Curlin charges to Horse of the Year

October 30, 2007 1:26 AM
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Robby Albarado always believed in Curlin. He thought the colt should have won the Triple Crown. Instead, Albarado will have to settle for Horse of the Year.

Trevor Denman called the Breeders’ Cup Classic "the race of the year for Horse of the Year," and indeed it was. The $5 million race, won with indisputable authority by Curlin, ended any speculation about Horse of the Year. Curlin’s smashing 4½-length triumph over arguably the best Classic field in the race’s 24 runnings proved beyond a shadow of a doubt he is the best of his generation, and this year’s 3-year-old crop was replete with quality through and through.

Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense, Haskell winner Any Given Saturday and Kentucky Cup Classic winner Hard Spun were all vanquished by Curlin on Monmouth Park’s sloppy main track in the mile and a quarter Classic. Considering Woodward winner Lawyer Ron, a 4-year-old, was among the also-rans, it only enhanced Curlin’s achievement. Any of those conquered would have been worthy of Horse of the Year consideration with a Classic victory.

Now, they are out of the running.

"With the Classic win, and victories in the Preakness and the Jockey Club Gold Cup, there’s no question Curlin should be Horse of the Year," said professional clocker, gambler and horse trader Gary Young. "If Street Sense had won, along with his victories in the Derby and the Travers, he would have been Horse of the Year. Same could be said of Lawyer Ron, with the Woodward, the Whitney and the Classic. If Hard Spun or Any Give Saturday had won, it would have been marginal.

"The 3-year-old crop is pretty deep. No offense to Lawyer Ron, but this isn’t Kelso and Gun Bow in the older horse division this year. But the 3-year-olds are well above average. On a scale of one to 10, I think it would be a seven or an eight."

The quality of the nine Classic runners is stellar. They had a combined 102 races and won 51, a remarkable 50 percent.

As for Curlin, he was third in the Derby after stumbling at the start, beat Street Sense a head in the Preakness, then lost by a head to the princely filly Rags to Riches in the Belmont. Albarado felt he should have won the Run for the Roses and ultimately been in line to win the Triple Crown.

"Before the Kentucky Derby, I thought I could win it," the 34-year-old Albarado told me earlier this year. "That’s how much I believed in Curlin and that’s how much talent I thought he had."

As it is, faith was rewarded for Albarado, who won his first Breeders’ Cup race after 10 failures. His best previous best was a third aboard Stellar Jayne in the 2004 Distaff. The Classic also was trainer Steve Asmussen’s first Breeders’ Cup win, after six misses.

Louisiana native Albarado owns 10 riding titles, was the regular rider of 2003 Horse of the Year Mineshaft and was named winner of the prestigious George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award presented by Santa Anita in 2004. He has been a regular in Louisiana, Arkansas, Kentucky and Illinois.

"All I’ve ever wanted out of life was to be a good person, good family man and good race rider," he said.

You can bet your crawfish Albarado now qualifies on all counts.

THE HOMESTRETCH

To show you how low racing stands with the Los Angeles Times, results of the Breeders’ Cup was relegated to the last two sports pages (18 and 19, without even a front-page teaser) Sunday, and stunningly, the main headline twinned up Curlin’s win with the euthanization in the Classic of a low-profile horse—George Washington. The editor’s news judgement was seriously in question here ”¦ No-brainer Eclipse Award winners off their Breeders’ Cup victories: Indian Blessing (Juvenile Fillies), War Pass (Juvenile), Midnight Lute (Sprint), Ginger Punch (older filly) and English Channel (male grass horse). Female grass honors are likely to go to Filly & Mare Turf winner Lahudood, who upset previously undefeated Nashoba’s Key. Detractors will say Nashoba’s Key lost the first time she raced outside of California ”¦ Dylan Thomas beat three horses as the 9-10 favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. The Arc winner ran like Bob Dylan ”¦ The return of Garrett Gomez to Southern California on a regular basis will result in stiffer competition for other jockeys. "The same thing happens every time he comes back," said agent Richie Silverstein, who represents Martin Pedroza and Iggy Puglisi. "It will have a domino effect. He’ll take one of the top spots and everybody else will take a step down. You can only divide a pie into so many slices. Normally, it would be sliced in maybe 16 ways, but with Gomez back, it will mean 25 slices or more." Gomez, whose business is handled by Las Vegas native Ron Anderson, leads all riders in purse money won this year with more than $20 million. Last year, he led the nation with more than $22 million. Perhaps this year Gomez will win the Eclipse Award that somehow eluded him in 2006 ”¦ Mystifyingly, the national media has ignored the biggest sports story of the year: Temple’s football team has won three games ”¦ And on Boston’s worst-ever first game World Series thumping of Colorado, 13-1, to think Fox pre-empted "The Simpsons" for this. If this World Series was a fight, they would have stopped it. In boxing, the Rockies would be known as "an opponent."