Not since Favorite Trick turned the trick a decade ago as 2-year-old has a horse been named "Horse of the Year" in his first year of racing. This year looks like Curlin's turn.
Curlin didn't make his first career start until February of this year at Gulfstream Park. But he danced every dance in the Triple Crown, ending Street Sense's Triple Crown hopes in the Preakness. And he beat the leading older horse, Lawyer Ron, in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.
But the capper was Curlin's dominating victory in Saturday's $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic, Powered by Dodge. The conventional wisdom had "Horse of the Year" on the line in this race, with Lawyer Ron, Curlin, Street Sense and even Hard Spun or Any Given Saturday in the mix.
Lawyer Ron, breaking from the rail, got trapped on the inside on the first turn, was never able to get a comfortable position and finished seventh. And by the stretch turn, only Curlin and Street Sense were making up ground on pace-setting Hard Spun.
Curlin, under Robby Albarado, went on powerfully, winning by 4 1/2 lengths over Hard Spun, while Street Sense spun his wheels, eventually finishing fourth, 1 length behind longshot Awesome Gem.
Curlin, a Kentucky-bred colt by Smart Strike, ran the 1 1/4 miles in a good time of 2:00.59, given the sloppy surface that plagued the Monmouth Park main track throughout the Championship Weekend.
"Curlin ran a beautiful race," said Street Sense's jockey, Calvin Borel. "At the quarter pole, I thought I would go with him, but he just kicked away."
Albarado said his trip "went perfectly starting with all the speed up front. It unfolded just the way we wanted. But it also takes a hell of a hose to get this done. Curlin was there for us every step of the way."
The partners who own Curlin haven’t yet decided whether to keep him in training as a 4-year-old. But trainer Steve Asmussen reflected on what the rivalry among Curlin, Hard Spun and Street Sense has meant to the sport.
"If you are a fan of the sport, then you are a fan of these three horses," he said. "If you're not impressed with what they have done all year long, then you are not going to be impressed by any racehorse."
The race was marred by the fatal breakdown of the only European entrant, George Washington. He suffered a compound fracture and was euthanized on the track. "He did well to stay up," said jockey Mick Kinane. He was brave. He didn't go down. He stayed up on it. He saved me."
Most other year-end honors also were settled during the other Championship races at Monmouth Park.
$3 million John Deere Turf
English Channel, the best of the locals, coped admirably with the soft turf and Arc d'Triomphe winner Dylan Thomas didn't. That was about the whole story of the Turf. English Channel tracked the plodding early lead, took charge entering the stretch and drew off to win by 7 lengths over Shamdinan. Last year's winner, Red Rock, was third while Dylan Thomas spun his wheels and struggled home fifth. "We got the perfect trip," said winning rider John Velazquez. "Our plan was to save ground and wait as long as possible before we made our move. Everything was perfect." John Murtagh, who rode Dylan Thomas, pointed to his muddy silks and said, "It was not turf racing. Look. He was spinning his wheels out there. He even hated the warm-up and this is a horse who loves his racing and everything about it. We had no chance." Trainer Aidan O'Brien said he knew Dylan Thomas had little chance in the boggy going but added, "We were here. And I thought they (the horse's owners) were very sporting to let him run." After finishing third in last year's Turf, English Channel had a disastrous trip to Dubai in the spring, then came back to win the United Nations and the Turf Classic Invitational before Saturday's big win. He also was second in the Manhattan and the Sword Dancer and is a shoo-in for an Eclipse Award. He is a 5-year-old son of Smart Strike.
$2 million Emirates Airline Distaff
Ginger Punch won the most exciting stretch battle of the day, giving up the lead to Hystericalady briefly before battling back along the fence to score by a neck. Octave was just a neck farther back in third in a race that shaped up from the beginning as wide-open. Ginger Punch, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred daughter of Awesome Again, ran the 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.11 under Rafael Bejarano. "In the stretch, we got squeezed by (Hystericalady)," Bejarano said. "But I always knew she would come back." Chad Brown, assistant to winning trainer Bobby Frankel, said it appeared Ginger Punch had actually hit the rail at one point. "She's tough and she's always been a fighter," he said. Ginger Punch had won three in a row before finishing third in the Beldame in her final tune-up for the Distaff.
