September 28, 2008

Curlin surpasses Cigar's money record in Gold Cup, Big Brown next?

Move over Cigar and make way for the first $10 million purse winner in North America -- Curlin. Steve Asmussen conceded that this record was his #1 priority in bringing back Curlin for his 4 year-old season, not quite as altruistic as the reasons majority owner Jess Jackson stated for bringing back the champ. “I want to establish Curlin for what I think he is,” Jackson said. “He’s one of the horses of the century.” Trainer Steve Asmussen challenges industry peers on Mr. Jackson's decision to bring Curlin back as a four year-old, stating, "I want to meet the person who would leave so much money on the table for the sport of seeing what their horse could accomplish." If these statements were not just fanciful fodder (all too common in this industry), there is only one choice Team Curlin is left with... face Big Brown mano E mano in the Classic.

Timeform Global Rankings of Great Britian list Curlin as the top rated horse in the world, with Big Brown at #3. They comment on the two American standouts as follows, "Big Brown returned after an eight week break at Monmouth Park and showed plenty of determination to win the Haskell Invitational (gr. I). Whether the much-anticipated meeting with Curlin ever takes place seems doubtful, but there’s every chance that Big Brown will be right back at his best with that run behind him and that would be good enough to make Curlin have to pull out all the stops."

More on that likely date in the Breeders' Cup in future blog entries. I want to remind folks of the monumental record that Curlin took away from the great Cigar. Most remember Cigar for his 16 consecutive wins, tying Citation's North American win streak in major competition. In Cigar's first of two champion seasons (1995-1996), he was a perfect 10 for 10 with eight of those victories coming in Grade I races, facing the best of the best. Coming back to the track as a six year-old (yes, you heard that right...6!) he won the inaugural running of the Dubai World Cup in thrilling fashion. And while probably a little weary from the travel to and fro, managed to win several more graded races before the streak ended, routinely carrying more than 130 pounds. Cigar's last two career defeats were mostly chalked up to him being past his prime. I would argue that poor racing luck and career performances by Skip Away (carrying 5 fewer pounds and the controlling speed) in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and Alphabet Soup in the 1996 Breeders' Cup Classic (Bailey again had Cigar extremely wide on the turn, yet lost by only a head in a 3 way photo) were more probable reasons for defeat.

Skip Away and now Curlin have also carried 130 pounds or more, with Curlin topping that impost in each of his two victorious Dubai races this spring. It's no wonder then that these three horses are the top money earners of their generation. Although, Curlin now has an opportunity to put some daylight between himself and the rest of the field in this category, just as he routinely does on the racetrack.

I'll have a Breeders' Cup preview in the next week or so. The big dates for Breeders' Cup 25 are October 24-25 at Santa Anita race track in the Los Angeles area.

Horse Racing