“I saw Seabiscuit in 1939 and this one reminds me of Ghostzapper, Dr. Fager and Secretariat,” overstated Jess Jackson, perhaps under the influence of some of the Sonoma Valley wines that made him rich enough to co-own a horse like Curlin.
Jackson and two others – Satish Sanan, representing Padua Stables, and George Bolton paid $3.5 million to Bill Gallion and Shirley Cunningham Jr. on Super Bowl Sunday for the right to flip a coin to see whose silks would be worn when the horse ran.
“I rode a horse of the year, and this horse does all the same things,” said Robby Albarado. “I just wanted to keep underneath him,” the jockey admitted, as if falling off their mounts is a common problem for riders in a $1 million race.
“We’ve had plenty of nice horses. Nice horses don’t do what he can do,” explained Steve Asmussen, who has 200 horses in training. “Tomorrow, I’ll have to start planning to win the (Kentucky) Derby,” Oaklawn’s leading trainer mused.
Nearly 58,000 fans disregarded inclement weather to witness the imposing chestnut son of Smart Strike with the white face race to a record 10 ˝ length Arkansas Derby victory.
Although critics obsessed with speed will say that Curlin’s time of 1:50.09 wasn’t fast enough, Asmussen noted that the horse ran the last eighth of a mile in 12 seconds. “He did nothing to hurt his odds,” Asmussen said of the Derby’s winter book favorite. Moreover, Albarado rode as though the Derby in Kentucky was the one that he wanted to win, not the one in Arkansas.
In the meantime, just as all this was happening, it became time for the “wise guys” to remind us that Carl Nafzger intended the same for Street Sense. According to some, the horse’s nose loss to Dominican in the Blue Grass Stakes was a sign from above that this “chosen one” is primed to bring an end to another coincidence. No winner seen capturing the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile has ever won on the first Saturday in May when the world watches.
Regardless, past is rarely prologue at the races, although archivists would prefer that you trust in hindsight. The serial segment of the racing calendar is just about over. Only a lone amuse-bouche – the Lexington Stakes on April 21 - remains on the platter. And it, like the left over Swedish meatball that came out of the oven under-sized, will be mainly disregarded.
Ironically, the Lexington Stakes is of some significance. At least one recent winner of the stakes – Charismatic in 1999 - repeated his takedown two weeks later. The prep races of late March and early April are the contests that handicappers will focus on. But this is still a game in which a crystal ball is more effective than a horse’s resume.
After nearly four months of three-year-olds running their hearts for a shot at the Roses, the 2007 Derby Trail ended on Saturday in Hot Springs and Lexington. As it was on the weekend before, when Tiago at 29-1 won the Santa Anita Derby and Nobiz Like Showbiz at 3-5 won the Wood Memorial, the Blue Grass Stakes and the Arkansas Derby were a revelation in the moment – nothing more.