Curlin, the all-time earner among North American Thoroughbreds, gained another accolade on Tuesday, Jan. 13 when he was officially named the joint best horse of 2008 in the World Thoroughbred Rankings.
Curlin was rated the equal of Epsom Derby (Eng-I) winner New Approach, trained in Ireland by Jim Bolger, on a ranking of 130 pounds after a season that saw him bring his career tally of grade I victories to seven by the time he retired to Lane’s End Farm for the 2009 breeding season with earnings of $10,501,800.
The now 5-year-old son of Smart Strike, who was jointly third best in the 2007 rankings on a mark of 129, won the US$6-million Dubai World Cup (gr. I) in March and went on to further top-level successes in the Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I), Woodward Stakes (gr. I) and Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) before his career was completed when fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) at Santa Anita.
He earned his 130 in both the Dubai World Cup and Stephen Foster Handicap and officially ran below his best on his final star on the Pro Ride artificial surface. The Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Raven’s Pass - also successful in the Queen Elizabeth Stakes (Eng-I) at Ascot in September and trained by John Gosden in England - was rated 1 pound below on 129 for his American victory.
The World Thoroughbred Rankings are agreed among a panel of international officials and their findings were unveiled at a press conference in London, England, on January 13.
Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and Preakness Stakes (gr. I) winner Big Brown , who has retired to Three Chimneys Farm, was ranked North America’s best 3-year-old of 2008 on a rating of 125, which made him the equal of Breeders’ Cup winners Conduit, Goldikova and Zenyatta as well as Henrythenavigator, who retires to Ashford Stud after his Breeders’ Cup Classic second placing.
But the world’s best filly never raced outside her native France. She was the Aga Khan’s homebred Zarkava, who was unbeaten in seven starts, culminating in a Prix de l’Arc Triomphe (Fr-I) victory at Longchamp in October.
Zarkava, who has retired, was rated 128 making her the best race filly since 1997, when Bosra Sham attained a mark of 131.
"Curlin's rating was based on his earlier season exploits," said Garry O'Gorman, co-chairman of the World Rankings Supervisory Committee. "His performances on synthetic surfaces later in the season were well below the level earlier in the year. I'm not sure if it was the surface in Santa Anita or he wasn't the same horse in the second half of the year. He was rated 123 in the Breeders' Cup Classic.
"He improved his 2007 rating of 129 by 1 pound by winning the Dubai World Cup impressively and going back to the U.S. to win the Stephen Foster Handicap in another great weight-carrying performance. While his form dipped in quality thereafter, he nonetheless ends the year the equal of Ghostzapper (130 in 2004) and 1lb higher than Invasor (129 in 2006) by virtue of his early-season exploits."
Big Brown was the only member of the American classic generation to receive a rating of 120 or more, with European-trained horses heading all five 3-year-old distance categories for the first time since 1996.
"It was a shocking bad year for North American 3-year-olds, even prior to the Kentucky Derby our American colleagues were saying that and it's in stark contrast to the previous season when Curlin, Hard Spun and Street Sense all stayed the distance through the season," added O'Gorman."I suppose using your crystal ball for 2009, Big Brown and Curlin have retired so the older horse category apart from Zenyatta is looking very threadbare."
But the highlight of the season on both sides of the Atlantic was the exploits of fillies, with unbeaten Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winner Zarkava, on a mark of 128, the highest rated distaffer for 11 years.
"I think 2008 was the year of the fillies. Last year I said we couldn't find a season to compare with that one when we had Rags To Riches, Peeping Fawn and Darjina but this year their figures have been blown out of the water by Zarkava on 128 and Goldikova and Zenyatta on 125.
"You have to go back to Bosra Sham (131) in 1997 to find a higher rated filly and to Miesque (132) in 1988 to find a higher rated French filly and one has to wonder what Zarkava might have achieved in ratings terms had she met a higher calibre of opponent than the best of the 2008 crop.
"Goldikova is officially the best female miler since Ridgewood Pearl (126) in 1995 and both fillies had the distinction of beating the colts, while Zenyatta remains unbeaten and is the highest-rated North American filly since Azeri (125) in 2002. Both Goldikova and Zenyatta stay in training in 2009 which is a very exciting prospect. We can hope Goldikova can win back-to-back Breeders' Cup Miles and emulate Miesque.
"Zenyatta is a remarkably big filly who only started out at the end of her 3-year-old career and when you see the size of her you can see why. She won the Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic with consummate ease and I hope we see her against the colts in 2009. Her connections were very keen that she win a Breeders' Cup race and she went for an easier option which was understandable to achieve their goal.
"Her connections feel she is better on conventional dirt and she is now at a stage where Zarkava was post Prix Vermeille. She's beaten all the fillies around but now can she take on the colts and all ages and be equally dominant as Zarkava was in the Arc."
The Aidan O'Brien-trained Mastercraftsman on 122 led what was described as "perhaps not a vintage crop of juveniles" and British Horseracing Authority 2-year-old handicapper Matthew Tester revealed he was now monitoring action across the Atlantic.
"The Americans don't have a handicapping system like ours and we are now producing figures for every black-type race in America, which has been a fascinating process. Vineyard Haven was our highest-rated colt and we could have an outstanding filly in Stardom Bound, who could be challenging the best this year."