Raven's Pass Upsets Curlin in Breeders' Cup Horse Race
Sunday, October 26, 2008
ARCADIA, Calif., Oct. 25 -- When the Breeders' Cup was scheduled over the Pro-Ride surface at Santa Anita, Europeans were elated. They believed their grass horses would be able to adapt to the synthetic track better than they usually do to dirt. "The whole game is opened up for us," said trainer John Gosden.
On Saturday, the Europeans saw that their optimism was fully justified. The Gosden-trained Raven's Pass led a 1-2 British sweep of America's richest race, the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic, as Curlin, the reigning U.S. horse of the year, faded to finish fourth.
The Classic win was one of five triumphs by overseas invaders on the nine-race program. The Europeans won two races on Pro-Ride and three on the grass, including Conduit's victory in the day's second-biggest race, the $3 million Turf.
But it was the Classic and Curlin who had been the principal focus of the racing world. Curlin had captured the 2007 Classic impressively on dirt at Monmouth Park and had gone on to become North America's all-time leading money winner this season.
Despite the colt's dominance, owner Jess Jackson and trainer Steve Asmussen were reluctant to commit to running in the Classic. Asmussen believes that synthetic tracks are distinctly different from dirt, and neither he nor Jackson wanted their champion to bow out with a loss on a surface he didn't like.
Jackson and Asmussen finally decided to run, and Curlin did indeed lose on a surface he didn't like, in what is likely to be the final race of his career. "It absolutely was the Pro-Ride surface [that beat him]," Asmussen said. "He ran his heart out."
Bettors made Curlin the 4-to-5 favorite despite the uncertainty of Pro-Ride and despite the presence of three top-class European horses. All of them were in the same position as Curlin, trying a synthetic surface for the first time.
Jockey Robby Albarado let Curlin settle into mid-pack as the undefeated Japanese colt Casino Drive set the pace. Frankie Dettori, aboard Raven's Pass, was sitting behind Curlin, keeping an eye on the favorite, as was John Velazquez on Henrythenavigator.
When the 12-horse field reached the turn, Albarado made his move, surging five-wide at the leaders, as the crowd of 51,331 let out a roar. This was the kind of acceleration that had enabled Curlin to earn more than $10 million, and for a few seconds it appeared that Pro-Ride was no problem for him.
But then the Europeans made their moves. Raven's Pass rallied outside Curlin, while Henrythenavigator angled inside. Both horses had been milers in Europe and were untested at the Classic distance of 1 1/4 miles, but both handled it effectively, while Curlin, the proven 1 1/4 -mile runner, faded.
The 13-to-1 shot Raven's Pass scored by 1 3/4 lengths in the fast time of 1:59.27 to give the royal family of Dubai its third victory of the afternoon. The colt runs in the colors of Princess Haya of Jordan, wife of the world's most prominent horse owner, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum.
Curlin may have lost more than this race. The Breeders' Cup always influences voting for the horse of the year, and Curlin's reputation sank Saturday. The impressive victory of the undefeated filly Zenyatta in the Ladies Classic Friday will earn her strong support for the sport's top honor.
Although Raven's Pass was indisputably the star of the 25th Breeders' Cup, the day produced several other notable performances:
Mile: The 3-year-old filly Goldikova unleashed a powerful surge in the stretch -- the type of move that is the hallmark of most European turf runners -- and scored by 1 1/4 lengths over Kip Deville, the defending champion in this grass event. Goldikova made trainer Freddy Head the first person to ride and train Breeders' Cup winners. He piloted the great filly Miesque to victories in the Mile in 1987 and 1988.
Juvenile: Midshipman won the race that traditionally determines the early favorite for the next year's Kentucky Derby, but it is uncertain if he will gain that status. His one-length victory today, like his two prior wins, came over a synthetic surface, and he is untested on dirt. Moreover, the colt may not follow a conventional path to the Derby, because he is owned by the Darley Stable of Sheikh Mohammed, who frequently sends his promising 3-year-olds to Dubai for training. Asked what Midshipman would do next, trainer Bob Baffert said, "I have no idea," but it is likely that the colt will be headed overseas.
Sprint: Though he had given a dismal showing in his only start of 2008, Midnight Lute returned to his best form today and won this six-furlong event for the second straight year. He sped the distance in 1:07.08, giving Baffert his second winner of the day and rider Garrett Gomez his third.