Easy Goer denying his rival the precious Triple Crown with a monster performance in the Belmont Stakes. The two would go their separate ways over the summer, not meeting again until that fateful day in November at Gulfstream Park when they would stage the "Race of the Decade".