08/06/2014 12:33PM

Hall of Fame: Curlin at the top of his class once again

Barbara D. Livingston
Curlin won 11 of 16 starts and earned more than $10 million.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Even as greatness was unfolding in front of her, Barbara Banke said she truly didn’t grasp it.
Banke was a relative newcomer to Thoroughbred racing in 2007 and 2008 when she and her husband, Jess Jackson, campaigned Curlin, the strapping chestnut son of Smart Strike who would win 11 of 16 starts including 10 stakes and became the only North American-based horse to top $10 million in earnings.

“I wish I had known then what I know now when I was with Curlin, because he was so special and I was so new to the business that I didn’t appreciate how incredibly special he was,” Banke said this week in Saratoga. “He never missed a day of training, he never had a sick day. Whenever we took him to the races it was, ‘What’s he going to do? Is he going to win by 10? Is he going to win by two? Is he going to put on a show? What’s he going to do?’”

On Friday, Curlin is going to be formally inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. Curlin, the Horse of the Year in 2007-08, heads a class that includes Thoroughbreds Ashado and Clifford; jockeys Alex Solis and Lloyd Hughes; trainer Gary Jones; and owner-breeders Edward R. Bradley and Edward P. Taylor.

The ceremony will take place at the Fasig-Tipton Sales Pavilion at 10:30 a.m. and is open to the public. NYRA track announcer Tom Durkin will serve as the master of ceremonies.

:: Profile: Curlin will be one of Hall of Fame's most accomplished members

Jackson, the wine magnate who raced under the moniker Stonestreet Stables, purchased Curlin shortly after he won his debut at Gulfstream by 12 3/4 lengths on Feb. 3, 2007. He was fast-tracked to the Triple Crown, winning two preps and then, against arguably the best class of 3-year-olds in recent times, he ran third in the Kentucky Derby, won the Preakness and got beat a head by the filly Rags to Riches in the Belmont Stakes.

After a dud in the Haskell, Curlin ended his 3-year-old season with victories in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and Breeders’ Cup Classic.

“The Breeders’ Cup Classic was pretty special because that was such a good class of horses, such a good class of 3-year-olds,” said Banke, referring to Street Sense, Hard Spun and Any Given Saturday. “Those horses showed up at every major race. There was lots of competition and he was just the best of the best that year.”

At 4, Curlin won 5 of 7 starts including the Dubai World Cup, Stephen Foster, Woodward and a second Jockey Club Gold Cup. He finished his career with a fourth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, the first one run over a synthetic track.

Steve Asmussen trained Curlin for his last 15 starts and praised him for his “tremendous talent” and strength.

“I daydream a lot about Curlin,” Asmussen said. “He had a confidence level I’ve never seen in a horse before or since. Some horses think it, he knew it.”

Asmussen for the first time this year was on the Hall of Fame ballot, but was removed when accusations of animal abuse were lodged against him and his assistant Scott Blasi by the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals, which orchestrated a five-month undercover investigation into the barn. Asmussen, who has yet to be found guilty of any wrongdoing, said he plans to attend Friday’s ceremony, which honors Curlin.

“Absolutely,” he said. “Personally, Curlin was capable of doing things for me that I couldn’t do for myself.”

Ashado, a two-time champion filly, won 12 races from 21 starts including seven Grade 1 races, and earned $3.3 million, all for the partnership of Starlight Racing, Paul Saylor and Johns Martin. She was trained by Todd Pletcher.

:: Profile: Dual champion Ashado enters Hall of Fame

Jockey Alex Solis, who came to the U.S. from Panama in 1982, ranks 26th all-time among North American rider in wins with 4,991 and 10th all-time in purse money won with $235.6 million. He was the regular rider of Snow Chief, the 3-year-old champion of 1986, and has won 321 graded stakes.

:: Profile: Solis joins long list of contemporaries in Hall of Fame

Gary Jones won 1,465 races – including 102 graded stakes – and amassed purse earnings of $52.6 million from 1974-1996. Based in Southern California, Jones trained the champion Turkoman, and Grade 1 winners Quiet American, Best Pal, Lakeway, Lightning Mandate and Radar Ahead.

:: Profile: Jones makes it into Hall of Fame nearly two decades after retirement

Taylor bred more than 320 stakes winners throughout the world and 54 champions, including Northern Dancer, the 1964 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner.

:: Profile: Taylor goes into Hall of Fame synonymous with racing greatness

Bradley owned Idle Hour Stock Farm, which bred 128 stakes winners and 15 champions. As an owner, Bradley won the Kentucky Derby four times, the Preakness three times, and the Belmont twice.

:: Profile: Bradley, a giant of American racing, enters Hall of Fame

Lloyd Hughes, a rider in the late 1800s, was the first jockey to win the Preakness three times and was the regular rider of Hall of Fame member Duke of Magenta.

Clifford, a Thoroughbred who raced in the 1890s, had a record of 42-10-8 from 62 starts.