Curlin going gently…

The way Curlin’s imminent departure from the racing stage was treated yesterday bears some resemblance to his racing career: we knew he was important, but he never quite got the attention he deserved.

The Sunday morning print edition of the New York Times carried a good-sized story about Jess Jackson’s decision to begin Curlin’s stud career in 2009; I became aware of the story after seeing a link to the electronic version of the Times posted by Kevin Stafford of The Aspiring Horseplayer on Facebook. As Valerie Grash of Foolish Pleasure noted in a comment, by mid-afternoon yesterday, the Blood-Horse had posted an Associated Press story; Thoroughbred Times and the Daily Racing Form had both posted stories around 1:00 pm. As a firm believer in the non-24 hour news/work cycle, I find it more curious than blameworthy that the Times had the story first, but perhaps Jackson talked to Bill Finley before he talked to anyone else, and that’s how it happened. Without knowing how the news was released, I’m not casting aspersions on the racing publications that their stories got up later on Sunday than the Times story did.

But it does seem a fitting, if somewhat backwards, way to deal with the end of this colt’s career. The racing press and racing fans embraced Curlin, and gave him plenty of attention and column inches over the last eighteen months, the rest of the world—not so much. On Sunday, the general press reported the news of his retirement, likely to an audience not much interested in it.

For whatever reason, Curlin never attracted the kind of scrutiny or excited the kind of admiration that his fellow Horse of the Year candidate Big Brown did. Even as writers and fans wrote gushingly of Curlin’s muscular, impressive physique, few raised the possibility of his racing on medication, despite his trainer’s long list of medication violations. And even as Curlin raced regularly through the year and moved closer to breaking Cigar’s money record, he could never bring fans to the track the way that Big Brown did.

None of this is meant to take away from Curlin’s accomplishments as a racehorse; though for some reason my and Curlin’s paths didn’t cross too often (I missed both his Woodward and his Man o’War), I was at the rail for both of his Gold Cup wins, each of which was thrilling: the first for the stretch duel with Lawyer Ron, the second for its historical significance. Only the most hardened horseplayer could have failed to be moved by Curlin’s walk to the winner’s circle on that muddy, dark afternoon at Belmont; it’s a shame that, despite a concerted PR effort, so few people showed up to see him.

I don’t know why the general public never caught on to Curlin, why he never fired folks’ imagination the way that Big Brown did, or why his winning was never attributed to anything except his talent. I don’t know anyone who ever saw him in person who wasn’t impressed, even awed by him; it was nice to think that he might have stuck around for another year, but it’s a surprise neither to hear that he won’t, nor that he leaves without the fanfare we might expect for a champion.

20 thoughts on “Curlin going gently…

  1. Any horse that wins the Derby and the Preakness are main stream notables in that year.Curlin was churlin the blogs for awhile and Big Brown made it more fun! I will miss it.

  2. I also found it interesting that the Times had the story first; it was quite a while before the news hit the Blood-Horse. I can appreciate the difference, though, as a former magazine person; we kept our website on the weekly publication cycle no matter what happened over the weekend.

  3. It didn’t help Curlin that half his owners were in jail and his trainer is a chronic drug cheat. It didn’t help Curlin that his primary owner, Jess Jackson, is a pompous windbag that plays favorites with the media and has a p.r. flack that runs interference rather than facilitating interviews. It didn’t help Curlin that he lost the Belmont. It didn’t help Curlin that his greatest triumph came in Dubai. It didn’t help Curlin that he lost the Arc tune-up at a critical juncture in his celebrity. For a horse to crack the public consciousness, it needs stars to align, and they didn’t for this one…and he is not the horse of the year.

  4. I Pray Curlin retires at Stonestreet Stables in Kentucky, so that his fans will have a chance to visit him. I regret I never attended his races, but I have always admired his desire to run and all that he has accomplished. It would be nice if “The Mighty Culin” receives a Retirement Party so his fans can celebrate his awesome career 🙂

  5. I love Curlin, and went to Belmont and Saratoga (2 long trips from my home in the DC area) just to see him run. Maybe on the days Brooklyn Backstretch went to the races the crowds were small, but on the days I saw Curlin race, both tracks were jammed and loads of fans were there, like me, for the chance to cheer for Curlin. When he was good, he was spectacular and I will miss him.

  6. I think it was Big Brown’s connections that really attracted the attention to his story. Drugs! Money! Death threats! A loudmouth trainer! It read like a dimestore novel. I also think this points out the problem with racing a horse after three. All the attention goes to the TC and the three year olds. Why not have a Triple Crown series for older horses? Four year olds and up only, please.