$2 million NetJets Mile (turf)
In another upset victimizing the Euro contingent, Kip Deville rallied from a pace-stalking trip, split the leaders at mid-stretch and went on to post a mild upset victory over the invading favorite, Excellent Art. Cosmonaut finished third. Kip Deville, a 4-year-old, Oklahoma-bred son of Kipling, finished in 1:39.78 under Cornelio Velasquez. "He broke very fast but I didn't want to go to the lead so I covered him up," said Velasquez. "At the quarter pole, I had a lot of horse and when I was able to get clear, he took off." Asked about the soft turf, Velazquez said Kip Deville "absolutely loved it." Trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. said the key to the race "was for him liking the track. It looks like he did." The victory was the first for Kip Deville since the Maker's Mark Mile at Keeneland in April. He showed he was ready, however, by finishing second to Shakespeare in his final Breeders' Cup Prep, the Woodbine Mile.
$2 million TVG Sprint
As the field entered the turn, Midnight Lute was dawdling near the back of the field on the outside. But he also was gearing up a stretch run that made all nine opponents look like they were tied to posts. Charging on the outside, Midnight Lute and jockey Garrett Gomez simply zoomed to the front and drew off to win by 4 3/4 lengths in 1:09.18. Idiot Proof, the apparent winner at mid-stretch, was the best of the rest with Talent Search third. Even though he was the post-time favorite, Midnight Lute, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Real Quiet colt looked like 100-1 before he started his charge. "I felt that we had a good shot," Gomez said. "I made the decision to come around horses and Commentator took us out a little farther than I would have liked. But once I got him clear, he came on." Trainer Bob Baffert said it was "an incredible run he made. He's the best one I've ever led over here to the Breeders' Cup. I always said he was in the Top 10 of all my horses. Now he's in the Top Five." Midnight Lute came into the race after a victory in the Forego at Saratoga that was almost too good to believe as his first win of the year. But he backed it up in the big one.
$2 million Filly & Mare Turf
Sheik Hamdan bin Rasheed Al Maktoum sent Lahudood to the United States for her 4-year-old season to run in graded stakes. And he wasn't dissuaded when the British-bred Singspiel filly ran seventh in the Beverly D at Arlington in her first try in that exalted company. Persisting, he told trainer Kiaran McLaughlin to run Lahudood in the Flower Bowl Invitational at Belmont Park, where she got through on the rail in the stretch to win by 1/2 length at 21-1. Saturday, she went to the post at 11-1 and again justified the sheik's faith, winning by 3/4 length over Honey Ryder with a determined stretch effort. Passage of Time, another beaten European favorite, ran third. Lahudood, under Alan Garcia, ran the 1 3/8 miles in 2:22.75. "She was handling the course very well," Garcia said. "I wasn't worried about that at all in any part of the race … I had a lot of horse in the lane and she got there." The race was complicated when European shipper Simply Perfect bolted to the outside rail on the first turn, carrying Arravale and Precious Kitten out of contention.
$2 million Bessemer Trust Juvenile
War Pass is the early favorite for next year's Kentucky Derby, undefeated in four starts after an impressive, 4 3/4-lengths victory in the Juvenile. Leading most of the way, the Kentucky-bred son of Cherokee Run was up by as much as 7 lengths in the stretch run before coasting home. Pyro was second and Kodiak Kowboy finished third. War Pass ran the 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.76 under Cornelio Velazquez. "Wonderful horse," said winning trainer Nick Zito. "This is great. I never had an anxious moment. We did it exactly the way we said we would." The question about War Pass is his ability to stay a distance of ground, as Pyro was gaining on him as they also finished 1-2 in their earlier race, the Champagne. Velazquez said that wasn't an issue in the Juvenile. "My horse had a lot of speed," he agreed. "He wanted to go to the lead. At the quarter pole, I asked and I had a lot of horse in the last part of the race."
$2 million Juvenile Fillies
Indian Blessing shot quickly to the front, handled the sloppy track well and kicked home easily the best, winning by 3 1/2 lengths over Proud Spell. Backseat Rhythm finished third. With Garrett Gomez up for trainer Bob Baffert, the Kentucky-bred daughter of Indian Charlie ran the 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.73. "The idea wasn't to make the lead," Gomez said. "It was just to get a good, forward position. But once she made it up to the first turn, she was rolling so easy, I let her go. When we made it to the far turn, she was really rolling and I let her go. When we turned for home, she leveled right out. She's a nice filly." Baffert said he left the tactical decisions up to Gomez. "She's a really talented filly and we've always known it," he said. Indian Blessing now is undefeated in three career starts, including the Frizette at Belmont in her Breeders' Cup prep.
On Friday's card of new $1 million Breeders' Cup Championships:
-- Filly & Mare Sprint: Maryfield sat behind the contentious pace set by Dream Rush, swung to the middle of the track entering the stretch and advanced steadily through the sloppy going to win by a 1/2 length over another closer, Miraculous Miss. Miss Macy Sue finished third as the 6 furlongs went in 1:09.85. Winning jockey Elvis Trujillo, picking up his first Breeders' Cup victory, said the issue wasn't in doubt. "The speed was going to stop. It was going to be one big run, one run," he said. Maryfield, a one-time $50,000 claim, is a 6-year-old, Ontario-bred mare by Elusive Quality.
