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Curlin to bring his star power to Breeders' Cup

Jackson, satisfied that Santa Anita's track is safe, commits his horse to run in Oct. 25 Classic.

October 15, 2008|Bill Dwyre | Times Staff Writer

Comparing his star horse to athletes such as Magic Johnson and Lance Armstrong, Jess Jackson on Tuesday committed Curlin to run in the $5-million Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita a week from Saturday.

The majority owner of the biggest money-winning horse ever in North America said his decision to go after a second straight Classic title was simple, once he and trainer Steve Asmussen determined Santa Anita's synthetic race surface was safe and competitive.

"I owe it to the horse," Jackson said. "When a top athlete is ready, they want to compete."

The announcement, and the commitment to the $50,000 entry fee that was due at noon Tuesday, came a day after the much-anticipated showdown between Curlin and Big Brown fell apart.

Big Brown's connections said that their horse, star of this year's 3-year-old season with wins in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, suffered a gash on his right front foot during a workout Monday morning and would not be able to heal in time to take on Curlin.

Big Brown has a $50-million breeding syndication deal that is contractually scheduled to begin Dec. 31, so Big Brown was retired from racing as soon as the severity of his injury was determined.

Jackson, the 78-year-old founder of Kendall-Jackson Winery in Northern California, said he had sympathy for Big Brown's plight, hoped his health would return and was disappointed the two stars would never face off. But he added that he also hoped the best horses that could qualify and be entered in the Breeders' Cup Classic would do so.

He said he hoped for that because he wanted to enhance Curlin's legacy, and wants him eventually mentioned alongside the likes of "Seabiscuit, Secretariat, Cigar and John Henry."

"I see him as one of the greatest horses of the century," Jackson said. He also said, "I don't think any horse has done what he has done, in sequence. He has raced two years and won $5 million a year."

Besides the 2007 Breeders' Cup Classic, Curlin also won the Dubai Cup; Belmont's Jockey Club Gold Cup twice, including on Sept. 27 this year, and finished in the money in all three Triple Crown races in '07, including a victory in the Preakness and a narrow loss to filly Rags To Riches in the Belmont. Curlin was horse of the year last year and is likely to be again this year, particularly with a strong showing in the Classic.

At a time of year when racing is competing for status in the sports world against the World Series, the beginning of the NBA season and the heart of college football, Curlin's presence is expected to boost the Breeders' Cup profile. Both Greg Avioli, president and chief executive of the Breeders' Cup, and Sherwood Chillingworth, executive vice president of Oak Tree racing at Santa Anita, publicly thanked Jackson for his decision Tuesday.

The list of pre-entered horses for the two-day, 14-race, $23.5-million Breeders' Cup will be announced Thursday.

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bill.dwyre@latimes.com

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BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX

Curlin's top challengers

* Go Between: Winner of this year's Pacific Classic at Del Mar, trained by Bill Mott and ridden by Garrett Gomez.

* Student Council: Stablemate of Curlin, trained by Steve Asmussen and ridden by Shaun Bridgmohan.

* Casino Drive: The Japanese-owned horse, recent winner of an allowance race at Santa Anita, was to challenge Big Brown and the rest of the Belmont field in June, but suffered a foot injury and was scratched. A half-brother of 2006 and '07 Belmont winners, Jazil and Rags To Riches, respectively. Ridden by Victor Espinoza.

* Tiago: Half brother of 2005 Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo. Former Santa Anita Derby winner. Ridden by Mike Smith.

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