As 2008 draws to a close, so too does the racing career of Curlin. What a joy it has been to participate in his racing career. We saw not only what this great horse could accomplish on the track, but the bond he forged between himself, his team, the fans, and the sport. I will always remember the applause Curlin received in every paddock around the world.
To me, Curlin is so much more than one of the greats. He has also become a bonded and trusting friend. Many a horse owner has undoubtedly experienced what we have: a personal relationship of affection and trust between Curlin, myself, my family, and every member of our team. We gained his trust and he has been eager to satisfy; he has been loyal.
I recall once, after I hadn’t seen him in a while, I went to Curlin’s paddock before a major race and held my hand high to pet him. Instinctively, a horse, especially an alpha male, will raise his head over an upstretched hand and display his game intensity. Curlin, however, just lowered his head and threw it over my shoulder to let me scratch his mane. Often he would nicker his greeting as you approached, sometimes before he even saw you.
So it is with both great pride and some melancholy that I reflect upon his retirement. It has been, after all, an amazing and rare ride that one comes to appreciate even more as it ends. As I reflect upon what Curlin, Steve Asmussen, Robby Albarado, Scott Blasi, Carlos Rosas, and the whole team has achieved, I especially want to extend my deep gratitude to Curlin’s fans. In the end, we ran Curlin as much or more for the enjoyment and inspiration of the fans and sport than for ourselves.
Curlin ran for the fans, for the sport, for his own pleasure of competition, and, I believe, to express his loyalty and desire to please.
He ran on all surfaces, in all weather, against all competition. He contended well and without much rest in two consecutive campaigns across two continents. In 21 short months of racing, he became the highest-earning horse in North American racing history—passing former record-holder, the great Cigar—while winning five of seven races in his second year of racing (a greater winning percentage than Cigar posted in his second Horse of the Year campaign). Had he continued to race, I am certain a rested Curlin would have added even more to his legacy.
For the good of the fans and the sport, I’m hoping horse racing will return to the love of the horse and the pure sport, the spectacle and the simple beauty of a Thoroughbred in motion. I hope too, that we will breed horses not only for speed, but for durability—something that will protect the athletes: our jockeys and our Thoroughbreds. I hope the industry will realize the importance of extending the racing life of Thoroughbreds so that fans can follow their stars beyond their third year.
We hope Thoroughbred owners will form their own racing league and appoint a commissioner, join with the tracks to market races for older horses, and work together to increase their stake of gaming revenue to allow the tracks and horse owners to prosper. Otherwise, I fear Thoroughbred racing will continue to decline.
Curlin epitomizes what we need from his genes. As he enters his new career, our goal now is to have Curlin contribute his brilliance, soundness, intelligence, and stamina to the breed. I am eager to see his colts and fillies race and hope to see one or more surpass his own prodigious achievements.
Curlin is a great racehorse, but he has also become a member of our family. None of us will forget the power, grace, and affection he brought to our lives. And for Curlin and our family, we thank his fans for the lifetime of memories they gave us.
Jess Jackson is the the founder of Kendall-Jackson wines and majority owner of Curlin.