-- Juvenile Turf: Nownownow was lastlastlast when the field turned for home on the boggy Monmouth Park turf. But under steady urging from jockey Julian Leparoux, the Kentucky-bred Whywhywhy colt steadily picked up the field and hit the wire in front, 1/2 length ahead of Irish import Achill Island. British-based Strike the Deal held on for third as the 1 mile went in 1:40.48.
-- Dirt Mile: Corinthian appeared headed for a wide trip as the field headed for the first turn in the inaugural Dirt Mile until jockey Kent Desormeaux took him in hand, settled back in the field and saved ground. When the running started on the second turn, the 4-year-old son of Pulpit moved easily to the lead and drew off to win convincingly, finishing 6 1/2 lengths to the good of early pace-setter Gotcha Gold. Discreet Cat, who sat within stalking range early, had no punch in the stretch and barely held on to finish a distant third. "I didn't think it was the best part of the track," Desormeaux said of his rail. But it was the perfect position." The 1 mile and 70 yards took 1:39.06.
On Saturday's undercard:
-- Cobalt Blue came from last to upset the $200,000 Select Stakes for 2-year-olds, beating pace-setter E Z Warrior by 1/2 length. Appealing Spring finished third. Cobalt Blue, a Florida-bed son of Golden Missile, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:10.54 under Garrett Gomez.
-- Coco Belle was always close to the lead in the $200,000 Miss Woodford Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, then got clear in the stretch to win by 2 lengths over Intentional Fever. Control System finished third. Coco Belle, a Kentucky-bred Storm Boot filly, ran 6 furlongs in 1:09.15 for Garrett Gomez.
-- Actin Good also ran good in the $250,000 Pegasus Stakes for 3-year-olds, leading early, surrendering the advantage to Now a Victor, then battling back to beat that rival by a neck. Slew's Tizzy finished third. Actin Good, a Florida-bred gelding by Yes It's True, ran 9 furlongs in 1:51.54 under Cornelio Velasquez.
On Friday's undercard:
-- Margo's Gift came from near the rear of a 10-horse field to win the $250,000 Favorite Trick Breeders' Cup Stakes for 2-year-olds by 1 1/2 lengths over Jazz Nation -- an $828 exacta payoff. The favorite, Lantana Mob, finished third. Margo's Gift, a Washington-bred gelding by Polish Gift, ran 6 furlongs on the sloppy track in 1:10.19 under Ricky Frazier.
-- Sea Chanter came from mid-pack to win the $250,000 Epitome Breeders' Cup Stakes for 2-year-old fillies by 3/4 length over Annie Skates with Grace and Power third. Sea Chanter, a Kentucky-bred filly by War Chant, got the 1 mile on yielding turf in 1:39.21 with John Velazquez in the irons.
-- Tessa Blue led all the way to a 12 1/2-length victory in the $250,000 Inside Information Breeders' Cup Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. Lost Etiquette was second and Talkin About Love finished third. Tessa Blue, a Maryland-bred daughter of Awesome Again, got 1 1/16 miles in the slop in 1:41.74 under Mike Smith.
In other weekend racing, with a lot of 2-year-old action included:
Court Vision had to come six-wide into the stretch to get by the leaders in Sunday's $150,000 Iroquois Stakes for 2-year-olds, then ran on determinedly to win by 1/2 length over Halo Najib. Mythical Pegasus finished third. Court Vision, a Kentucky-bred Gulch colt, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:37.26 under Julien Leparoux. Bill Mott trains.
Pure Clan broke last of 14 in Sunday's $150,000 Pocahontas Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, was forced 10-wide entering the stretch but still got up in time to win by a comfortable 1 1/4 lengths over Authenticat. Sky Mom was third and the favorite, Anachini, finished sixth. Pure Clan, a Kentucky-bred Pure Prize filly, got the 1 mile in 1:38.3 with Leparoux up for Bob Holthus.
Tasteyville ran away from a trio of opponents to win Saturday's $150,000 Sport Page Handicap by 9 1/4 lengths. Sir Greely was second as the favorite and Council Member ran third. Premium Wine completed the order of finish. Tasteyville, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred gelding by With Approval, ran 7 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:21.38. Mike Luzzi rode.
Said to Me rallied from last of five to win Saturday's $100,000 Blue Hen Stakes for 2-year-old fillies by 1 3/4 lengths over Dagger. Hidden Wish was third. Said to Me, a Kentucky-bred filly by Fusaichi Pegasus, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:48.83 with Abel Castellano Jr. riding.
