11/18/2008 6:16PM

Considering Curlin


Curlinstall I keep sitting down to write something about Curlin but there are still so many moving parts to his story that's it's difficult to know precisely where he stands and what to say.

He's as retired as a horse who's not officially retired can be. Jess Jackson, who owns 80 percent of him, put out an oddly-timed press release Saturday night saying that the colt would be retired to stud next year, as expected, but Jackson also deliberately rasied the tantalizing possibility of one final start before that. But where? Jackson has ruled out the Japan Cup Dirt because of quarantine issues and, through trainer Steve Asmussen, also nixed the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs Nov. 29 due to its mere Grade 2 status and $400,000 purse. The only remaining Grade 1 race for him on the calendar is the $300k Cigar Mile at Aqueduct the same day, but nominations closed Nov. 15 and Curlin was not among them.

It seems likelier he'll be paraded for the fans on Clark Day and then sent to a Kentucky breeding farm than that he'll face the starter again.

Meanwhile, Jackson's representatives were in a Frankfort, Ky. courtroom Monday making an unusual argument on behalf of a horse owner -- that his prize runner is worth less than people may think. Jackson is trying to buy out the remaining 20 percent of Curlin and thinks the fair value is $4 million, as opposed to the at least $6 milliion the share was valued at this summer and perhaps as much as $10 million at the end of last year.

Funny how those valuations change depending on whether you're buying or selling. It was only a few months ago that the owners of Big Brown, a far less accomplished racehorse and one with an arguably less attractive pedigree, was being widely labelled as a stallion worth $50 million. Big Brown, like the other horses of the last decade who won two-thirds of the Triple Crown and not much else -- Charismatic, Funny Cide, Afleet Alex, Smarty Jones -- is unlikely ever to be voted into the Hall of Fame. Curlin is a first-ballot cinch for 2014.

Curlin broke Cigar's record for earnings by an American-based horse, he won a Breeders' Cup Classic, two Jockey Club Gold Cups,a Dubai World Cup, a Preakness and at least one Horse of the Year title (two if justice prevails in January.) Yet without a Triple Crown bid, or a lengthy unbeaten streak like Cigar's, Curlin never quite captured the public imagination. That may say as much about racing's diminished profile as it does about Curlin or sports fans, but I don't think it's fair to say "Racing Failed to Promote Curlin" as one website headline alleges. The New York Racing Association poured unprecedented single-horse promotional efforts into Curlin's appearances in the Woodward and Jockey Club Gold Cup, but there just wasn't a strong enough hook to move the attendance or coverage needles.

Curlin undertook as ambitious a campaign as a 4-year-old can these days -- an ad-hoc quintet of the World Cup, Foster, Woodward, Gold Cup, and Classic -- but that's just not an organized or recognized series that resonates beyond the sport's existing fans. Maybe there's no way to make a top older horse a household name, and I'm unconvinced that this is a particularly pressing problem for racing or that solving it would significantly buoy the game.

Sportswriters spend a lot of time lamenting the early retirement of racehorses and blaming racing's ills on this phenomenon. Sure, it's disappointing for us existing fans, but how exactly did Curlin's staying in training as a 4-year-old attract new fans or raise the sport's profile?

