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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Bring Him Back

- Curlin is back in the barn, and since Asmussen said that he hasn't been told "a single word" about what to do with him, perhaps he should get him ready for the Stephen Foster! Marty McGee reported that they'll be a meeting within a week amongst the owners to decide what to do. I imagine that the two incarcerated attorneys, William Gallion and Shirley Cunningham Jr., need the cash to pay their legal bills. So if Jess Jackson and the two other owners who own a combined 80% decide to race Curlin next year, maybe they'll buy the jailbirds out.

Jackson was quoted in Joe Drape's article in the NY Times on Tuesday - the usual talk about the big dilemma about money versus the sporting aspect of racing him next year, at significant risk and relatively little potential reward.

“There’s an inner quarrel with me,” Jackson said. “Inside cerebrally, I’m saying, here is a horse that can help change the direction of breeding in America, maybe the world. [NY Times]
C'mon man, give us a break with that crap. Do what you will, we know and understand about the money, but please spare us the changing the world stuff. Besides, that can wait another year.

Street Sense is of course off to stud, and how much more than $75,000 do you think they'd be getting if he won the Classic? He was on what I believe was the best part of the racetrack. But by the time Trevor Denman offered that "Street Sense is threatening to run a big one," Curlin was already leaving him in the dust mud. Perhaps the Derby champ didn't like the going, but it's hard now to argue with those who point to declining figs and his less than visually-dazzling wins at Saratoga as evidence that he peaked many months ago.

There's a lot of speculation now about Any Given Saturday coming back at four, since there was no announcement about a stud fee. I know they're blaming his performance on the slop like everyone else who didn't run well; but I'll still take his weak 6th place finish as vindication of my jumping off his bandwagon. He's a big, beautiful horse who was really babied through the summer/fall seasons. Seven weeks between the Haskell and Brooklyn; another five before the Classic. I see him as a poster child for this more time between races thing gone too far.

According to Haskin, Curlin came home each of his final two quarters in the Classic in :24 1/5. Not only did he handle the turns, but he propelled nimbly off the final one, right to the lead.

We can only hope that these guys do good for the sport, and let us enjoy Curlin in 2008. They all have plenty of money. And besides, look how much fun owner George Bolton is having!!

You'll never see this, or any guy, exultant like that, going: "YEAH, WOO! WE CHANGED THE DIRECTION OF BREEDING!" C'mon guys, give us all a thrill. Bring him back.

- On further examination, Trevor Denman's call of the Classic certainly was not his best of the day. Besides the instance cited above, the finish really showed where the Breeders' Cup misses Durkin. He has an extra reserve for climactic moments like that, while Denman, with his more limited vocal range, could only manage his "in an absolutely sty-lish performance!" We hear that from him on a routine basis in California. Stylish it was, but I think it warranted something far more emphatic and indicative of his domination of the race.

It wasn't ESPN's best moment either. They stuck to a close-up of the leaders as Denman was describing the unfolding drama of Curlin and Street Sense commencing their moves from the back.

- Turf winner English Channel will stand for $25,000; I swear, I was going to guess that exact figure. Like Curlin, English Channel is a son of Smart Strike, and, interestingly, like Curlin he's a complete outcross through his first five generations.

I think to get an idea of just how soft the course was, just listen to the race on the ESPN feed at You can really hear them clomping along and sense the heaviness of the going, yuck. I'm sure that a fair amount of Pick-Whatevers went out the window with Dylan Thomas. Not to speak for other bettors, but I'd surmise that some who singled him did so with a wing and a prayer, aware of the conditions, but desperate for a single somewhere in the sequence. John Murtagh said: "It was horrible ground and he's a real grass horse. He was losing his footing all the time and could never get competitive." [Press Association]


Anonymous said...

Just to be contrary, I would argue that people tend to overestimate the value to the sport of continuing to race horses like Curlin. He's not a darling of the public, like Street Sense is and Funny Cide was. (It was an interesting switch to see the owners criticized for retiring Funny Cide too LATE.)

If they bring Curlin back, it would likely be a conservatively managed campaign (he did skip the Travers, after all) in which he runs against short fields in either weight-for-age events or handicaps in which the racing secretary has been brow-beaten to keep weight off of him. That's not the kind of racing that stirs the blood of handicappers. He only becomes attractive to handicappers if he tails off and becomes a tantalizing bet-against, in which case the most common argument that he should be kept around (i.e., the sport needs superstars) loses some of its appeal.

Unless his owners start testing Curlin's limits (in the Met Mile, for example), the only two races where it would be really interesting to have him show up would be the Dubai World Cup and the Breeders' Cup Classic 2008. Most people can't even see the former live in North America, and the latter will be run on a synthetic surface at Santa Anita.


alan said...

BitPlayer - Interesting points here, thanks. I think an unstated point in your comment is that you just about have to win the Derby to be a "darling of the public." Given the fact that he'll already have won HOTY and presumably insured his stud value, you'd think that a four-year old campaign could be more daring and include races like the Met Mile or World Cup; maybe even the grass (he is by English Channel's sire, out of a Deputy Minister mare). But I imagine you're 100% right about the kind of campaign we'd see should he return.

Anonymous said...

Why can't Dylan Thomas' people just admit he got beat? Instead they say "he's a real grass horse." Why not say, "he can only handle firm going" or "if it gets soft out there, he's not a great horse." Bottom line, it's a chink in his armor. The greatest horses can win on any type of ground.

Anonymous said...

Alan, dittos on the let's bring back Curlin sentiments. We all know this breeding mania has gone way overboard and what we need is owners who want to run their tigers on the track, not in the breeding shed. These 3 YO's rushed off to stud remind me of too many overpaid athletes who have one good year, hit the free agency jackpot, and then coast for the next 3-5 years. Too many owners obviously do not calculate the odds of succeeding in the breeding shed; if they did, many more would stick around and run at 4 and 5.
/S/Green Mtn Punter

Michael said...

I still can't believe that Pincay interviewed Shirley Cunningham's wife at the trophy presentation and there was no question of how much curlin's ownership still means to her husband... considering that his ass is sitting in jail in kentucky and she made the trip to oceanport, nj -- it has to mean something to him...

Anonymous said...

Alan –

Thanks for the response. You're right about the Derby being the most common path to "darling" status, but I think fillies who can take on the boys rank a close second. I'd guess that Rags To Riches would be a better draw than Curlin. Then again, Michael Paulson seems to have received more criticism than praise for extending Azeri's racing career. I also think Afleet Alex, with the lemonade stands and Preakness heroics, would have been a good draw despite losing the Derby. Curlin's fen-phen back story doesn't have the same appeal.

Your point about trying the grass is a good one. In that vein, I wonder when American breeders are going to start being unwilling to pay top dollar for stallions who haven't showed they can handle synthetic surfaces.

Keep up the great work.