The announcement earlier this week that Curlin would not race in 2009 was not a surprise, but the reality of it made me come to one disappointing realization:
Other than Zenyatta, there really aren't many top-tier older horses I am looking forward to watching next year.
With Big Brown and Curlin now out of the mix, we now have the two most popular, and arguably, the two best North American-based dirt horses retired. And that's just the beginning of it.
Some of the notable older horses who have either already been retired or will likely be retired after 2008 are Student Council, Ginger Punch, Hystericalady, Benny the Bull, Midnight Lute, Red Rocks, Evening Attire, Zanjero, Perfect Drift, Lava Man, Red Giant, Tough Tiz's Sis, Zaftig, Alwajeeha, Sealy Hill, Lewis Michael, Dreaming of Anna, Mauralakana, Heatseeker, as well as European stars Zarkava, Raven's Pass and Henrythenavigator. There is also probably a decent chance that Commentator and/or Kip Deville will be gone after their final races this year.
Kind of depressing, isn't it?
At least we have the top 3-year-olds to look forward to. Well, some of them anyway. That's because two of the top Kentucky Derby hopefuls, Vineyard Haven and Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Midshipman will winter in Dubai for Sheikh Mohammed, as well as BC Juvenile Turf winner Donativum likely going to England for Princess Haya.
Again, thank our lucky stars for Zenyatta.
Before I paint too bleak of a picture, there are still some exciting horses that should return in 2009, most of them females - Ventura, Cocoa Beach, Music Note, Proud Spell, Forever Together and Indian Blessing (Baffert's long range goal for her is the Dubai World Cup Sprint) to name a few. And, of course, there is Stardom Bound, who should only get better as a 3-year-old.
As far as the males, 3-year-olds like Colonel John, Mambo in Seattle and Denis of Cork should improve, and sprinter Fatal Bullet looks like he'll be a force. Perhaps the one older horse I am looking forward to seeing more than any other is BC Dirt Mile winner Albertus Maximus, who is set up for a big 5-year-old campaign.
l should also point out that this year is not unlike any other. The reality of horse racing today is that this is time of year when horses retire. It's the nature of the sport and we have to accept it. It's time for the new stars to make their mark.
However, it doesn't take away from the fact that the departure of Curlin, Big Brown and many of our other favorites leaves a huge void for 2009.