After Rachel Alexandra won the Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year on Monday night in Beverly Hills, owner Jess Jackson admitted he wasn’t as confident as the past two years when Curlin was honored with the award.
“This one really hasn’t sunk in yet,” he said immediately after Rachel Alexandra was rewarded for her brilliant 2009 season. “I knew it would be close. I wanted to steal myself from winning it in case of the disappointment that Zenyatta would win.”
Jackson then went on to say he felt Curlin, who finished fourth in the 2008 Classic over Santa Anita’s synthetic Pro-Ride surface, ran against a tougher band of horses than Zenyatta this past November when she became the first female to win the race and the first of either sex to win two different Breeders’ Cup races.
Both Curlin and Zenyatta ran against eight Grade 1 winners, and the winning time for the 1 1/4 miles when Raven’s Pass won in 2008 was 1:59.27. Zenyatta’s winning time this past year was 2:00.62.
“Curlin ran four ticks faster than Zenyatta this last race on that turf,” Jackson said. “This group of older horses was not the competition that Curlin had a year ago, at least as measured by time and the quality of horses in the race.”
Well, I don’t know how Jackson can claim the 2009 BC Classic lineup was not as tough as the group that Curlin faced, not when both fields included the same number of Grade 1 winners.
As for his assertion that Curlin ran faster than Zenyatta? The final time in 2008 was quicker, and Curlin lost by about 2 1/2 lengths. Was the track playing faster two years ago than last November?
There is no doubt that Jackson was very, very proud of Curlin, and rightfully so. He was an excellent colt. But there’s also little doubt that he used the synthetic as an excuse when Curlin finished fourth. He was right there at the top of the stretch and wasn’t up to the task. If he’d never threatened, I would put more stock into Jackson blaming the artificial track. There’s no doubt in my mind Curlin was not the same horse in the Classic that he was earlier in the year when he won the Dubai World Cup.
It was wrong of Jackson to skip the 2009 Breeders’ Cup with Rachel Alexandra because it was run on a synthetic. Curlin had never run over an artificial track, therefore they had every right to wonder how he would handle it. But Rachel raced and won over Keeneland’s Polytrack surface as a 2-year-old. Jackson claims he didn’t want to risk injury, but one week and one race over the track would not have been a huge negative in my opinion.
Jackson didn’t bring Rachel to the Breeders’ Cup because of how Curlin performed in 2008, plain and simple.
What do you think?