On yet another grey, rainy day at a New York racetrack, of which there have been far too many this year, Curlin made history, joining Kelso and Forego and Secretariat and Shuvee on the list of horses who have stepped on the biggest stage and left it victorious.
He passed Cigar as the all-time U.S. money-earner, and that is no mean accomplishment, though given the difference in purse money now and when Cigar was racing, that record means a little less to me than the fact that Curlin becomes only the eighth horse in the history of this great race, first run in 1919, to win it twice in a row. The first was Mad Hatter, in 1921 and 1922, and the most recent was Skip Away, in 1996 and 1997. In between was the magnificent Kelso, who won it for five straight years, 1960 – 1964.
Far too few people—just 8,500—witnessed it in person, but those who were there were an enthusiastic bunch, in the grandstand, on the apron, in the clubhouse. I arrived at Belmont at 10:30 to sell T-shirts for BEST, and I figured that we’d be standing around until post time without much to do. But when the gates opened at 10:45, many people, a number wearing blue Curlin hats, came to the table to buy more than one $5 commemorative T-shirt (and those folks in particular are awfully glad that he won). When I left the table at 1:00, we’d sold over $1,000 worth of T-shirts, with all proceeds going to BEST.
And the crowd was there not only to appreciate Curlin; they offered a loud and sustained ovation when the valiant Ginger Punch returned from being dueled into defeat by Cocoa Beach. There could be lots of excuses made for Ginger Punch—she didn’t like the slop; she didn’t want to be on the lead; she was coming off two tough races in the last two months, while Cocoa Beach had raced only once since last March—but she doesn’t need them. No shame in her defeat yesterday, though I wish that she’d won. Just look at her…
Dynaforce, whose first Grade I was within her grasp in the Diana on that wet opening weekend at Saratoga but who had to settle for second that day, turned back all comers in the Grade I Flower Bowl. Clearly a mare who relishes the off going, she handed Mauralakana only her second defeat in her last seven races, and she did so decisively. Oh, yeah, and Alan Garcia added another Grade I to his resume.
Running only his second race in a year, Fabulous Strike made them all work, running the first quarter in 21.75, determined not to let anyone get past him. He battled down the stretch until a 23 – 1 shot got next to him and beat him by less than a head, no matter what the chart says.
Alan Garcia got his second Grade I on the day (anyone keeping track? How many is that this year?) when Grand Couturier put the “Saratoga horse for the course” question to rest, demolishing the field in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic. Horse and jockey had to wait following an objection, Grand Couturier walking patiently, his connections in the winner’s circle fidgeting, less so. But when it was over, Belmont Child Care Association board member Marc Keller and trainer Robert Ribaudo had their win.
And the big race lived up to the hype. Those of us rooting for the story rather than the odds got what we wanted, and like last year, we got a real race out of it. Two New York favorites, Nick Zito and Allen Jerkens, got second and third; Curlin sat back and watched the others run, but when told to do his job, he did it, keeping it interesting until a furlong out, when he took over, giving the crowd time to relax and enjoy the win before he crossed the finish line.
It seemed that the winner’s circle ceremonies went on and on and on…one of the security guards who works the winner’s circle gate here and Saratoga got a big, affectionate, warm hug from Steve Asmussen; Robby Albarado posed endlessly and stopped to receive well-wishers; trophies were handed out; declarations were made. As it got darker and darker, the applause rolled across the apron and rained down from the upper levels; when I rejoined my friends on the second floor, each of us, whether we’d made money or not, or loved Curlin or not, was caught up in a wave of adrenalin, because we got to see something remarkable in the sport that we love.
Curlin’s on his way westward, Dave Grening in the Daily Racing Form tells us, “to begin getting acclimated to that track’s new Pro-Ride synthetic surface.” Running in the Classic against Big Brown will be for bragging rights, for Horse of the Year, for the right to put his name in another set of history books. But yesterday, he was New York’s horse; he came here to break the record. As his connections received their trophies, someone yelled out, “New York loves Curlin!” And from the platform, one of the connections called back, “And Curlin loves New York!”
Curlin continues to dominate in the Twinspires.com-sponsored older horse category.
TVG has recently signed on as a Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance advertiser, sponsoring the standings in our sprint division, currently led by Street Boss, second in yesterday’s Ancient Title at Santa Anita.