To breed or not to breed?

Classic winner Curlin's owners unsure whether he'll race again

Horse Racing

October 29, 2007|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN REPORTER

OCEANPORT, N.J. -- The day after Curlin won the Breeders' Cup Classic against his two toughest rivals, Street Sense and Hard Spun, to lock up Horse of the Year honors, the big red horse's future is unknown.

Will he race at age 4 or will he go to a breeding farm - like Street Sense and Hard Spun will tomorrow - and perhaps become the beginning of a stronger, more durable breed of horse?

"We're still on cloud nine, so I don't think I can make a rational decision right now," said Jess Jackson, who owns Curlin with Satish Sanan and George Bolton.

On Saturday, Curlin, Hard Spun and Street Sense again separated themselves from all other 3-year-olds, and only a late run by 4-year-old Awesome Gem for a third-place finish kept the big three from finishing first, second and third as they did in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

Wherever they have run, they have generated delight among the bettors by offering the challenge of figuring out which one of them would win on any given day.

But now, at the end of their 3-year-old year, only Curlin has the possibility of another race.

The breeding rights to Hard Spun and Street Sense have been sold to Darley at Jonabell in Lexington, Ky.

"It's a sad thing," said Hard Spun's trainer, Larry Jones.

"That's the business. It's all about the money. The owners can't turn it down. But it would be nice to see how these horses would run as 4- and 5-year-olds."

Jackson, whose Kendall-Jackson wine label is one of the most popular in the country, is, according to Forbes magazine, one of the 400 wealthiest men in America, and his partners, Bolton, a native of Brooklandville, and Sanan, are also well-heeled businessmen.

With money not the primary concern, Jackson said he is experiencing "an inner quarrel" over what to do with Curlin, sired by Smart Strike and out of Sherriff's Deputy.

"Inside, cerebrally, I'm saying, `Here is a horse that can help change the direction of breeding in America, maybe the world,'" he said. "For stamina, size, coupled with the speed he has and the power, and he's learning to be more graceful on the turns. He is an exceptional horse.

"So on the one part, I'm saying, as a breeder, I'd love to have the American breed grade upward with distance, durability, power and speed that Curlin represents. On the other hand, I'm a racing fan. I've always been a handicapper. I love to see the tried and true come back and back and back."

Bolton said the partners will probably let a month go by before making any decisions. "The one thing that's a little different about this horse is that a bunch of these Smart Strikes get better as they get older. Breedingwise, it's a very, very open issue."

The breakdown and subsequent euthanizing of European champion George Washington near the end of Saturday's Classic had Jackson thinking more about strengthening the breed, however.

As Curlin's trainer Steve Asmussen said, a race such as the Classic is like human athletes competing in the Olympics. "At this level," he said, "they are going for all they can and then a little bit more. It is an athletic event, and sometimes when you're on the outside edge, bad things can happen."

Jackson saw the point. "When you ask them, they deliver," he said. "That's why I think we have to breed more stamina and durability and distance in our horses, and I think Curlin represents that. I hope I can change the thoroughbred industry for the better."

He looks at the Polytrack, which is supposed to be safer for horses, and he looks at Curlin and envisions horses of the future who can compete the way Seabiscuit and Northern Dancer did.

"Those horses, the great horses of the world, kept running and running, every three weeks," Jackson said. "And they performed without breakdowns. ... I'd love to see him run again. We'll see what happens. It is a financial game, but there's a lot of heart in it by the people you're looking at here."

sandra.mckee@baltsun.com

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