Archive for November, 2008

Curlin bids farewell

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As the one of the racing’s most meteoric journeys officially came to an end today, Amy Kearns couldn’t hold back her emotions any longer.

For the last 18 months, the most prominent figure in Kearns’ life has been reigning Horse of the Year Curlin. Now that the colt she had watched over for the last year and a half was set to move to his next career, there was nothing she could do to halt the raindrop tears that continued to flow down her cheeks.

Kearns, who has been Curlin’s ‘bodyguard’ since last season, was among the many at Churchill Downs saying goodbye to the seven-time Grade I winner on Saturday as the son of Smart Strike was paraded before the crowd prior to the day’s fifth race before heading off the stand stud at William S. Farish’s Lane’s End.

As Curlin made his way from Steve Asmussen’s barn and into the paddock – a honorary cooler emblazoned with his name draped across his muscular frame – those in attendance stood to catch of glimpse of North America’s all-time leading money earner one last time as cameras lined up to capture his last appearance on the track.

In typical Curlin fashion, the four-year-old colt remained unaffected by the goings on around him, calming strolling through the paddock. As Kearns tearfully kept Curlin under her watchful eye, Asmussen and his family along with Barbara Banke, wife of majority owner Jess Jackson, tried to take in the moment.

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“It’s very emotional in a lot of senses with the things he has done for us that he hadn’t done before,” said Asmussen, who said Curlin would be shipping to Lane’s End on Sunday. “His accomplishments give us all a great sense of pride. It’s very satisfying to have him accomplish so many goals and have him go home in great physical condition.

“I can’t say I’m sad because that would be so selfish to say that,” Asmussen continued. “But how are you going to feel when he’s not in the barn? It’s going to be different. It’s like sending your kid off to college, it’s different. He’s a horse that you lead over and you knew you were fine. He was special in every way.”

After the fifth race, Curlin was led over to the winner’s circle one last time where his connections were presented with a commemorative print of the champion. Proving he knew to work a photo op, Curlin dutifully posed to perfection, pricking his ears straight up and holding his form like a statue.

Curlin’s regular rider Robby Albarado, who was aboard Ninth Client in the fifth race, made sure to pause on his way back to the jockey’s room to give his now former mount one last pat goodbye.

Da’ Tara third in allowance company

Six months after his stunning 5 1/4-length win in the Belmont Stakes, Da’ Tara is still trying to find the same mojo that allowed him to stop what looked to be a sure-fire Triple Crown winner. The son of Tiznow just finished a well-beaten third against allowance company in Churchill’s ninth race.

Despite getting away on the front-end with an easy half-mile in :48, Da’ Tara was already shortening his stride around the turn, allowing Bullsbay to sail by with Julien Leparoux up – who, by the way, extended his meet-record mark to 58 wins.

Since his Belmont win over Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Big Brown, Da’ Tara has finished seventh in the Grade II Jim Dandy, fifth in the Grade I Travers, and sixth in the Grade II Jerome prior to today’s outing.

A good call

England’s Mark Johnson, one of five candidates that has been auditioning during the Churchill Fall Meet to ts search to replace the late Luke Kruytbosch as track announcer, came through with an alert update during the day’s second race.

The 2-year-old gelding Sunday Church stumbled leaving the gate and unseated jockey Calvin Borel. As the remainder of the field approached the final turn, Johnson smoothly interjected that Borel was up and on his feet unharmed and then went back to the rest of the call without missing a beat.

It’s a minor detail, but making sure the listening public knows one of the nation’s more popular riders escaped unharmed was probably a much appreciated move.

Leparoux breaks Day’s meet record

The one-man clinic Julien Leparoux has put on during this Fall Meet officially reached a rarefied level as he just broke Pat Day’s meet record of 55 wins by booting home Calabria in today’s second race and Just Like William in the third.

Day’s mark is one that has stood for the last 23 years but Leparoux has been riding with unprecedented form over the last five weeks. And with eight more mounts left today and nine on Saturday, the former Eclipse Award winner is on pace to blow past one of the sport’s most enduring legends.

“Actually I had an appointment on Tuesday and this guy in Louisville told me ‘ Please don’t beat him because we love Pat Day!,'” Leparoux laughed. “He was like, ‘You can tie him but just don’t beat him’. It’s been several things that have made this possible. I’ve been riding for Mike Maker, who broke the trainer’s record, and Ken Ramsey, who broke the owner’s record too. So when you ride for people who win, it’s like a team thing. That’s what helped make this happen.”

After first launching his career in the summer of 2005, Leparoux quickly established himself as one of the most talented jockeys in the game. As the first call rider for trainer and fellow French native Patrick Biancone, Leparoux earned his first  Grade I score on Aug. 12, 2006 aboard Gorella in the Beverly D. at Arlington Park and was the nation’s leading rider that year with 403 wins en route to taking home the Eclipse Award in 2006 for leading apprentice.

