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.
“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.