As Curlin walked into the starting gate at Gulfstream Park for his racing debut, the chestnut colt was like every other first-timer.
No experience. No history.
That began to change when Curlin won the 7-furlong maiden special weight test by 12¾ lengths at Hallandale Beach. Over the past 603 days, the 4-year-old son of Smart Strike has won a Classic (Preakness Stakes) and Breeders' Cup Classic. He is the reigning horse of the year with six Grade I victories.
This afternoon, Curlin can add to his legacy for owner Jess Jackson and Stonestreet Stables. A victory and $450,000 paycheck in the Grade I $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park would enable the Steven Asmussen trainee to supplant Cigar as the top earner in North American thoroughbred racing history. While the Friday card was canceled after heavy overnight rain in Elmont, N.Y., the track expects to reopen today, with the 11/4-mile Gold Cup (Race 10, 5:52) televised on ESPNews, TVG and HRTV.
"Beating (Cigar's) financial record is a very big part, I think, of Curlin's legacy. But only because people in our society are more focused on dollars than they should be," Jackson said. "The fact is, Curlin, on his own merit, is a great horse. And to be compared to a Cigar or to a Secretariat or to any other great horse is just a great honor for Curlin."
Curlin has earned $9,796,800, second to Cigar's $9,999,815. Larger purses through the years have put Curlin on the doorstep of the No. 1 spot. He has only 14 lifetime starts (10 wins). Cigar, trained by Hall of Fame member Bill Mott — a regular on the stakes scene at Tampa Bay Downs in Oldsmar — made 33 starts (19 victories, 10 at Grade I) from 1993-96. Japanese horse T.M. Opera O, who was retired in 2001, is the sport's all-time money king at $16,200,337.
Eight rivals will face Curlin, who is attempting to become the ninth repeat winner since 1919. Robby Albarado has the mount. They drew the No. 5 post.
The Gold Cup also may provide answers to a possible Curlin-Big Brown showdown in the Breeders' Cup Classic on Oct. 25 at Santa Anita in Arcadia, Calif. Jackson said a decision on Curlin's next race will be made in "probably five to 10 days."
"He has to tell us he's ready before we run," Jackson said. "(Breeders' Cup) is the star-studded field of some of the best in Europe and some of the best in America, and Big Brown is part of that. I'm talking about one of the great fields and I'd love to compete in that field. I want to make sure my horse is ready, though."
MORE RACING: TBD graduate Delightful Kiss makes his final Breeders' Cup prep today in the Grade III $200,000 All American Handicap (Race 3, 4:45 p.m.) at Golden Gate Fields in Berkeley, Calif. … La Rosa Enterprises and McAllister Kennels have three greyhounds apiece in tonight's third round of the $50,000 Fall Sprint Stakes at Derby Lane in St. Petersburg. La Rosa has the series' lone undefeated sprinter, Red Dirt Road (32 points). Other La Rosa dogs are Kaias Sequoyah (17) and Tk Rapala (11). McAllister is represented by Flyin Home Depot (24), Flying Macbeth (18) and Flying Eagle (16). Qualifying races are 6 and 10. The top eight in points after Wednesday advance to the Oct. 4 final.