As of right now the plan with the defending U.S. Horse of the Year seems to be a run in the world’s richest race, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp in France on October 5. Usually the Dubai World Cup, which Curlin has already won, is known as the world’s richest horse race. This year due to a sponsorship from the nation of Qatar, the purse for the Arc has been boosted to a whopping $6,172,800.
Needless to say, a victory in the Arc would rocket Curlin to a stratospheric level of lifetime earnings, far beyond the $603,015 that he currently trails Cigar by on the all-time standings. In a larger sense though, much more is at stake if indeed Curlin goes in the Arc. The horse that I’ve loved beyond all others from the moment I first laid eyes on him would be looking to cement his status as one of the greatest race horses to have ever lived. A win in the Arc would make such a claim very difficult to refute as it would mean the colt had defeated the best the world could muster on both dirt and turf.
Originally run in 1920 to commemorate the Allied victory in World War 1, The Arc would be a daunting challenge for Curlin. Not only would he be trying the grass against some of the best turf horses in the world, but he’d have to run clockwise around the racecourse – mirror opposite to what he’s used to here in the U.S. He’ll also have to contend with a 1 1/2 mile distance – a distance he hasn’t tried since being nosed by the filly Rags to Riches in the 2007 Belmont Stakes. Luckily for Curlin, his bloodlines would appear to be right for a run in the Arc. Since 1994 no horse without a direct bloodline connection to Nearco and his grandson Northern Dancer has prevailed in the Arc. Northern Dancer just happens to be Curlin’s great-great-grandfather on his dam’s side (Sherrif’s Deputy). Also noteworthy is the fact that Curlin and turf specialist English Channel share the same father (Smart Strike).
Before we get carried away with visions of grandeur this Autumn in France, let’s look at what the road ahead for the talented 4 year-old son of Smart Strike might look like. For starters, trainer Steve Asmussen has indicated that Curlin will next race on the weekend of July 12th/July 13th. Exactly where still remains a bit of a question. The most likely scenario in my mind would be an entry into the G3 Arlington Handicap for his first try on the grass. Another option remains the G2 Man O’ War Stakes at Belmont Park that same weekend. If they decide to go in the Man O’ War, Curlin will be following in the footsteps of perhaps racing’s biggest legend: the great Secretariat.
Most people remember Secretariat for his scintillating Triple Crown run, capped off by his amazing 31 length victory in the Belmont. What some fans forget is that “Big Red” also proved he was world-class on the turf. In fact, Secretariat’s first turf victory came when he set the track record during the Man O’ War Stakes at Belmont Park. What better shoes for a chestnut colt like Curlin to follow in his quest for greatness than those of Secretariat?
It goes without saying that the challenges will be plenty, but honestly if there’s one colt I’ve seen in my life who can overcome everything thrown at him, it’s Curlin. Consider for a moment everything this colt has had to face in order to arrive where he is today, able to ponder the prospects of taking on the best of the world on turf after proving himself the world’s best on dirt:
- He was unraced as a 2-year-old due to sore shins, and then brought back very slowly by original trainer Helen Pitts.
- After getting beat by 7 lengths in the 2007 Kentucky Derby, he returned to catch Derby winner Street Sense at the wire by a nose in the 2007 Preakness
- After losing by a neck to the filly Rags to Riches in the Belmont, and then returning from his Triple Crown campaign with a flat (by Curlin’s standards) effort in the Haskell – Curlin returned to defeat the top older-male in the nation at the time, Lawyer Ron, in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. This was no small task. Lawyer Ron was red-hot at the time coming off two career best performances.
- In a stacked field on Breeder’s Cup day in the slop at Monmouth, Curlin powered away to win convincingly over all of his rvials, including Street Sense, Hard Spun, Lawyer Ron, and Any Given Saturday.
- Curlin then took significant time off before shipping to Dubai and winning for fun in the Jaguar Trophy and the $6 million Dubai World Cup.
- Finally, Curlin returned home from the Middle-East and overcame an assignment of 128 pounds to win easily in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster at Churchill on Saturday.
It’s hard to believe when looking at that body of work that this colt was unraced just 16 months ago. Clearly he’s a one-of-a-kind colt that has answered the bell thus far. Without question he is the best dirt horse in the universe at the moment. Can you imagine what might happen if he were to beat the best of the world on grass as well?
It’s been a long, long time since the sport of thoroughbred horse racing had a star like this. The world will be watching with eager anticipation to see how Curlin takes to the grass in several weeks, either in Chicago or in New York. Wherever it may be, the hopes of racing fans worldwide will rest upon Curlin’s massive shoulders. If all goes well, I plan on making the journey to see his first attempt on the grass, as he’ll no doubt need the encouragement from his fans.
Whether you’re a die-hard fan of horse racing, or a casual observer with a passing interest, realize that you are looking at a horse who when all is said and done, may well find himself atop the list of all-time greats.