Sunday, September 28, 2008

Ten Million Reasons Curlin's one of the Best

I'm not much on attending the 'big' events. As a matter of fact I eschew them as a principle. I avoid them because the massive crowds are more about being at the 'event' than the event itself. Those big crowds make it almost impossible to enjoy a day at the races unless one is involved in the races. Yesterday at Belmont was a huge event in my mind. The type of big event I like to attend. There were five Grade I events culminating with Curlin running in the Jockey Club Gold Cup for the North American purse record and to keep his momentum toward a Breeder's Cup Classic repeat and a showdown with Big Brown. So yesterday for the first time since I worked on the backside I returned to Belmont Park. Most of all I went to "see" Curlin knowing that this would be my final opportunity and, to my chagrin, my first time to see him in person.
I have never been to Belmont when I wasn't working on the backside so the simple things were the most confusing; where do I park? sit? etc. It used to be I'd park at the barn walk through the tunnel and I was at the races. But those problems we easily worked out because so few people (8,563) also thought about this as a 'big' day. I don't understand it really. In some sense a historical event was inevitable. And it is likely the last time most would be able to see this great athlete. Unlike results at the B.C. or the K.D. that are historical just because the event itself - and may become a-historical depending upon future performances - this was the real deal. A great horse was striving to attain a great accomplishment. The task was right there in front of him. Those are the most difficult types of accomplishments to attain. The unexpected honors or those secured through opportunistic chance are more easily attained because they don't carry the same burdensome weight and the athlete is not yet a target. Perhaps it isn't as difficult for a horse as it is for a human to prevail in these situations because they don't have the same perspective of history and accomplishment as humans. It's common to see great athletes in sport falter for long periods of time before finally overtaking a great, longstanding record. This is probably because they have to get their head around what they are accomplishing. I imagine in the end they just get so weary from the stress they simply relax so that instinct takes over and their ability prevails. Horses don't have to deal with that but they do have to deal with the people around them. The people do feel stress and tension and nervousness and horses do respond to those emotions. There had to be a lot of pressure at the Asmussen barn yesterday, yet as always they handled it positively, professionally and with the certainty that all hands and Curlin had done all they could in preparation; the rest was just the race. And Curlin didn't disappoint.

Yesterday I wrote that I would have liked to see a little more in some of Curlin's works. But when I saw Curlin in person for the first time he looked to me to carry less weight than I had envisioned him to. Don't misunderstand me, he looked picture perfect, Steve's horses always do. It's just that on T.V. and in stills he looks bigger than life. But it made me think about what I wrote yesterday and realize I was just wrong.

On a very dark overcast day that moved the gloaming up just enough so that the lights of the finish line illuminated Curlin in a gold light as he crossed the wire, history was made. It's amazing how those of us that love this sport can be so moved by the accomplishments of a horse and yesterday was one of those occasions for me. As Curlin crossed the wire to the shouts and applause of the disappointingly small crowd I, and I imagine most of the crowd [fans] on hand, had a tear in our eyes. After the race Curlin looked tired to me. I don't mean blowing hard, I mean weary. Go ahead accuse me of anthropomorphism. But as I was running the images of the race back through my mind I could almost see the weight of all the hopes and dreams of everyone on Curlin's shoulders as Robby Albarado continued to throw crosses to urge Curlin forward. Albarado didn't need to hit Curlin, he probably didn't even need to throw the crosses. Curlin knows what needs to be done and he does it. He saves himself and the team is smart enough to listen to him. The race is over but the hopes and dreams still have to be carried for one more race, The Race. It makes me think about how much he weight he's carrying, how long he's maintained performing at the top level and how much that must take out of a horse even if he doesn't show it on the outside.

Almost immediately after the race Jess Jackson, as I had faith he would, announced that Curlin would be traveling to California forthwith to prepare for the Breeder's Cup. Hooray for Jess Jackson, he doesn't disappoint either! No matter what happens there, and I believe Curlin will win, he is one of the greatest horses I've ever had the honor to see.

It wasn't a great field, it wasn't his best race but it is a great accomplishment. The race unfolded pretty much as it appeared on paper. But with the scratch of Timber Reserve, Merchant Marine was left to put the pressure on Wanderin Boy and that pressure was probably not as hot as it would have been with Timber Reserve so Wanderin Boy had a little more left for the stretch. Robby Albarado kept Curlin a few paths out from the rail as the running on the rail was heavy. In the end Curlin did what he needed to do and left no doubt who was best; the margin of victory being no indication of how much better.

To remain in and compete at such top condition for such an extended period of time is nothing short of a miraculous accomplishment. Congratulations to Steve Asmussen and his barn for the ultimate accomplishment and to Curlin because he is a great horse. Only a great horse could achieve what he has been able to do. As the Cheif has been quoted saying about Curlin 'to do what he's done he's not one in a million he's one in a jillion.'

I had the honor to work for Steve's family for a short while at El Primero and as I looked down at the winners circle pictures being taken and the trophy ceremony with Steve, his parents and his family surrounding him I felt great pride for them and all of their accomplishments. The Asmussens are the great American horse family!

I really can't end without saying something about Zenyatta! She is just a freak! As much as I deplore those four horse Stakes fields you can't take anything away from her performance. She's just AWESOME!

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