Archive for January, 2009

Curlin goes back-to-back for Horse of the Year

History has been made. For the first time since Cigar pulled off the feat in 1995-96, we have another repeat winner for Horse of the Year as Curlin has secured the honor once again over the undefeated distaffer Zenyatta.

Curlin received 153 votes to 69 votes for Zenyatta. Big Brown came in with 13 votes.

“This is an honor beyond the dreams of somebody that dreamed he would someday own a champion racehorse since I saw Seabiscuit run,” majority owner Jess Jackson said. “To be ranked with the John Henrys, the Kelsos, the Foregos, the Secretariats. The greats of the industry. He’s now among what I consider to be the greats of the industry.”

When Curlin first took Horse of the Year honors for his 3-year-old campaign in 2007, he was a raw specimen getting by more on talent than his knowledge of the game. Early in 2008, it became obvious the son of Smart Strike had matured into a powerful force as he cantered his way to victory in the Jaguar Trophy in Dubai and then turned the $6 million Dubai World Cup into the world’s richest workout.

The taxing journey took little out of Curlin, however, as he returned in June to notch a handy 4 1/4-length win in the Grade I Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs. Curlin won two more Grade I races after that in the Woodward and the Jockey Club Gold Cup, the latter of which allowed him to break Cigar’s North American record for earnings.

Now retired to stud at Lane’s End, Curlin finished his career with 11 wins from 16 career starts and earnings of $10,501,800.

Proud Spell stands tall as champion 3-year-old filly

The little girl pulled off one huge triumph. Proud Spell, the diminutive stablemate of the ill-fated Kentucky Derby runner-up Eight Belles, earned a much appreciated honor for her connections by taking 3-year-old filly honors in what was widely considered one of the toughest divisions all year.

Standing a mere 15 hands, Proud Spell gives trainer Larry Jones his first champion – and especially appropriate honor considering Jones also conditioned Eight Belles. The daughter of Proud Citizen won four graded stakes at four different tracks this year including taking the two biggest prizes in the Kentucky Oaks and the Grade I Alabama Stakes at Saratoga.

“This is something I’ve dreamed of my whole life,” owner and breeder Brereton Jones said.

If her five-length win in the Oaks was a showcase of her raw ability, Proud Spell’s Alabama win was an exercise in guts. The bay filly fended off a challenge in the stretch from Music Note – who defeated Proud Spell in the Mother Goose – to defeat her rival by a head.

“She’s never been passed in the stretch,” Brereton Jones said. “She’s run 12 times and no one has been able to pass her.”

Big Brown reigns as champion 3-year-old male

It the latest in a long line of expected results, dual classic winner Big Brown scored another emphatic triumph when he captured the honors for champion 3-year-old male at the Eclipse Awards.

Aside from his high-profile misstep in the Belmont Stakes, Big Brown wowed racing fans with his brilliance. In just his third career start, the son of Boundary captured the Florida Derby in wire-to-wire fashion by five lengths and went on to win the Kentucky Derby by 4 3/4 lengths and Preakness Stakes in a virtual hand-ride by 5 1/4 lengths.

“To win the Derby the way he did, I don’t know if a horse could run much better than that,” said Michael Sherack, vice president of investor relations for majority owners IEAH Stables, in an interview with the Herald-Leader last week.

Before a hoof injury derailed his career in October, Big Brown scored another Grade I triumph taking the Haskell Invitational in his first start after the Belmont in August.

“He was an absolute pleasure to be around,” IEAH Stables co-president Michael Iavarone said.

Gomez wins second Eclipse for top jockey, Lopez top apprentice

Garrett Gomez, who earned his 3,000th career win on Sept. 28, 2008 and won 40 graded stakes last season, earned his second straight Eclipse Award for champion jockey on Monday.

Fittingly enough, Gomez shined on racing’s biggest stage riding three winners on the Breeders’ Cup card on Oct. 25 and four Breeders’ Cup races total over the two days. He came within $11,000 of Jerry Bailey’s single-season record for earnings.

