Affirmation by Dan Liebman

For racing fans, the stars aligned for Curlin, the 2007 Horse of the Year, to return and race at age 4. Now, for just the sixth time since the Eclipse Awards were first handed out in 1971, a runner has repeated as Horse of the Year.

Curlin Slide Show
Had Curlin, a son of Smart Strike, been raced by nearly any other owner, he probably would have been retired following his 3-year-old campaign and whisked off to stud. But stallion farms were reluctant to make a deal to stand Curlin because of legal questions regarding the minority interest owned by jailed attorneys William Gallion and Shirley Cunningham Jr. Luckily, the horse’s majority owner was Jess Jackson, a man whose finances are such that a decision to return a valuable horse to training is made much easier.

The owner of Kendall-Jackson wineries, Jackson, who will turn 79 in a few weeks, is a billionaire ranked on the Forbes list of The “World’s Richest People.”

Next month, Curlin begins a life of covering mares at Will Farish’s Lane’s End Farm as a horse that won four group/grade I races at 4 and left the racetrack as the all-time leading North American-based runner by earnings. He shipped to Dubai and won the world’s richest race, that country’s World Cup (UAE-I), returned to win his first start back, the Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I), and also scored in the Woodward Stakes (gr. I) and, for the second straight year, the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I).

Yes, some money was left on the table by not retiring Curlin following his 3-year-old season, when he won the Preakness Stakes (gr. I), was beaten a nose in the Belmont (gr. I), and finished his campaign with wins in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and Breeders’ Cup Classic - Powered by Dodge (gr. I). Had Curlin stood last year, his stud fee certainly would have been more than the $75,000 he will command in 2009 in a down economy. The fees for foals that would have been born this year would have generated more than the $5,399,000 he earned on the racetrack last year.

When he picked up his first Horse of the Year title, Curlin became the 12th 3-year-old to be awarded racing’s top prize. When his name was called as Horse of the Year Jan. 26 at the Eclipse Awards ceremony, he became only the second to repeat as a 4-year-old, the other being Affirmed.

Six of the horses named Horse of the Year at age 3 did not race at 4, four of them because of injuries:

• 1982 Horse of the Year Conquistador Cielo was retired following a third-place finish in the Travers Stakes (gr. I). Trainer Woody Stephens said X-rays taken prior to the race showed “fuzz around the sesamoids” in his left fore. The horse had been syndicated for a then-record $910,000 a share.

• 1985 Horse of the Year Spend a Buck was retired in September of his 3-year-old campaign after an injury to his right ankle during a workout in preparation for the Pennsylvania Derby (gr. II). He had won the Monmouth Handicap (gr. I) in mid-August in what would be his final start.

• 1999 Horse of the Year Charismatic suffered a career-ending injury in the Belmont, in which he was trying to complete the Triple Crown. He finished third and was then pulled up by jockey Chris Antley, having fractured a cannon bone.

• 2001 Horse of the Year Point Given was retired in late August of his 3-year-old year because of a strain to a tendon in his left foreleg. The injury was noticed as he returned to the track a few days after winning the Travers.

The two retired following their 3-year-old seasons were Secretariat, the only horse to be Horse of the Year at 2 and 3, and A.P. Indy, whose last start was a win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Those who were Horse of the Year at 3 and raced at 4 but did not repeat were Seattle Slew, Tiznow, Holy Bull, and Sunday Silence.

Affirmed and Curlin pulled it off. Curlin is in good company. So, too, is Affirmed.


Leave a Comment:


Congratulations, beautiful CURLIN!!

You will always be my HOY! During your two years of racing, you gave me so many wonderful and exciting racing days - one of which I drove to Kentucky from Michigan to see in person - The Stephen Foster. I was also lucky enough to get to your retirement tribute on another beautiful day.  And my beautiful photos of you will last me a lifetime!

You not only thrilled me for nearly two years with your brilliance and beauty, but helped me through a difficult time when having your races to look forward to helped me out tremendously - giving me focus.

So, mighty CURLIN, good luck in your new career and thank you for some wonderful memories that will stay with me forever. For me, there will never be another CURLIN!

