Reigning Horse of the Year Curlin rewrote racing history on a soggy Saturday afternoon at Belmont Park, becoming the first American horse to break the $10 million barrier with a repeat victory in the 90th running of the Grade 1, $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup Invitational.
With the winner’s purse of $450,000, Curlin’s lifetime earnings blossomed to $10,246,800, breaking Cigar’s 12-year-old record of $9,999,815.
“I am very excited and very proud of everybody involved,” said trainer Steve Asmussen of the chestnut colt. “Fifteen races and he’s won more than $10 million. We had two back-to-back $5 million years. I can’t say how proud I am to be part of what has just happened. To make history – the all-time money-winning horse in North America – is very special. For him to be able to carry the weight of expectation, I’m very proud.”
In scoring back-to-back victories in the 1 ¼-mile race, Curlin became the ninth horse in history and the first horse since Skip Away (1996-97) to win the race twice, and in doing so may also have nailed down his second Horse of the Year title.
“I’m sure it’s not going to hit me for a while,” said jockey Robby Albarado, who has been aboard for all but one of Curlin’s starts. “It’s really amazing. Steve instilled a lot of confidence in me before the raced. He just ran his race again and gave me that big Curlin move on the turn. It was tremendous, and very emotional.
“The bar is set against him every time, but he exceeds our expectations every time he runs.”
Sent off as the 2-5 favorite over a sloppy/sealed track, Curlin broke well and settled comfortably off the rail in midpack as Wanderin Boy, under Alan Garcia, led the field of eight through fractions of 24.67, 48.79 and 1:13.08. Moving up between horses on the backside, the Stonestreet Stables color-bearer launched his trademark move on the turn, taking aim on the leader and surging to the front with a furlong to go without feeling the whip.
“I didn’t need it,” said Albarado. “He was just skipping over the track.”
Merchant Marine was third, another 3 ¾ lengths back, followed by Mambo in Seattle, Ravel, Stones River, A.P. Arrow, and Angliana.
“Curlin’s in a different league,” said Wanderin Boy’s Hall of Fame trainer, Nick Zito. “I take my hat off to him.”
“It’s great to be a part of this history in any way,” said Neil Howard, trainer of Mambo in Seattle.
Curlin, who completed the 10 furlongs in 2:01.93, returned $2.80 for a $2 win bet as he extended his record to 11 victories in 15 starts. This year he has won five of his six starts, including Grade 1 victories in the Dubai World Cup, the Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs, and the Woodward at Saratoga Race Course. His only defeat came when he was second to former Breeders’ Cup Turf champ Red Rocks (IRE) in the Grade 1 Man o’War on the turf, when his connections were considering a campaign on the grass that might have included the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamps.
Now, majority owner Jess Jackson is contemplating having Curlin defend his title in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, a race which Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Big Brown is also targeting and which will be run over an all-weather Pro-Ride surface at Santa Anita Park on October 25.
Sunday morning, Curlin will depart for Santa Anita to see if he adapts to the synthetic surface.
“We’ll have to see whether Curlin likes the track,” said Jackson by phone from California. “”We’re not trying to avoid [Big Brown] and there is always the Clark Handicap (Nov. 28 at Churchill Downs) or the Japan Cup (Dirt Dec. 7) after that. So, we have to take them one at a time.”
And take the time to savor Saturday’s historic victory.
“I feel Curlin is the epitome of what my lifetime has contributed to the racing community,” said Jackson, whose wife and Curlin’s co-owner, Barbara Banke, presented a $100,000 check on Saturday morning to the tuition fund of Anna House, Belmont Park’s on-track day care center for the children of backstretch workers. “And I hope to do more.”
JOCKEY CLUB GOLD CUP QUOTES No. 1
Winning trainer Steve Asmussen of favored Curlin (No. 5): “Robby was really comfortable down the backside. I think he knows who he is on, and he let it sort out in front of him. He looked comfortable around the far turn, lost a little bit of position on the backside when Robby decided he didn’t want to be that wide. He immediately moved up in the bridle and came into the stretch the way you wanted him to be.
“It was very emotional for me. I was very excited and very proud of everybody involved. Fifteen races he’s won more than $10 million. We had two back-to-back $5 million years. Robby didn’t turn the stick over on him today, and the horse looked.”
Winning jockey Robby Albarado: “It’s amazing? I’m sure it is not going to hit me for awhile. I’m sure this record will be broken one day, but it will take a helluva horse. I had a great trip. It’s really amazing. Steve (Asmussen) instilled a lot of confidence in me before the race. He just ran his race again and gave me that big Curlin move again on the turn. It was tremendous – and very emotional.