“The last few years I’ve been with people who have success and I was with Mr. Biancone who put me on the best horses in his barn and … when they put you on horses like that it helps a lot,” Leparoux said. “This year I have a lot of trainers that have put me on great horses. You can’t do it alone.”

Funny Cide coming to Kentucky Horse Park

For years, visitors to the Kentucky Horse Park’s Hall of Champions would always inquire if any of the residents had won the Kentucky Derby. Now, after decades of not having a Classic winner, the Hall of Champions will have multiple Derby victors in its midst.

A month after announcing 1987 Derby winner and former Horse of the Year Alysheba was taking up residence at the Horse Park, the Hall of Champions announced today 2003 Kentucky Derby winner Funny Cide will also joining their roster in Lexington.

Funny Cide, an eight-year-old gelded son of Distorted Humor, has been a stable pony for his trainer Barclay Tagg since his retirement from the track in 2007. Recently, however, Tagg stated the “rigors of racing and training for several years have started to cause him mild discomfort.

“So, now the time has come, as he is turning 9-years-old, to really retire,” Tagg said in a statement.

John Nicholson, executive director of the Horse Park, added, “Funny Cide will be a welcome addition to our Hall of Champions. He was one of those rare horses who captured the public’s imagination while he was on the track and continues to have a significant following of loyal fans.

“He is quite a young horse, so we hope the public will visit him often and get to know him over the coming years, and develop a special relationship with him the way they have so many of our other resident champions.”

Owned and campaigned by Sackatoga Stable, Funny Cide upset the heavily favored Empire Maker in the 2003 Derby and went on to score a rousing 9 3/4 length triumph in the Preakness Stakes before finishing a game third to Empire Maker in the Belmont.

Those Classic triumphs were enough to earn Funny Cide the Eclipse Award for champion 3-year-old male in 2003 and he also went on to capture the Grade I Jockey Club Gold Cup at age four.

“We have been fortunate and very blessed to have had Funny Cide in our lives,” said Robin Smullen, assistant to Tagg. “He has changed people’s perspective about horse racing. Realistically, he is a once in a lifetime horse and now he will be able to touch other people’s lives in his retirement.”

The public is invited to the Kentucky Horse Park for Funny Cide’s Welcome Reception on Friday, Dec 5 at 2pm. It is included with park admission.

Curlin to be paraded at Churchill

His racing days may be over, but fans of reigning Horse of the Year Curlin will get one last chance to see him on the track next weekend. The four-year-old son of Smart Strike is scheduled to be paraded at Churchill Downs on Saturday, Nov. 29 – the final day of the Fall meet.

Curlin, a seven-time Grade I winner and North American’s all-time leading money earner, will be paraded on the main track between the fifth and sixth races with a special salute in the paddock and/or winner’s circle to follow.

“We’re thrilled to have another opportunity to showcase Curlin in front of his many fans in Kentucky,” trainer Steve Asmussen said. “For the past two years, he’s given our entire team numerous thrills and great memories. We’ve always considered Churchill Downs to be his ‘home’ track and we’ll always remember the standing ovation he received after winning the Stephen Foster.”

On Friday, it was announced Curlin would enter stud for 2009 at Lane’s End for an advertised fee of $75,000.

Asmussen equals his own record

Over the last two seasons, trainer Steve Asmussen has mostly been defined in the nation’s consciousness by the success of reigning Horse of the Year and likely Hall of Famer Curlin. While his stable’s star is now retired, Asmussen reminded everyone Saturday night just how wide-spread his dominance in this sport truly.

With about five weeks still left in the 2008 racing season, Asmussen equaled his own North American record for wins by a trainer in a calendar year when Padua Stables’ promising 2-year-old Union Strike captured the tenth race at Fair Grounds.

Asmussen also won 555 in 2004 shattering the previous mark of 496 wins set by Jack Van Berg in 1976. However, Asmussen has technically already bettered his previous mark as the current total does not include the two victories Curlin earned in Dubai this season.

“You know it’s been an incredible run, it’s been an incredible year,” Asmussen said via cell phone shortly after getting his record-tying win. “Last year we finished the year out with great momentum and things have carried over into this year beautifully. Honestly I’ve had a year this year where if you had told me a long time ago those were the numbers, I would have thought I had a great career. It’s been a true blessing. We just have tremendous opportunity.”

While Curlin has been the unabashed king of the Asmussen shedrow, the longtime trainer has barnstormed the nation’s track with a roster that is as deep as it is vast.

Student Council emerged as a top handicap horse this season with his win in the Grade I Pimlico Special while multiple graded stakes winner Pyro was considered one of the top contenders on the Kentucky Derby trail along with fellow graded stakes winner Z Fortune. Other top performers from Asmussen’s barn included, Zanjero, a multiple graded stakes winning millionaire, graded stakes winner J Be K, and Magna Graduate, who most recently captured the Grade III Ack Ack Stakes at Churchill on October 26.

