Even without a Breeders' Cup win, it's Curlin as Horse of Year

Jul 1, 2008 7:05 PM

Golden Edge horse racing insights and tips by Ed Golden | This could be the first year since 2002 and only the ninth time in 25 runnings since the inception of the Breeders’ Cup Classic in 1984 that the winner of the race is not named Horse of the Year. The reason: the two leading contenders for Horse of the Year, Curlin and Big Brown, are not expected to face each other in the $5 million race at 1 1/4 miles on Oct. 25 at Santa Anita.

Despite overwhelming victories by Big Brown in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, if racing for 2008 came to an end today, those triumphs in the 3-year-old classics would not generate enough support for him to be named Horse of the Year. For the second consecutive year, Curlin would win the honor.

For Big Brown to be named Horse of the Year, he would have to defeat Curlin in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but there is a better chance that an Oliver Stone movie would be based on fact than there would be of that happening.

Since his dismal and controversial debacle in the Belmont Stakes, in which he was eased as the 3-10 favorite in his bid to become the first Triple Crown winner in 30 years, and with a lucrative stud deal awaiting, Big Brown’s future as a race horse is nebulous. Presently, he is scheduled to run in the $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park on Aug. 3. Beyond that lies the Travers on Aug. 23, but after that, who knows?

The connections of Curlin have the Arc de le Triomphe at Longchamps in Paris on Oct. 5 as their long-range goal, and the Breeders’ Cup Classic be damned. To date, Curlin’s only victory in the U.S. this year came in the Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs on June 14.

Thus, Big Brown vs. Curlin could remain forever moot. Voting for Horse of the Year, however, would not.

"It depends on what you call Horse of the Year," said professional gambler, clocker and man about racing Gary Young. ‘If it includes global races, such as the Dubai World Cup, and the Arc, then those races would impact voting, but the Arc has never been considered relevant before. Still, it is one of the most prestigious races in the world, so if we’re to include Dubai, which is held outside of America, we should probably include the Arc."

And if voting were held today?

"I’d vote for Curlin," Young said. "Big Brown dropped the ball as far as going down as a great horse, and because of the total weakness of this year’s 3-year-olds, in my mind, the only thing that can make Big Brown Horse of the Year would be if he beat Curlin. I don’t know how much horse Big Brown is, but I know one thing – the rest of the 3-year-old crop isn’t much.

"As far as the older horse division, Heatseeker is a nice horse, but to me, the only thing that can make Big Brown rank as an all-time great, and the only thing that can get him Horse of the Year is if he can run against Curlin and beat him. Whether they’ll ever be in the same starting gate together, I don’t know."

Addressing Big Brown’s stunning defeat in the Belmont, Young is among the majority who maintains jockey Kent Desormeaux was not culpable.

"You can’t blame Desormeaux," Young said. "It shouldn’t have even been an issue. The first time I caught wind of it was when I was watching ‘Pardon the Interruption’ at the gym and (Tony) Kornheiser and (Michael) Wilbon brought it up. That showed how little they know about horse racing, to think that Desormeaux had anything to do with the horse getting beat like that.

"Next thing you know, I get a call at home that there’s a story on the (Racing) Form website that (trainer Rick) Dutrow is blaming Desormeaux. Now where I come from, you get beat more than 20 lengths, you don’t have any excuses. At the five-eighths pole in the Derby, I wasn’t sure how much Kent had underneath him. Then he went on to win by five and I thought, ‘Well, there I am being proven an idiot again.’But in the Preakness, you could tell at the half-mile pole he was going to win by a big margin, because everybody else was driving and Kent had two tons of horse underneath him.

"The Belmont was like the Derby. Very early down the backside – and I talked to Todd Pletcher about this – we were wondering how much horse Desormeaux had. But the further he went down the backside, the more concern there was, and when Big Brown changed leads into the turn and couldn’t do anything about (jockey Eibar) Coa packing him out all the way down the backside (aboard Tale of Ekati, who finished seventh after pressing the early pace), he was done.

"Coa’s not supposed to let him out going into the first turn. I don’t have any problem with that. But what Coa tried to do to Desormeaux all the way down the backside, that’s what makes Coa the popular human being that he is."

The homestretch

Santa Anita and the Oak Tree Racing Association hosted a ceremony for Ismael (Milo) Valenzuela on June 21 marking his induction into racing’s Hall of Fame. Now 73 and confined to a wheelchair, Valenzuela rode five-time Horse of the Year Kelso to 22 of his 39 victories.

Photo memorabilia on display at the bash included great jockeys of yesteryear Eddie Arcaro, Johnny Longden, Bill Hartack, Ralph Neves, Sammy Boulmetis, Manuel Ycaza, Bobby Ussery, Ron Turcotte and John L. Rotz. Laffit Pincay Jr., Eddie Delahoussaye and Don Pierce were among the former riding icons in attendance.

"I taught Milo how to speak English when he was riding at Tanforan in 1951," said octogenarian agent Ivan Puhich, who currently represents Julio Garcia. "I had to tip some beds over at 4:45 in the morning to get him and other jocks in the dormitory out of bed, but I was just out of the Marine Corps, so I could do it," said Puhich, who taught Valenzuela to become the best boxer in the dorm.

• Danny Sorenson, sidelined more than a year since fracturing his right hip in a training mishap at Hollywood Park in March of 2007, is planning a comeback after a series of physical and financial mishaps delayed his return. The 50-year-old Seattle native needed three metal pieces inserted into the hip to promote healing.

• Last week we wrote that the Phillies were in a "signature free fall" and to bet against them. Through Saturday, they had lost eight of 10 and were hitting .201 in that span. Ryan Howard, en route to an infamous record of more than 200 strikeouts in a season, had 13 games in which he had struck out three times.