Pascacio Lopez won for champion apprentice jockey.

Curlin reigns as champion older male

In another no-brainer decision, Curlin was named champion older male with 239 first-place votes. The seven-time Grade I winner set the North American earnings record in 2008 with a career bankroll of more than $10.5 million. In addition to his win in the $6 million Dubai World Cup, Curlin won three other Grade I races in the Stephen Foster, Woodward, and Jockey Club Gold Cup.

The son of Smart Strike suffered his only career off-the-board effort when he ran fourth in the 2008 Breeders’ Cup Classic.

“I owe so much to (trainer) Steve Asmussen and (assistant) Scott Blasi for giving their entire life to Curlin to race one more time,” majority owner Jess Jackson said. “I’m deeply grateful we won this category against the caliber of horses we raced against. I hope the industry understands that older horses can run and still be sires. I’ve been blessed watching Curlin conquer his world.”

Curlin won champion 3-year-old male and Horse of the Year honors at the Eclipse Awards last season. He is aiming to become the first horses since Cigar (1995-96) to repeat as Horse of the Year.

“Achieving an Eclipse Award was a long dream of ours,” Jackson said. “It’s all about our loyal friends, the horse.”

Zenyatta perfect choice for older female

She is indeed the perfect girl. Zenyatta, unbeaten in nine career starts including a 7-for-7 campaign in 2008, was the no-brainer pick for champion older female at the Eclipse Award ceremonies.

The late-blooming daughter of Street Cry capped off her remarkable campaign when she unleashed a memorable five-wide move coming into the stretch of the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic en route to a 1 1/2 length win.

While she was primarily based in California, Zenyatta proved she could dominate on the dirt when she defeated former champion Ginger Punch in the Grade I Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn last April.

“It’s a wonderful gift to have a filly like this,” owner Jerry Moss said.

Zenyatta received 240 of a possible 242 first-place votes. Seriously – who were to the two people who didn’t vote for her??

Stronach Stables top owner again

Frank Stronach is having another banner evening. His Adena Springs was named champion breeder for a record sixth time and his Stronach Stables edged out IEAH Stables by one vote to earn the champion owner award for a fourth time.

Stronach Stables were the leading earners among owners in 2008 and were led by champion Ginger Punch.

Asmussen earns his first Eclipse Award

He’s been a leader in the standings for years. Now Steve Asmussen has the hardware to match his numbers. The trainer of Curlin just earned his first Eclipse Award for top trainer in a season that saw him break his own North American record by winning 623 races.

“This award belongs to the staff,” Asmussen said. “And if I stood up here and mentioned all the owners that gave us this opportunity, we’d all be asleep. And of course, thank you Curlin. What a special horse.”

In addition to training the horse widely considered the best in the world, Asmussen made mincemeat out of the record books this season. With more than $26 million in earnings in 2008, Asmussen dominated tracks from coast to coast with his deep arsenal of horses.

Indian Blessing top female sprinter

Indian Blessing, winner of the champion 2-year-old filly title last season, just claimed her second Eclipse Award and the 10th Eclipse for her trainer Bob Baffert when she took champion female sprinter honors.

A daughter of Indian Charlie, Indian Blessing won three Grade I races last season to lead her division.

“To be a two-time Eclipse winner, it doesn’t get any better than that,” owner Hal Earnhardt said.

Benny the Bull charges to top sprinter honors, will make comeback

This was a little bit of a surprise. Benny the Bull, who won all four of his starts before being forced to the sidelines this year, took champion male sprinter honors over the spectacular Midnight Lute and the ultra-consistent Street Boss.

Benny the Bull started out the year taking the Sunshine Million Sprint but scored his most memorable win when he claimed the Grade I Dubai Golden Shaheen by 1 3/4 lengths. The son of Lucky Lionel was initially retired in August due to an ankle injury but IEAH Stables co-president Michael Iavarone just announced they were bringing the six-year-old horse back the races this year.

“We are taking him out of retirement and taking him back to the races to try and reclaim his title,” Iavarone just stated on the Eclipse Award telecast.

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