First. please allow me to say that I was again, touched by the expression made by "Marcus from Seattle", he is a extremely talented writer and I am very happy that he decided to join the AAFBlog.
Now to the subject at hand. The retirement of the 2007 & 2008 Horse of the Year Curlin sent ripples throughout the Horse Racing industry, and even more so through my home. I recall sitting there stunned that the announcement was actually made that verified what I had feared.
I must be honest when I say that I have been in awe of Curlin since he was shipped to my hometown of Hot Springs, AR, and had the opportunity to see him run in person in the Rebel Stakes and the Arkansas Derby. I tried to keep things in perspective though when it comes to Curlin, unfortunatley that is easier said than done. Everyone that knows me knows that I am not a bandwagon jumper, and that the horse that I looked to win my Kentucky Derby for me in 2007 was NobizlikeShobiz. After the Derby though B. Tagg decided that he would move Nobiz to the turf as he did Showing Up in 2006. So there was this thought in my mind, after watching his electrifying victory in the Rebel, and the ease in which he dispatched of a quality field in the Arkansas Derby it was important to watch the development of this imposing equine athlete. I watched his workouts and saw that Asmussen was very patient with Curlin and didn’t ask him to run his races while breezing. He showed up big-time for the Preakness. When you watched Curlin run the one thing you always recognized is that he always gave maximum effort, but that maximum effort continued to seem so effortless. After watching him dig in gamely and battle the super-filly Rags to Riches in the stretch of the Belmont, I realized that there was more to Curlin than most of the horses that have come and gone within the last few decades. And he totally proved me right. His win against Lawyer Ron in the Jockey Club Gold Cup was something of legends, beating the champion older horse and his overpowering victory in the Breeders Cup Classic on traditional dirt put you in a mindset that he had the ability to do some things that no other horse has done in the history of horse racing. The superlatives and the way that people described Curlin causes goose bumps, words like freak, superhorse unbeatable, makes you wonder just how incredible he really is.
As the 2008 season began, I basically began to follow every move that Curlin made, from his works that were emailed to my phone every Monday, to hearing about and listening to his connections and the people around him talk about his race-week routine. And in the aftermath of the tragedy that occurred in this year’s Derby with Eight Belles, it’s very difficult to follow your favorite horse so closely and not realize that things happen, you worry about injury each time they take the track, and with the example of the Super Mare Nashoba’s Key and her incident in her stall, it’s easy to see that things could happen at any time. The difference is the confidence that Curlin instills in everyone that he comes into contact with. From the owner to the fans Curlin made you feel that he was royalty, so composed and professional and patient with regards to everything that he does. Curlin is something very very special, elite, magnificent, all of these words applied. So when you mention Curlin with the greats like Secretariat, and Cigar, which he totally deserves, it makes me think about the way that I had to begin to prepare myself mentally for each of his races. See there is a message board at msnbc that I am a member of, some of us there respect Curlin and all of his accomplishments and others don’t. I chime in feverishly and make sure to show Curlin and the connections the respect that they deserve, because we all know he could be at a stud farm right now making million dollar babies. I love talking about how incredible he is and how I never felt Big Brown would beat him and after watching how he trained on the Turf and Pro-ride I didn’t think he was beatable. But come race week or a bit before that, all of that stops, I don’t say anything about Curlin's upcoming race, I don’t feel its necessary to tell people about what I think he can or will do, I dont want to jinx him by saying he's unbeatable. (I.e. Rick Dutrow-Belmont) I don’t talk about margin of victory or anything of the sort. What I focus on is hoping he has the same pre-race week routine that he's always had. I've spoken with Steve Asmussen at Oaklawn and he told me about how the week before the race goes, how Curlin knows when a race is coming up, how professional he is in the paddock and how he's focused on the task at hand. As the race starts I hope that he leaves the gate evenly, he gets a clear lane with little traffic, and he makes that move coming off the turn for home. How he hits the wire, (Yes, I want him in front at the wire) but I’d much rather see him gallop out well and pull up, turn around and jog back to be unsaddled safely. That’s the extent of it, but its so consuming, I watch how he looks down the backside, if he looks comfortable, and if he seems to be going easy or having to assert himself too much early. I always want him to finish the race strong and be able to come back and unsaddle and go cool out.
Now as for the Man O' War & the Classic, both times I was with family while watching the race, and they know that my love of Curlin had me disappointed and that I was doing all that I could to fight back the tears. It hurt to watch him not be able to make up the ground on Red Rocks, but there was a reason why, he is a dirt horse and when running in turf races there can be issues. It was strange watching him get passed in the stretch by the Euro's, 1 because in his brilliant career Curlin has never given up ground in the stretch and 2. Because in his brilliant career Curlin has never finished off the board. So to me that was a throw out totally I mean a Dirt race run on rubber and carpet and silicone, I could care less about. To be totally honest I wish they would have never even entertained the idea of running him on that surface, but kudos to Mr. Jackson and Mr. Asmussen for trying, it showed an incredible amount of confidence in Curlin (something that cant be said about the connections of others in the game). But as I said with these athletes you have an expectation for them and you want them to show up and win every time, but remember we have to understand how lucky we are just to witness the greatness of a Eight Belles and a Curlin, and be sure to soak up every moment of their brilliance, because this is not something we may ever see again. The retirement announcement was so conflicting, it choked me up bad, as I sit here now and talk about my feelings for this wonderful animal it brings tears to my eyes. I can let go of these emotions because I am alone to myself, and I would guess that the finality of the words: “Curlin has been retired” is finally setting in. I was so conflicted due to the stress that I felt when he stepped out on the track, it was nerve wracking and now that worry is over. I will always recall the feelings that welled up inside me when Curlin trotted onto the track, I recall his public workout at Santa Anita Park in October, and I recall what it felt like to see him become the first horse to ever win $10 million In earnings. These memories will always be there for us as his fans to remember and there is a chance that in the future people will wonder how much better he would have been as a 5 year old, but not me for one, I enjoyed his career as he spoiled us with his consistency and as Asmussen says "Curlin spoils us with who he is". But Curlin’s connections made the wonderful decision to retire him 100% sound, and that decision is such a wonderful change from what we’re accustomed to. We are used to people either retiring their horse after their sophomore season or running them until they can’t run anymore. Kudos to you Mr. Jackson for this incredible year of allowing us as fans to be blessed with Curlin’s magnificent presence. I have only wonderful thoughts and memories of this incredible Champion, and as we say goodbye, let me last say to you Curlin:
***“Thank you for being you, Thank you for the memories, Thank you for all you have done for the industry & now relax & enjoy your Retirement”***