  7. anonymous,Your points make black and white sense. I do not see it that simply. I do not know about the p.r. flack that runs interference but you could be on to something.The Belmont loss to Rags-to-Riches was a great race. I enjoyed that race to the end, especially when the two of them were looking at each other eye to eye. Almost funny that race was, totally converted me to Curlin.It did not hurt that he won the Dubai World Cup.He likes the dirt.The public has no conscious.He is a star.HOY of 2008 should go to a horse that showed up for the classy grade 1’s. A horse that traveled to find the best competitors in the world, fearless in all kinds of weather, the courage to tackle different surfaces, giving all he had when asked. What star aligns with these outstanding qualities?

  8. It was great to see Curlin run as a 4yo. Got to see him 3x in person with a quick barn peek at Saratoga.Super I think Finley got the story for the Times. For a short time the story is embargoed then released. I don’t know all the rules.

  9. In re the Bloodhorse et al, Lexington’s not really Jackson’s town …. At any rate, Curlin’s 2007 JC Gold Cup is what stood out for me. People forget how good Lawyer Ron was at that point. He had a good 4 year old year.

  10. Thanks, folks, for reading and for the comments. Love to hear everyone’s thoughts on the horse and on the way the story unfolded. Linda–you know I’m with you! The old NY Handicap Triple Crown works for me: Met Mile, Suburban, Brooklyn.

  11. I must say that I feel sorry for the unimaginable ignorance, no let me say stupidity of some of the people that have posted comments. (anonymous) it would seem best to make cowardice statments about things that you have no idea about. Curlin did not race on medication in the last year, thats a fact, you dont have any idea about how Jackson handled p.r. with regards to this colt. Curlin lost the belmont due to being a horse that had run 3 times in 5 weeks in comparison to Rags 2 times in that time frame with a 4 week rest, Curlins Greatest triumph came in the 2007 B.C. Classic as he beat one of the best fields ever assembled with ease, curlin was a rock star ever since he won that 2007 B.C. Classic so there was no juncture with regards to his celebrity. Curlin won over $10 million in purses in just 20 months, some horses run for 5 or 6 years and dont crack the million mark, so it would seem as if plenty of stars aligned for this champion racehorse. As for the 2008 HOY award, Curlin wrapped that award up in Sept when he won the JcGc, so yes he is Horse of the Year. I would politely ask that people like you who can not truly appreciate a horse that danced every dance, unlike the Prima Donna in BB who would not face older horses in a race that mattered, whose connections balked at taking on Curlin at Saratoga and at Belmont, whose connections would not even face the top 3 year old field in the Travers but instead ran him in a Grade III Haskell that he barely won over allowance horses or whose connections begged for a ungraded mythical race to be wrote for him to beat inferior turf horses with no real credibility, again I would ask that you not make statements about a champion race horse like Curlin. Go back to your minimum wage job and answer phones or iron clothes, but leave the business of horses to experts or true fans who can truly appreciate a champion because its obvious that you couldnt spot a champion is he ran during his 4 year old season and bankrolled over $10 million in purses. It must be sad to be you.

  12. My goodness, 11 pm hits and all hell breaks loose? Agree, anon@11:46–glad to see the Curlin spirit alive and well, but let’s keep it civilized, OK?

  13. to the anonymous who spoke of my “unimaginable ignorance”…First of all, pal, and I use that term loosely, since you’ve decided to attack, check that, feel sorry for me, the Haskell is a Grade I race. Second, it also appears you’ve set up Big Brown as your straw man to knock around. I never brought up Big Brown. You did. But since you did, let’s check him out: He won the Florida Derby with a move of shocking authority from a post that NEVER wins at that track. He duplicated the feat from the 20 hole in the Kentucky Derby – the most important race in the country. Ragozin rated it the best Derby EVER. He then won the Preakness. Yes, something happened in the Belmont, but he won the GRADE I — not Grade III — Haskell in a very game effort. That he beat older turf horses — beat, mind you, not finished second — that ran better than the horse that beat Curlin in the B.C. Turf. All of this accomplished with a bum hoof. That’s one helluva racehorse that could have just said, “no thanks; my foot hurts.” Don’t blame the animal for the owners. Finally, Curlin has not been “a rock star” since 2007. People actually know who rock stars are. Walk around in the general public, away from the racetrack, and ask strangers if they know who Curlin is. Watch the blank stares. Then, for fun, ask if they know who Big Brown is. They actually might. That’s the point I was making about stars aligning. And as for going back to my minimum wage job or ironing clothes or answering phones, I see nothing wrong with any of those occupations if they help put food on the table. Your classist snobbishness has no place in the conversation. Make your case like an adult, and stop attacking people you don’t know.

  14. “Jess Jackson, is a pompous windbag”Really? Well that “windbag” put his money where his mouth is and donated $100,000 from his Curlin for Kids charity to The Belmont Child Care Association.

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