Tuesday, August 26, 2008
CURLIN: THE COOLEST COLT IN CREATION?
He has been called everything from a “fire-breathing Pegasus” to the “next Big Red.” Long-bodied, with a powerfully muscled neck and a ground-gobbling stride, he is an imposing a presence on the racetrack as LeBron James is on the basketball court. Factor in a gleaming coppery-red coat, a chiseled head and a tail that nearly sweeps the ground, and you have a magnificent-looking thoroughbred that leaves pundits struggling for the right superlative and fans in awe.
He’s 2007 Horse of the Year Curlin, the No. 1 Thoroughbred in the world according to the British racing publication Timeform, and Saturday, the four-year-old chestnut is out to garner even more glory in the Grade 1, $500,000 Woodward at Saratoga Race Course.
A winner of nine of his 13 starts, including victories on two continents, Curlin has won $9,396,800, just shy of Cigar’s all-time mark of $9,999,815 and Skip Away’s bankroll of $9,616,360. Never worse than third, Curlin has been ridden in all but his first start by Louisiana-born jockey Robby Albarado, who calls him “the best horse I ever rode.”
“He’s special,” said Albarado the other day at Saratoga, where he was stopped time and again for autographs by fans, young and old alike, all wanting to know: “How’s Curlin?”
“You have little kids wanting to know about Curlin and that alone shows you just how special he is,” said Albarado. “Curlin’s got it all, speed, stamina, heart, ability, but now, as time goes on, he’s got an aura about him. He’s matured and he knows how special he is. He’s an amazingly popular animal.”
How popular? Last Thursday at Saratoga, while the third race was being run, hundreds of fans lined the fence around the paddock just to watch him school. Television cameras captured his every move as he stood in the saddling area and was walked around the perimeter by assistant trainer Scott Blasi.
And far from the attention being a bother, Curlin seems to thrive on it. Every morning, a phalanx of photographers trails him from the barn to the track and back, and as he cools out he often stops and poses for the cameras when he hears the clicking of the shutters.
“We are blessed to have him in the barn,” said Blasi, “and always have been.”
Curlin’s parents are Smart Strike, a winner of six of his eight starts including the Grade 1 Iselin Handicap, and a daughter of Deputy Minister named Sherriff’s Deputy. Sold for $57,000 as a yearling at Keeneland in September, 2005, Curlin did not race at age 2 because of minor problems, but he made his presence known immediately in his very first start at age 3 at Gulfstream Park in February, 2006 with a 12 ¾-length score.
Victories in the Grade 3 Rebel and Grade 2 Arkansas Derby followed, and after a third-place finish in the Kentucky Derby, he turned the tables on Street Sense with a gripping victory in the Preakness. He then helped set the stage for the one of the most memorable Belmont Stakes in history when he dueled with the filly Rags to Riches the length of the stretch, only to lose by a head.
Given a break after a third-place finish in the Haskell at Monmouth Park, Curlin returned to Belmont Park with a vengeance. He nailed top older horse Lawyer Ron to win the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup, and headed to Monmouth Park where he bested a stellar field including Lawyer Ron, Street Sense, Hard Spun and Any Given Saturday to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic and earn not only the divisional title but Horse of the Year honors as well.
But that was only the beginning. His owner, Jess Jackson, announced at the Eclipse Awards that instead of retiring him to stud, he would campaign the colt at age 4, with the intent of proving he was the best racehorse on the planet. Curlin’s first start of 2008 was a romp in the Jaguar Trophy Handicap at Nad el Sheba, a prelude to his record-setting 7 ¾-length win the world’s richest horse race, the $6 million Dubai World Cup. Back in the good old USA, he extended his winning streak to five with a 4 ¼-length score in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs.
Looking for more worlds to conquer for his beloved racehorse, Jackson took the bold step of trying Curlin on the turf with an eye towards a grass campaign that would include the most prestigious race in Europe, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Facing a pair of Breeders’ Cup Turf winners in the Grade 1 Man o’War at Belmont Park, Curlin finished second to 2006 Turf hero Red Rocks. It was a solid performance, but not enough to convince his connections that a trip to France to take on the best turf horses in the world over a difficult course was the right maneuver.
Which led him right back to Saratoga, where he has been stabled for the past two summers.
“We had many options, but we decided this was the best place for him to show his talent,” said Jackson. “We felt it was best for him to race on a surface where he is already a champion and at a place where he can add to his legend. He is very fit here and is a very happy horse here.”
Very happy. And very cool, indeed.
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