Jess Jackson still believes Curlin has the potential to be a champion on the turf. But for now, the reigning Horse of the Year is going back to the surface where he is a proven winner.
Curlin, second in his career turf debut in the Grade I Man o' War Stakes on July 12, will return to dirt for his next start — the Grade I, $500,000 Woodward Stakes at Saratoga Racetrack on Aug. 30 — majority owner Jackson announced during a national teleconference Tuesday.
Prior to Curlin's run in the Man o' War, where he finished second to former Breeders' Cup Turf winner Red Rocks, Jackson had been seriously thinking about sending the 4-year-old son of Smart Strike to France for a start in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe on Oct. 5.
Although Jackson has not deemed the turf experiment completely over, he said his champion's current top conditioning and the lure of winning at the historic Spa prompted them to pick the 11⁄8-mile Woodward.
”We considered many options but we decided this is the best place to showcase his talent, racing him in America and racing him on a surface where he's already a champion“ said Jackson, who said he also considering starting Curlin in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar on Aug. 24 and the Arlington Million on the turf this weekend. ”One of the reasons I want to run at Saratoga is because it's a historic venue, and its rich history and tradition will add to his legacy, not necessarily his pocketbook.
”The Arc is probably out for this year,“ Jackson continued. ”We think he could be a turf champion but I'm not sure he has enough time this year to make the adjustment.“
Beyond the Woodward, which has long been one of the most prestigious races for older horses in the nation, Jackson was noncommittal on where Curlin's path would take him for the remainder of 2008.
He has not ruled out a possible start in the Breeders' Cup — either in the Classic or in the Turf — but said the uncertainty surrounding the new Pro-Ride synthetic surface that Santa Anita Park is putting down makes it a risky proposition on many levels.
”We'd like to go there, but that's an untested surface. It's very uncertain,“ said Jackson. ”I'm a native Californian, and I'd like to race him there but ... he's won the Classic already, been there done that. Plus we've been invited to Japan and invited to Hong Kong and other venues in the continent as well. We'll keep all those options open.“
Jackson also mentioned the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont on Sept. 27 — which Curlin won last year — and the Massachusetts Handicap at Suffolk Downs on Sept. 20th as possible options for his champion.
Just as Jackson did not rule out many possible tests for Curlin, he also left the door open — if slightly — that the striking chestnut colt could return for a 5-year-old campaign next season.
Jackson said he would be more inclined to bring the Dubai World Cup and Breeders' Cup Classic winner back if the industry could establish some sort of ”league“ for older horses, complete with a boost in purses to help offset the costs of leaving them on the track instead of reaping the economic benefits of the breeding shed.
”If that was something that would happen, and we were able to get appropriate sponsors together, and the purses would increase, I'm sure we would consider it,“ Jackson said. ”But the chances of racing him next year are pretty slim considering most of the breeders — myself included — feel he'd add a great deal to the gene pool both with stamina and speed.“
Jackson also took the opportunity to respond to the ongoing dismissive statements Big Brown trainer Rick Dutrow has made about Curlin.
Following Big Brown's narrow win the Haskell Invitational last weekend, Dutrow was quoted in various publications, including the Daily Racing Form and Philadelphia Daily News, saying, in part, ”I don't know why people think Curlin is such a good horse. We're way better than Curlin.“
Jackson's opinion of the matter was clear.
”I think it's bad for racing to have trash talk. I think it's unethical in any sport,“ he said Tuesday. ”What you have is an attempt to show these animals at their very best and to run down another guy's horse, it may make for interesting reading, but it's not the right thing to do and it demeans the industry.“
Jackson said he would ”love to meet“ Big Brown but suspects his owners ”may considering retiring Big Brown before we get a chance to run against him.“
Trained by Steve Asmussen, Curlin has won nine of 13 career starts and bankrolled $9,496,800, third all time on the North American earnings list behind Skip Away ($9,616,360) and Cigar ($9,999,815).
”I would love to have him win two or three more races ... but those are just the dreams of a foolish owner who is loving his horse,“ Jackson said with a laugh. ”It's up to the horse, what's best for the horse. As an owner, we don't want to risk him in any way.“