“I think that we’re very fortunate in the fact that everyone stayed in training last year pretty much across the board,” said Asmussen, who was quick to credit his assistants such as Scott Blasi for their crucial roles in this latest milestone. “Curlin of course is the man and him coming back and the lift that gives you but Pyro and the horses coming into this year knowing how good they were doing and knowing they were going to come back. We are just very fortunate to be in that position.”

Having barns filled with talented runners is motivation enough. However, Asmussen said part of what drove him to what his unprecedented level this season was the desire to vindicate himself following the six-month suspension he served in 2006 through Jan. 10 2007 for a mepivicaine positive.

“I think the truth is I thought I was screwed over the six months and had something to prove,” Asmussen said. “Everybody gets 15 days for something I got six months for and I felt like I had something to prove.”

At this point, it’s not a question of if but when Asmussen officially breaks his own mark and that answer could come rather quickly. He had four horses still entered Saturday night and 11 horses entered at five tracks on Sunday.

“We just had the kind of opportunity and that kind of momentum and attitude with winning the Breeders’ Cup, winning our first Classic race, keeping Curlin in training, just the barn was so energized over what had transpired last year and it just carried over,” Asmussen said. “I’ve said it once and it’s very true: I’m surprised we don’t win more with the opportunity we’re given. I am. It’s amazing some of the horses we get beat.”

Curlin going to Lane’s End

After weeks of speculation, Lane’s End announced today they will stand reigning Horse of the Year Curlin for the 2009 season for a fee of $75,000. The Midway farm, which is already home to leading sire A.P. Indy and Kingmambo, also stands Curlin’s sire Smart Strike for $150,000.

Here is the comment from Will Farish:

“The Jacksons are due great credit for allowing our sport to enjoy this great champion as a four-year-old. Many would have retired him after winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic and Horse of the Year honors as a three-year-old. Curlin’s performance on the track, his pedigree, and his conformation make him the most exciting sire prospect to retire in many years. We are honored to have him join his champion sire Smart Strike at Lane’s End.”

Farish added that Curlin would not be syndicated and would stand on behalf of majority owner Jess Jackson. Although the issue surrounding the remaining 20 percent ownership of Curlin has yet to be resolved in court, Farish did not expect that entanglement to hamper the chestnut colt’s stud career.

“I don’t think there is any concern relative to his stud career,” Farish said. “It’s a totally different issue but it’s nothing affecting his ability to go to stud and be bred.”

Top stallion Seeking the Gold pensioned

Leading sire Seeking the Gold, who stood for an advertised fee of $125,000 in 2008, has been pensioned from stud duty according to Claiborne Farm.

“Seeking the Gold has certainly left his mark on this industry,” Claiborne representative Bernie Sams said. “He was a wonderful racehorse and from the time his first crop hit the ground, he’s been a top stallion. It is always a privilege to be associated with a horse of this caliber.”

Seeking the Gold, a 23-year-old son of Mr. Prospector, has currently sired 88 stakes winners from 16 crops of racing age with progeny earnings of more than $85 million.

Sales are down, but how bad is it?

We’re officially past the halfway point of the 15-day Keeneland November breeding stock sale and, as many expected, the overall numbers are not at all pretty as the gross has declined more than 46 percent from its 2007 figures and the average down nearly 40 percent.

While many expected the November auction to takes some rough hits, the severity of the declines have shocked even those who were bracing for the blows. The Keeneland September yearling sale felt the sting of the economy as well but it still managed to emerge down “only” 14.8 percent with its fourth-highest gross ever.

There are many theories as to why this sale is suffering more than its September predecessor – which usually serves a viable indicator of what’s to come – but the common points that keep coming up are overproduction and the economy. Too many people, particularly those in the lower middle market most affected by rising costs in fuel and feed, can’t afford to play at this level anymore and are trying to get rid of mares that probably shouldn’t have ever been in the marketplace to begin with.

“Everyone is talking about overproduction and there truly is,” Mark Toothaker of Legacy Bloodstock said at the beginning of the sale. “There are just a lot of these mares that we need to find another outlet for them…and get them out of production because there are so many weak-pedigreed mares that everyone keep breeding and we keep winding up in the same situation.”

No one is going to dispute how bad the current numbers are, but there also exists a belief this current correction may not be such a horrible thing for the industry to go through. People have been saying for years that  stud fees needed to come down in order for breeders large and small to make a profit, and the farms have largely responded this season with near universal cuts – save for a handful of notable exceptions.

“I think it’s something that has been coming on for some time,” said Bayne Welker of Mill Ridge. “Markets like any other markets are going to correct themselves one way or the other and finally you just see everything has caught up with it. The world economy has caught up with it so it is time for a correction to take place.”

Added Toothaker: “You hate to say something like this would be good for the marketplace but anytime you have a free enterprise system, the market is always going to correct itself. This is one of those market corrections we have to painfully go through to get back to where we need to be.”

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