10/14/2008 12:00AM

Curlin to run in Breeders' Cup Classic

Alex Evers
Curlin has had two workouts over Santa Anita's Pro-Ride surface, including a strong five-furlong drill between races Monday afternoon, above.

The Santa Ana winds are blowing hot from the north in Southern California, but the biggest compression of air on Tuesday was the sigh of relief from officials of both the Breeders’ Cup and Santa Anita’s Oak Tree meeting when Jess Jackson, the majority owner of Curlin, announced that the horse was pre-entered in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic on Oct. 25 at Santa Anita.

Curlin was the Horse of the Year in 2007 and he is the defending champion in the Classic, making him the most marketable horse in the sport. But his participation in the Breeders’ Cup took on greater urgency Monday, when Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown, the other marquee name in Thoroughbred racing this year, was retired.

Because Curlin has never raced on a synthetic surface, his competing in the Breeders’ Cup hinged on his adapting to the synthetic Pro-Ride surface at Santa Anita since his arrival in California two weeks ago. Curlin has had two workouts over the surface, including a strong five-furlong drill between races Monday afternoon. Jackson said there were several factors leading up to the decision to pre-enter, including Curlin’s progress over the past two weeks, Jackson’s wish of racing the horse in his home state of California, and his oft-stated desire to enhance what he calls Curlin’s “legacy.”

“I think I owed it to the horse,” Jackson said on a national teleconference. “Curlin tells us he’s fit, and when a top athlete is ready, he wants to compete. And I do want to help enhance the fan base and give hardcore fans a chance to see him one more time.”

Greg Avioli, president and chief executive officer of the Breeders’ Cup, also was on the teleconference and thanked Jackson for entering Curlin. Sherwood Chillingworth, executive vice president of Oak Tree, called into the teleconference and also expressed his thanks to Jackson.

The marketing for the Classic, which was going to be Big Brown vs. Curlin, has been rejiggered to be Curlin vs. The World, a Santa Anita official said.

The entry process for the Breeders’ Cup involves two steps. On Tuesday, pre-entries were due, requiring owners to pay one-third of each horse’s entry fee. Horses could be pre-entered in as many as two races. The pre-entries for all 14 Breeders’ Cup races, which will be run Oct. 24-25, will be officially announced Thursday.

Next Tuesday, final entries are due. Remaining entry fees must be paid, horses cross-entered must be put into a single race of choice, and then post positions are drawn.

Steve Asmussen, trainer of Curlin, said Curlin would have his final workout for the Classic on Monday at Santa Anita.

If Curlin wins the Classic, he will be the second horse to win the race twice, and in consecutive years, following Tiznow (2000-2001).

“This will add one more dimension to his legacy,” Jackson said. “No horse has done what he’s done, not in 20 months.”

Curlin, who began his career in February 2007, was third in the Kentucky Derby, won the Preakness Stakes, was second in the Belmont, and then won the Jockey Club Gold Cup and Breeders’ Cup Classic last year. This year, he is unbeaten on dirt, with victories in the Dubai World Cup, Stephen Foster, Woodward, and a repeat in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.

This will be the first time the Breeders’ Cup has been run on a synthetic surface. Santa Anita switched from a traditional dirt surface one year ago because of a mandate by the California Horse Racing Board.

“I would have preferred Santa Anita to stay traditional,” Jackson admitted.

Jackson would not commit to anything beyond the Classic. He said Curlin could race in the Clark Handicap at the end of November at Churchill Downs, go to the Japan Cup Dirt in December, or be retired to stud. He said insuring Curlin for this year cost $3 million. He has earned $5 million so far this year.

“That tells you there’s not much economic incentive to racing,” he said. “It’s problematic.”

Racing next year at age 5 is “still an option,” Jackson said.

A large field was expected to be pre-entered in the 1 1/4-mile Classic, including such well-known names as Colonel John, the Travers Stakes winner; and Go Between, the Pacific Classic winner; as well as the Japanese colt Casino Drive and several highly regarded European imports.

Asmussen said Tuesday that he pre-entered both Pyro and Student Council in the Classic, in addition to Curlin. Pyro also was pre-entered in the Dirt Mile, Asmussen said.

Colonel John worked six furlongs in 1:11.40 on Tuesday morning at Santa Anita for trainer Eoin Harty. The time was the fastest of 11 at the distance.