Paul More than 1 year ago
The sport of racing needs only a few things to make it very successful: 1) Sponsorship of betting pools. States should allow casino gambling at racetracks with the requirement that a certain percentage of the income be placed in the betting pools for the racetrack bettors. This subsidy will attract horse bettors because of the favorable odds it will produce. 2) Public education about horse racing. When my wife objects to racing, I tell her that horse racing is not cruel, instead, horses are "running for their lives". Most people don't eat horse meat or drink horse milk. Horse racing pumps money into horse boarding establishments which allow other breeds of horses to exist. If horses did not have an economic value, they would be rare. Thus, if you love horses, you should love horse racing. "Horses are running for their lives". 3) Possibly some gimmicks? One idea would be to sponsor a music concert, pass out a one-race past performance for free and let people bet on it before the concert starts (or during a break) and let them see the race on a jumbo-tron. Have the star tell the audience their pick, etc. This will get people to see horse racing as a form of entertainment, like it was in the past.
paul rybarsyk More than 1 year ago
just watched the seventh race from Hollywood. The winner clearly should have been disqualified but no change was made. Like me, a lot of horseplayers are getting dissolusioned with the completely inexplainable decisions of the stewards. It will slowly, but eventually, kill the sport. The only thing I could get out of the absurd decision was that it was owned and trained by Hollendorfer and ridden by Bejarano. As a little solace I think drf should publish if any of the stewards are sanctioned, fired or disciplined in any manner for these ridiculous rulings.
James III More than 1 year ago
wmcorrow- An alterate to Casino Gambling? You must be a terrible handicapper and without a question DOES not appreciate Horse Racing like a true FAN. The only thing that should mirror and that will improve handle is a reduction in takeouts. You mention to a person that the take out is 25% and they say i'm gonna play Poker. ( which might resemble Handicapping because you are gambling agaist other people.) If you want somebody to enjoy the races and become a fan... TAKE them to the track to see a champion, have some beers and do some W bets... I would actually give FANS posters and memorabilia like they do at NFL games( BTW they are giving out a Zenyetta poster at Hollywood)
ernie More than 1 year ago
Surfaces are my main reason for betting less and loosing interest in the game. It was tough enough using the data before the intro of synthetics. When Curlin made his move in the Breeders and then paddled home I vowed never again. Next many races are UNhandicapable. I just stay out of them. Most states have a lottery. I just signed in to read Steve's blog and note how much everyone feels that they have to shoot all the fish in the barrel to get a win ticket. Nothing wrong with this at all, but it is a statement that handicapping and getting paid for your handicapping is loosing its edge. The game is slow to those who go to Casinos or are poker players. It is involved if you are going to know the language and follow closely. Sports fans follow major league sports but not Tbred racing. I do not go to OTB ever to bet. Switched to Computer Digital world, and track odds. Go to Saratoga, I live Upstate. I see my future as playing more flat bets, very selectively. Taking a chair at a time from the race track not the grandstand.
Lawduck07 More than 1 year ago
Jim, Curlin had no competition? I suppose Street Sense, Hard Spun, and the rest of the 2004 crop were mince meat in your opinion. Lawyer Ron had a pretty good seaon last year, too. As far as this year, he danced in the biggest dances, open competition in which any horse could compete. All the horses that raced in the Santa Anita Handicap could have went to Dubai. The California contingent could have came to Kentucky for the Stephen Foster and get a significant weight break instead, but why do that and face Curlin when you could stay home and face each other instead. Although I am a Curlin fan, obviously, your comment seems a little harsh simply because I was also a fan of the other very good horses I mentioned and you make them sound as if they were one step up from dog food. Without Curlin, Street Sense would have won the Preakness, defintiely would not have skipped the Belmont and who knows I doubt Todd Pletcher would have entered Rags to Riches against what would have been a very dominant 3 yr-old Street Sense in the Belmont. I for one want to know what was up with 2004. That crop gave us Curlin, Street Sense, Hard Spun, Any Given Saturday, Tiago, Rags to Riches, Zenyatta, and to a lesser extent Nobiz Like Shobiz, a multiple Grade I winner and decent turf horse, Scat Daddy, another multiple Grade I winner who may have been able to redeem himself after the Derby like Any Given Saturday did if given the chance. Heck even Xchanger and Zanjero went on to have decent falls in 2007. I personally think that crop was pretty amazing and I bet a lot of the owners of those horses would have loved it if there horse would have been born a year later and faced the 2005 generation instead.
Unitas More than 1 year ago
I agree with you Vince, Big Brown has not been given his due by the racing industry, the media, or the fans in general. Other than the brilliant ride given to him by Kent(Triple Crown Crusher) Desormeaux(note the sarcasm) in the Belmont, BB hasn't tasted defeat, even when he seemed beat in The Haskell, and when it seemed as though half of the field was going to pass him in The Monmouth Stakes(vs. older horses). Like it or not, he had a better three year old campaign than did Curlin when he was a 3yo. It is ridiculous to say "what did he beat?", when all he did was beat every that faced him(sans the Belmont). Oh, and don't forget, Curlin lost to a FILLY as a 3yo! We'll never know, but Big Brown may have been just as good, if not better than Curlin was as an older horse. And even Curlin's biggest supporters have to admit he was not the same horse after racing in Dubai, going all out to beat some very weak fields prior to his Breeders Cup debacle. Overrated? Yes, I would say Curlin is a overrated thoroughbred, he is(was?) a very good horse, but not a great one.
libby More than 1 year ago
You cannot pin the success or lack of interest in horse racing on one horse. If Triple Crown races for three year olds work for the industry, just attempt a series race for 4 year olds and up and see what happens. Horse racing has nothing to lose by doing this.
gofor broke More than 1 year ago
Curlin DID have an Alydar. That was Street Sense, who won the biggest race a horse can win in the US, the Derby. He also won the biggest race a 2 year old could win, BC for 2 year olds. The Jockey Club Gold Cup is no more important than the Florida Derby, Blue Grass , Arkansas Derby or Wood. It's a final prep for the BC, which Curlin lost this year. It wasn't on dirt, but it was the race the top horses were pointing to.
Nick Briglia More than 1 year ago
Yeah, synthetic is definitely safer. Just ask Shakis. Can we go back to dirt tracks now? Please?
Kenny Mac More than 1 year ago
If this game is going to attract new fans it may have to adopt the strategy that Poker has used to draw in all the young folks it currently attracts. I am going to make the old timers wince but, this game probably needs televised handicapping tournaments such as the World series of Poker showing interesting people of diverse backgrounds trying to win one large pot. We are in the age of entertainment and the game should move with the times if it is going to survive. Its the only way you're going to get young people interested in learning such a difficult exercise in handicapping. Poker which was once relegated to cash games in the back rooms of seedy pool halls has now surged to become the game/gambling of choice amongst young people. In addition to the thousands who participate in the daily tournaments, ten times as much play and hone their skills on the online sites.