That's why I named my silver Bengal cat after you; and he bears your name proudly in his own beauty, speed, and grace.

I will visit you at Lane's End some day soon.

Meanwhile, congratulations on having your second, well-deserved HOY award; I'm so happy the voters got it right! You're now among the greats of all time - as I knew all along.

GO CURLIN!!!!!!!!

27 Jan 2009 12:08 PM

I will always be grateful for the chance to see Curlin make his huge move around the far turn in the Woodward at Saratoga. He gobbled up the field like they were horses, and he was something else entirely. Do flames come to life? I will never forget it as long as I live. And I got a shot of him in the winner's circle looking straight into Valhalla.

I am an Evangelist, and hadn't been to a racetrack since Secretariat ran at Saratoga. Too much work to do! <g> But Curlin captured my attention on tv when he made up a lot of ground after a troubled trip in the KY Derby. Ok. Actually, he caught my eye in the post parade that day before I ever saw him run, and has held my rapt attention ever since.

When Curlin's people announced he would run at Saratoga ABSOLUTELY NOTHING was going to keep me away. I even napped in my van and showered at a truck stop on the way there just to be able to make it in time. I was going to breath the same air as the great Curlin!

I will never forget how lightly he breathed after the race. The bodies of the other entries were heaving as they struggled for breath, while Curlin looked like he had simply gone for a good time romp. I predict that they will someday find something anotomically superior about Curlin's air capacity or circulation.

Dare I dream that Zenyatta's people and/or Stardom Bound's people will decide to combine the great kick of those wonderful mares with that of Curlin? But I'm sure that I will enjoy all the little Curlins! E v e r y  l a s t  o n e  o f  t h e m.

Last, but not least, I offer a prayer of deep deep gratitude, and of protection, and the greatest of affection for the flame that came to life.

27 Jan 2009 12:45 PM

Congratulations to Curlin and his connections for getting HOY two years in a row. Even if one of the motives to race him had to do with the legal problems it was all worth it. What a joy it was to watch him race. Such a talented gorgeous horse he is. I'm definitely planning a trip to Lanes End later in the summer or in the fall to see him and the other stallions there.

27 Jan 2009 1:25 PM

I truly believe that Zenyatta should have been voted Horse Of The Year. What a career she has had! She is undefeated. Curlin cannot come close to boasting this. It seems like fillies and mares are providing better track records than males in a lot of instances. Look at Hallowed Dreams - 16 wins in a row. Peppers Pride - 19 wins in a row. And no one can knock Zenyatta's racing record. I don't understand the bias against fillies and mares in the Thoroughbred world. Fillies can and do defeat males as Rags To Riches did Curlin. Yet, she wasn't voted HOY last year. So why aren't males penalized for running solely against males? And the seemingly all important race that determines most Eclipse awards - a Breeder's Cup race - was lost by Curlin. I think the prejudice in horse racing is a big turn off. If a male horse had run and won like Zenyatta, he would have won HOY, hands down. It is way past time to give the fillies and mares credit that they're due. This is a big disappointment.

27 Jan 2009 2:49 PM

I personally am not hailing Curlin as king.  He has been one of the luckiest horses in recent history, this year and last.  Last year he got a Monmouth mud trap which destroyed the fairness of the BC Classic, and what's more, he didn't have to face the previous champ, Invasor.   And, this year his record would be very different if he had faced Street Sense, Hard Spun, Any Given Saturday, and Lawyer Ron-- rather than beating up on Wanderin Boy. Don't try to sell me that snake oil that Curlin ranks amongst the likes of Affirmed, Slew, and Secretariat in a futile attempt to whitewash the ills that currently plague horseracing.  Zenyatta should have won HOY-- she was brilliant.

27 Jan 2009 4:29 PM

Congrats to Camp Curlin on their second HOY award.  It was nice to see a top-caliber horse stay in training.  

To Smarie, there are plenty of biases in this sport--fairly or unfairly.  The Triple Crown almost trumps all.  Boys will usually out over the girls.  Dirt bests turf.   Routers rout sprinters.  I just think those are ingrained into the culture of the sport.