Etched led from gate to wire in Sunday's $100,000 Nashua Stakes for 2-year-olds, winning by 6 1/2 lengths over Anak Nakal. Anakim finished third. Etched, a Kentucky-bred colt, ran the 1 mile on a "good" track in 1:36.96.
Elusive Lady led all the way to a 4 3/4-lengths win over Meriwether Jessica in Sunday's $100,000 Tempted Stakes for 2-year-old fillies. Sunday Holiday ran third as the even-money favorite. Elusive Lady is a Florida-bred daughter of Van Nistelrooy. She got the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:38.4 under Eibar Coa.
Fishy Advice rallied outside the leaders in the stretch run of Sunday's $100,000 Knickerbocker Handicap and was up to win by 1 length over Thom Song. Operation Red Dawn was third. Fishy Advice, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Woodman, ran 1 1/8 miles on soft turf in 1:52.06 under Javier Castellano.
Go Between went between the leaders with a furlong to go in Saturday's $150,000 Fayette Stakes and dug in gamely to win by a neck over the favorite, Stream Cat. Kona Blend finished third. Go Between, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred colt by Point Given, ran 9 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:47.97.
Spring House took command in the stretch to win Sunday's $100,000 Carleton F. Burke Handicap by 2 1/4 lengths over Ispingo. Runaway Dancer was third. Spring House, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred gelding by Chester House, ran the 1 1/2 miles on firm turf in 2:24.13. Garrett Gomez flew back from Monmouth to take the mount for trainer Julio Canani.
In Saturday's $100,000 Morvich Handicap, Get Funky stalked pace-setting Relato Del Gato most of the way, then put a neck in front at the wire. Becrux was 3/4 length farther back in third as the eight starters ran close together most of the way down the hillside turf course. Get Funky, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred colt by Straight Man, ran the "about" 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:13.23 under Martin Garcia.
Rahy's Attorney sat behind embattled leaders down the backstetch in Sunday's $125,000 Bunty Lawless Stakes for Ontario-bred 2-year-olds, came up along the rail and rallied through the stretch to win by 2 lengths over Archers Alyancer. Fudgethebottomline finished third. Rahy's Attorney, a gelded son of Crown Attorney, ran the 1 mile on yielding turf in 1:37.66.
Like a Gem stalked the pace in Saturday's $100,000 (Canadian) River Memories Stakes for fillies and mares, surged to the lead at the top of the stretch and won off by 1 1/4 lengths over Bankin on Candy. Nottawasaga ran third. Like a Gem, a 4-year-old, Ontario-bred daughter of Tactical Cat, got the 1 mile on yielding turf in 1:38.58.
Shilla rallied to the lead at the top of the stretch in Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Fanfreluche Stakes for 2-year-old fillies and went on to win by 2 1/2 lengths, ridden out. Kid Sparkle was second and Dawn Raid third. Shilla, an Ontario-bred daughter of Marquetry, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:09.62.
Eccentric came from next-last to capture Saturday's $100,000 Chief Bearheart Stakes by a neck over Royal Challenger. Eccentric, a 6-year-old, British-bred gelding by Most Welcome, ran 1 1/4 miles on yielding turf in 2:06.37 under David Clark.
Hartfelt stalked the pace, came around the leader and went on to win Saturday's $100,000 M2 Technology La Senorita Stakes for 2-year-old fillies by a neck over Wasted Tears. Timely Reflection, the even-money favorite, was third. Hartfelt is a Kentucky-bred daughter of Kafwain. She ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:35.42.
Royal Night rallied from a ground-saving, stalking trip to win Saturday's $100,000 Skyy El Jovan Stakes for 2-year-old males by 2 1/2 lengths over Twentieth Century. Letmeby came from last to finish third. Royal Night, a Louisiana-bred colt by Luhuk, ran the 1 mile on the green course in 1:35.97.
Hastings Race Course
Dancing Allstar led all the way to a 2-length victory in Saturday's $100,000 (Canadian) Fantasy Stakes for 2-year-old fillies. Remarkable Miss was second and Infinite Wealth third. Dancing Allstar, the heaviest of odds-on favorites, is a British Columbia-bred daughter of Millennium Allstar. She ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:45.91.
In Sunday's $100,000 (Canadian) Ascot Graduation Stakes for 2-year-olds, Royal Hudson rallied from last in a field of 11 to win by a 1/2 length over favorite Desert Alf. Star Prospector finished third. Royal Hudson, a Kentucky-bred son of Monarchos, got the 1 1/16 mile on a sloppy track in 1:46.5.