Saturday at Belmont Park, reigning Horse of the Year Curlin seeks to add his name atop that exclusive list and become American’s first $10 million horse in the 90th running of the Grade 1, $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup Invitational.
The winner’s purse in the Jockey Club Gold Cup is worth $450,000, and should he score a repeat victory, Curlin ($9,796,800) would surpass the great Cigar ($9,999,815) as the nation’s richest racehorse ever. Cigar’s record has stood for 12 years, second only to Kelso’s ($1,977,896), which endured for 15 years before being broken by Affirmed ($2,393,818).
“It’s so exciting to think he might break the record,” said owner Jess Jackson of Curlin, who has won four of five starts this year including Grade 1 wins in the Dubai World Cup, the Stephen Foster, and the Woodward. “But first, he’s got to win.”
Indeed. Although Curlin, who will break from post 5, will go off as the favorite against the eight others who were entered in the 1¼-mile race, a victory is not guaranteed, even if the track is less than fast, a distinct possibility as rain is forecast through Saturday. Given Curlin’s powerhouse victory in the slop last year in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, his competitor’s connections admit beating the 4-year-old son of Smart Strike is a formidable task.
“Curlin is everything a racehorse should be,” said Neil Howard, who trains 3-year-old Mambo in Seattle for Mrs. William F. Kilroy and who won the Jockey Club Gold Cup in 2003 with Mineshaft. “I told someone that in order to beat him, you have to hope he gets up on the wrong side of the bed. It’s a big step up for our horse.”
This will be only the second Grade 1 start for Mambo in Seattle, but his first was a memorable one. On August 23, the colt finished a whisker behind Colonel John on the wire in the Travers Stakes presented by Shadwell Farm, a finish so close that even now, watching the replay, many find it difficult to believe he lost.
Under the conditions of the race, Mambo in Seattle gets a four-pound break in the weights from the older horses, toting 122 pounds including new rider Edgar Prado, as Robby Albarado has the mount on Curlin. Mambo in Seattle drew the outside post 9.
Getting weight from the older horses too is Stones River, the three-year-old trained by Larry Jones who was fourth to Anak Nakal in the Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby in his last start, his only graded stakes appearance. However, three of his four victories have come over wet tracks.
“The biggest thing is not so much the track condition but that we wanted to give him the opportunity to run a mile and a quarter,” said Jones, whose charge will break from post 8. “I’m not looking for a pace that Hard Spun would have set, but I think if he gets a legitimate pace he can close into it.”
Trainer Todd Pletcher has entered a pair in Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith’s Ravel, who won the Grade 3 Sham last year, and A. P. Arrow, who will carry Cigar’s colors in running for the Allen E. Paulson Living Trust. Winner of the Grade 2 Clark Handicap in 2007, the six-year-old horse is winless in five starts this year and was fourth to Curlin twice, in the Dubai World Cup and the Woodward. They will break from posts 1 and 7, respectively
Also coming out of the Woodward is Arthur Hancock III’s Wanderin Boy, trained by Hall of Famer Nick Zito, who won the JCGC in 2000 with Albert the Great. Now 7, Wanderin Boy has one victory and two thirds in his three 2008 starts, and has not been off the board in five starts over an off track. He drew post 4 under jockey Alan Garcia.
Circle E Racing’s Timber Reserve, last year’s Pennsylvania Derby winner who took an optional claimer at Saratoga in August; Winning Move Stables’ Angliana, no worse than third in eight starts this year, and Peachtree Stables’ Merchant Marine, 0-for-2 in graded stakes this year, could be termed the longshots, although that holds little meaning for the latter’s trainer, H. Allen Jerkens, a three-time winner of the Jockey Club Gold Cup.
Having won in 1973 with Prove Out and in 1975 with Group Plan, Jerkens saddled Wagon Limit at odds of more than 30-1 to win the 1998 edition.
‘You train them and you hope you can get a piece of it,” said Jerkens. “Merchant Marine has been training well and we hope he’s a better horse than he was when he ran here last (third in the Suburban Handicap).”
Ironically, among those Wagon Limit defeated in the Jockey Club Gold Cup that year was Skip Away, who was going for his third straight victory in the race and was also trying to break Cigar’s record, just as is Curlin.
“It’s not about the money, it’s about his place in history,” said Jackson, noting that Skip Away (1996-97) was the last horse to repeat in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. “I think Curlin has already proven he’s one of the best and I think one of the best in the last half-century, if not the century. That’s just an owner’s selfish view of the horse he loves, but that’s the way I feel. It’s an honor just to be included with horses like Cigar.”
The field for the Grade 1, $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup
PP Horse Wgt. Jockey Trainer
1 Ravel 126 Rafael Bejarano Todd Pletcher
2 Merchant Marine 126 Cornelio H. Velasquez Allen Jerkens
3 Timber Reserve 126 Kent J. Desormeaux John Kimmel
4 Wanderin Boy 126 Alan Garcia Nick Zito
5 Curlin 126 Robby Albarado Steve Asmussen
6 Angliana 126 Rajiv Maragh Gary Contessa
7 A. P. Arrow 126 Ramon A. Dominguez Todd Pletcher
8 Stones River 122 Gabriel Saez Larry Jones
9 Mambo in Seattle 122 Edgar S. Prado Neil Howard
1) Ravel 30-1
2) Merchant Marine 12-1
3) Timber Reserve 12-1
4) Wanderin Boy 10-1
5) Curlin 3-5
6) Angliana 30-1
7) A. P. Arrow 20-1
8) Stones River 20-1
9) Mambo in Seattle 7-2