By Alan Mann
, Left at the Gate
I know that Patrick would like to see Curlin disappear
. That seems like wishful thinking to me. I believe that Curlin will win the Classic. Actually, he has
to win. Forget the Euro horses just for a moment....and this is a field that the champ should handle without too much of a problem in my opinion. I say that even though five of those runners are Grade 1 stakes winners, and despite my belief that the defending Horse of the Year is not quite as dominant as he was before he went to Dubai. (And I'm still a bit bugged out over how slow he finished in the Woodward.)
Nonetheless, if Curlin runs poorly against the US entries at least, it could only be because he doesn't handle the Pro-Ride. Go Between was a Grade 2 turf horse at best before discovering synthetics in California; and even there, he hasn't run that fast. Tiago closed very well in the Goodwood, but has a record of 4-0-0-0 at this distance. Besides, he's out because I picked him in the Classic last year and have a rule about losing with the same horse two years in a row. Student Council had his biggest win on the Poly at Del Mar, but I get the feeling he prefers the real stuff. Colonel John came home in 25 4/5 to win the Travers over Mambo in Seattle, who was outclassed by the champ in the JCGC. And Casino Drive? The thought of a horse with his lack of experience standing in the winner's circle for the Classic is kinda like....well, you know
Nothing really good would come out of Curlin getting beat by these (though you may disagree if you're amongst those dead set against synthetic tracks). It could cast doubt upon the results of other races and would turn full attention to the decision to run at Santa Anita again next year, a potentially rancorous discussion that would go on for many months. And it would be an ugly mark on a set of past performance lines that currently read like a work of art.
Now, as far as those Euro invaders go, I believe that it would seem more acceptable should Curlin run well and lose to one of those, laden with class as they are. However, all three face what I see as big question marks even aside from the surface issue and the unfamiliar style and surroundings. I don't like Duke of Marmalade, who ran less than three weeks ago in the Arc, his sixth Grade 1 in less than five months, and his first loss of the year. Raven's Pass (Elusive Quality) has had an extra week of rest, and actually seems to be thriving and improving with the steady work - seven races since April 17. He finally defeated Henrythenavigator in his last after failing to do so the prior three times they met. Neither of those have been more than a mile however. This is a major stretchout at any level, especially so here, and even for horses who are bred to go on. Based on their dosage and Tomlinson numbers at least, Henrythenavigator is more likely to stay. He's by Kingmambo, out of a stakes winning mare by Sadlers Wells. However, the dam got that stakes win in a sprint, as has her full sisters Listen and Sequoyah; and Henrythenavigator's full sister Queen Cleopatra was a stakes winner at a mile. So I don't think it's certain by any means that he'll negotiate the distance based on his breeding, though I consider him to be the most likely winner of the three.
And then there is, of course, the fact that the Euros will be racing on something other than turf for the first time. For Curlin, Pro-Ride is also a strange surface. But the champ has already shown the versatility to run second in a Grade 1 race in his first (and only) race on turf, a surface which he didn't seem to relish at all.
Picks: Curlin, Henrythenavigator, Tiago
- Well worth reading is a somewhat different, and far more close-up view of the European horses from Gary West in his West Points blog