“The bar is set against him every time, but he exceeds our expectations every time he runs.”
Alan Garcia, jockey of runner-up Wanderin Boy (No. 4): “I got beat by the best horse, and he’s an excellent horse. My horse ran his race; I’m happy. (Trainer) Nick Zito keeps doing the job, but Curlin was much the best today. It was a great day for racing.”
Neil Howard, trainer of Mambo in Seattle (No. 9): “He ran good. It was a tough race. He has a good future in front of him.”
Cornelio Velasquez, jockey of Merchant Marine (No. 2): “.My horse ran a big one, but the one that won is the big deal.”
NOTES: With his victory in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and the winner’s purse of $450,000, Curlin becomes the first American Thoroughbred to surpass $10 million in career earnings. His total now stands at $10,246,800. . . Curlin could well have nailed down his second Horse of the Year title. He joins Mad Hatter (1921-’22), Dark Secret (1933-’34), Nashua (1955-’56), Kelso (1960-’64), the mare Shuvee (1970-’71), Slew o’Gold (1983-’84), Crème Fraiche (1986-’87) and Skip Away (1996-’97) as the only repeat winners of the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Firethorn won it in 1935 and as a five-year-old in 1937.
JOCKEY CLUB GOLD CUP QUOTES No. 2
Winning trainer Steve Asmussen of Curlin (No. 5): “I really liked the finish -- that was my favorite part. He was away well, shuffled away a little bit down the backside. I could tell that Robby (Albarado) was very confident on him. He put himself in a perfect position. He looked fabulous through the stretch.
“I can’t say how proud I am to be part of what’s just happened. I don’t want to go any further without thanking Jess (Jackson) and Barbara (Banke, Jackson’s wife and co-owner of Curlin) for the opportunity to put that much money aside to let this horse develop and to let this happen. To make history – the all-time money-winning horse in North America -- it’s very special. The job that (assistant) Scott Blasi and (exercise rider) Carmen Rosas have done with him on a day-to-day basis enabled him to maintain the consistency. For him to be able to carry the weight of expectation, I’m very proud.
Barbara Banke: (regarding the Breeders’ Cup): “We’ll see. He just won this race. We’ll see how he comes out of this race. What’s good for him is really the No. 1 factor. Is he healthy? Happy? Does he look fit? We’ll wait for our wonderful team to discuss everything, and the course at Santa Anita is also a factor.”
Jess Jackson, majority owner of Curlin, via telephone from California: “I have been a lifetime supporter of Thoroughbred racing, and many of you don’t know all of the things I’ve done. I feel that Curlin is the epitome of what my lifetime has contributed to the racing community and I hope to do more. As to going out to Santa Anita [for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, October 25], we’ll probably load him up, but first we’ll have to get him adjusted. But it is up to him whether he likes the track and the surface. So, those are concerns we still have. But we’ll consider it now that we’re past this hurdle. That’s the next prospect for us and we’ll give it every bit of attention.
“Let’s put it this way: we haven’t avoided him (Big Brown). I don’t fault them for the way they’ve handled Big Brown. But if he is truly going to the big race, we’ll have to see whether Curlin likes the track. We’re not trying to avoid him and there is always the Clark after that or the Japan Cup (Dirt). So, we have to take them one at a time. I don’t want to risk a horse of Curlin’s stature that we need in the gene pool. So, I am being very cautious and doing my due diligence first.
“Probably ship him out in about a week. Whether we train him at Belmont or ship him out, that’s up to Steve. As you know, the standard is to ship maybe three or four days before a race. But in this case, we might go out a little earlier. I’ll have to talk to Steve about it I haven’t talked to him except to congratulate him.”
Nick Zito, trainer of runner-up Wanderin Boy (No. 4): “Curlin is in a different league. I take my hat off to him He had to be that good today.”
H. Allen Jerkens, trainer of third-place finisher Merchant Marine (No. 2): “(Curlin) ran big. He loves the slop and he had everything his way. He is a great horse. My horse ran pretty good, but Curlin was the best.”
Neil Howard, trainer of fourth-place finisher Mambo in Seattle (No. 9): “It’s great to be part of this history in any way.”
Edgar Prado, jockey of Mambo in Seattle: (Curlin) is so impressive. Today he proved he can run on any kind of track.”