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The Breeders’ Cup has Suddenly Gotten Much More Interesting

Robby Albarado hand-rode Curlin into history last Saturday when the horse became the first $10 million dollar earner, beating Cigar’s all-time record with his second win in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Belmont’s slop proved no contest to the champ, in addition to the hapless field that went up against him. Wanderin Boy was the only adversary who dared take a charge at Curlin, but was no match as the 2007 Horse of the Year kicked into that famous stride and yawned to the wire.

It’s a common thing to be nervous when watching your favorite horse about to enter the gates to a race, no matter how big the purse. Horses can be so unpredictable these days, plus anything can and will happen. This year has been plagued by inconsistent performances in the sport with only a few exceptions. I admit I felt apprehensive before the post parade of the Gold Cup, but then I saw that golden horse in the yellow and red silks waltz onto the screen and a wave of serenity washed over me. This is Curlin, after all. When you have witnessed his brilliance, a feeling of assuredness never leaves you. Curlin is a horse that won’t let you down.

The news passed like a whirlwind after the race was over. Trainer Steve Asmussen and owner Jess Jackson put their heads together, and within a half hour had decided to ship Curlin to Santa Anita in California. A week later, he’s stepped onto the synthetic Pro-Ride surface for the first time. Nothing is official yet, of course. His connections say it’s up to Curlin to decide whether or not he likes the surface. So far, so good. We may just get a Breeders’ Cup Classic to froth over.

Big Brown’s connections now seem worried by Curlin’s success and his move to California. Big Mouth Dutrow sounds as if he is actually thinking before speaking now that Curlin’s camp is in earshot. Suddenly, Big Brown’s victory in the Monmouth Stakes, where the colt valiantly kept a neck in front of his competition with Desormeaux urging him on, doesn’t look quite as cool as Curlin’s Gold Cup. One must assume that Big Brown’s camp is clinging to the hope that the 4-year-old wonderhorse doesn’t like Santa Anita’s surface.

And what is the verdict on that surface, anyway? Hystericalady was one of the barometers on how much a dirt horse could handle the Pro-Ride. If you want to get down to it, the 5-year-old mare put in a darn good effort in the Lady’s Secret Stakes. In fact, she was putting on a good fight with Santa Teresita before pulling away in the last couple furlongs of the stretch. She probably thought she had the race in the bag until the giant shadow from the outside came looming into her peripheral vision. It was sort of like she was blindsided by a locomotive, all content in her little world until Zenyatta came loping past her. But not to fear, Hystericalady—the California Colossus has broken many a filly’s heart. This is, however, a testament on how the rest of the field is going to measure up to the darling of California in the Ladies’ Classic. A perfect 8-for-8, Zenyatta is going to have to be gang-rushed by the field if they want to beat her.

The synthetics at the Breeders’ Cup will be keeping a few dirt horses at bay, like Pyro, the winner of the Louisiana Derby. Pyro is headed to the Midwest to run in the Grade II $500,000 Indiana Derby at Hoosier Park near Indianapolis. Never a horse targeted toward the Breeders’ Cup because of his flop on the Keeneland synthetics, Pyro will be facing a field of eleven other horses. He has drawn the 12th post position, and one has to worry about how well the son of Pulpit will do in the 1 1/16-mile race, after running out of ground in his last start in the Travers. On paper, he should have an edge over the other competitors, but as we’ve come to find out, few horses are as dependable as Curlin.

So will Curlin run against Big Brown in the Classic? In the coming weeks, every movement the champ makes will be closely scrutinized. His comfort with the Pro-Ride will most likely be compared to his nature on the grass. But Curlin will have to show everyone he likes the stuff at Santa Anita better than the turf in order to enter the gates on October 25th. Sure, we want him to meet Brownie finally. But as we know Curlin, we understand he does better the second time around when he’s in new territory. The synthetic surface is a gamble. Too bad it has to be the stage for the biggest showdown of the year.

For more information on Hoosier Park, go to

Post time for the Grade II Indiana Derby is set for approximately 4:40pm CT. The race will be broadcast from Hoosier Park on HRTV.

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