Curlin to defend Classic title

Twenty four hours after losing one of its most high-profile contenders, officials from Breeders' Cup Ltd. received the perfect pick-me-up.

Jess Jackson, majority owner of reigning Horse of the Year Curlin, announced during a national teleconference Tuesday that the son of Smart Strike would be pre-entered in the Oct. 25 Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita.

Jackson's announcement came one day after Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner Big Brown, who was expected to be Curlin's top rival in the Breeders' Cup, was retired because of an injury to his right front foot.

Curlin, who won the 2007 Classic by 41/2 lengths, worked 5 furlongs in :59.12 between races over Santa Anita's Pro-Ride surface Monday.

The Breeders' Cup will be Curlin's first career start over a synthetic surface, and while Jackson admits the track is a concern, he stressed that Curlin has acclimated well to his California surroundings and has given every indication he is ready to go.

"Curlin showed yesterday he embraces the surface," Jackson said. "It is a bit of a faster surface than we've run on, and I worry about that a bit. It maybe gives some horses with less durability a chance to compete with him.

"I think I owed it to the horse (to enter). Curlin tells us he's fit and he loves to compete, and when an athlete is ready they want to play. He's indicated he's ready now."

Curlin will attempt to join Tiznow as the only horses to win back-to-back Classics. Tiznow did it in 2000 and 2001.

"This would add one more dimension to his legacy, which I think he's already earned," Jackson said. "I don't think any horse has done what he's done in the sequence that's he's done it, in less than 20 months. It's not about the money with him. It's about his legacy and stamping him as one of the greatest horses of the century, I believe."

When asked whether the Breeders' Cup would be Curlin's last career start, Jackson remained noncommittal.

A start in the Grade II Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs on Nov. 28 or a trip to Japan in December remain on the table for Curlin, as well as the possibility of a return for his 5-year-old season.

"The essence of his legacy is to be compared to great horses like Secretariat and Seabiscuit ... but the other side of it is, his genes are needed in the gene pool," Jackson said. "Durability, heart, and stamina are so needed. The horse industry needs stamina, and the fans need heroes."

All of the pre-entries for the two-day Breeders' Cup World Championships will be announced Thursday.