With nearly every category a foregone conclusion, the 37th Eclipse Awards night appeared to hold few, if any, surprises—until Jess Jackson in accepting Horse of the Year for Curlin announced the champion would continue racing in 2008.
To a full house Jan. 21 at the Beverly Wilshire in Beverly Hills, Calif., Jackson said the Smart Strike colt would run at 4, and he didn’t rule out a 5-year-old season, either.
Despite lucrative offers to stand him at stud, Jackson told the crowd he and his family decided “to give the fans and the industry what we need, marketing a hero and a horse that’s bred to endure and that brings stamina, quality, brilliance, and speed for a mile and a half or two miles.”
Thanking the entire Curlin team and singling out trainer Steve Asmussen and his staff, Jackson also took time to acknowledge the work of the people behind the scenes at the barn.
“This is the thrill of a lifetime for us,” Jackson said. “This is a guy who saw Seabiscuit run in 1939. I’ve seen Swaps, Nashua, Determine, Silky Sullivan, Native Dancer, etc., etc., all through Secretariat, and this is a dream come true.”
Jackson spoke at the culmination of the briskly run evening ably emceed by Kenny Rice that came in 45 minutes early by the time Breeders’ Cup Classic - Powered by Dodge (gr. I) winner Curlin was named the 2007 Horse of the Year. As expected, the colt received the bulk of the first-place votes—249. The filly Rags to Riches came in second with 12 votes, while defending Horse of the Year Invasor received two.
Earlier in the evening, with actress Angie Dickinson presenting, Curlin was honored as the champion 3-year-old male, getting all but four of the first-place votes, 262 votes to Street Sense’s three and Hard Spun’s one. When accepting that trophy, Jackson paid tribute to Curlin’s tough competition.
“This is about a horse,” Jackson said. “He loves to compete, and what he met this year was a group of some of the finest 3-year-olds in the history of racing. I have to take my hat off to Street Sense, Rags to Riches, Hard Spun, who stayed there every time, and, of course, Any Given Saturday.”
Asmussen, grinning widely at the prospect of keeping Curlin around for a while, said the first major goal of 2008 could be the Dubai World Cup (UAE-I), with a prep in this country beforehand.
“It’s great that he’s going to be in training,” the trainer said, “but I think he’s a horse that can carry everybody’s expectations and he spoils us with his consistency.”
Curlin’s championship season began with a maiden victory in February and ended with a win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic Oct. 27 at Monmouth Park. In between, he added the Preakness Stakes (gr. I), Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I), Arkansas Derby (gr. II), and Rebel Stakes (gr. III).