Example A...if a 3YO colt were to win the Woodward, JC Gold Cup and the BC Classic (over what might arguably be the best field ever assembled) in a year without a strong TC class do you think that a filly would beat that colt for HOY?   Well...just put that 3YO colt on the turf and you get Lady's Secret as HOY and Manila an inexcusable 20+ year wait to get in the Hall of Fame.  I would argue that the Turf bias is stronger than the sex bias.

Example B...1993.  I'll never, ever get why Kotashann beat out Lure other than the prejudice towards routers over sprinters/milers.

27 Jan 2009 5:19 PM
Matthew W

I remember when they were loading Alysheba into the gate for The Breeders Cup, they said he'd need to win The Classic or else undefeated Personal Ensign would be named Horse Of The Year....I agreed with forward to 2008, and the same was not true for Curlin.....that tells me two things: 1) synthetic track wins are not counted as much as dirt track wins...2) synthetic track LOSSES are not counted as much as dirt track any rate, racing has lost a bit of integrity in North America when Dubai counts MORE that The Breeders Cup, but that's what the North American writers have decided...of corse if Curlin had WON The Classic there would be no argument, and if it were held on dirt instead of synthetics, he would've only had to defeat Tiago for that....

27 Jan 2009 5:26 PM

I am among those not at all enthralled by Jackson. Curlin is a really good horse-great to some degree. Jackson all but foamed at the mouth demanding horse of the year at times. He made some ridiculous statements last night. Made some good ones too. Those who keep acting like Curlin is the second coming of Secretariat must not have seen the real thing. Of course Curlin was horse of the year once he won that money title and maybe deserved it. Interesting the fans didn't vote him even as second moment of the year. He was 3rd. Curlin--liked you a lot--your fans? Not so much.

27 Jan 2009 5:37 PM

smarie - Male horses do not get penalized because they don't race against males.  There races are "open" meaning any horse can compete in them.  If you want a shot at HOY you better show up in the open races.  Zenyatta was brillant, but giving her HOY would have devalued the accomplishment of the fillies and mares who have raced in open company and earned their awards.  Zenyatta is great but she has nothing on Personal Ensign and even she didn't win HOY.

27 Jan 2009 6:27 PM

Well...I'm happy for Curlin himself.   BUT, not so much for his owner.

A "True" Sportsman would've run him 1 more time after the Breeders Cup.   Whether it was for us fans or even just to help him go out on a winning note.

As for Zenyatta I agree with her being "Champion" and not "HOY".  

I still believe that for a Filly to be named "HOY" she should "HAVE" to at least beat the boys 1 time in a Grade 1 event.   Because after all, the title is called "Horse" Of The Year and not "Filly" Of The Year.  

27 Jan 2009 6:28 PM

Smarie - Males aren't penalized against running solely against males because they don't.  Males run in "open" races.  All races Curlin ran in were open to fillies and mares.  Zenyatta should begin her campaign for HOY in 2009 in the Santa Anita Handicap.  Then, she needs to race outside of CA more than once.

Plus giving a filly or mare HOY when they only face their own sex devalues the accomplishments of the fillies and mares who have faced open company.  Zenyatta is brillant, but she doesn't have anything on Personal Ensign and even Personal Ensigns 13-13 (w/ one or two against open company) didn't get her HOY against the then all-time earnings winner, Alysheba.

Only in a VERY weak year for males, will a filly who doesn't race in open company win HOY a la Azeri.  

27 Jan 2009 6:35 PM

Aye! Sorry for the double post!!!  I thought the first one didn't post (I had to do the old Control Alt Delete deal) and tried to summarize in the second one.  I guess I look the fool now.  I just feel very strongly about the whole facing open company thing.  I also agree with the poster who commented on the turf-dirt bias.  Well said.

27 Jan 2009 7:30 PM
Matthew W

Lawduck you're wrong! Fillies DO NOT need to face/beat males--indeed, there is a strong difference in the two from 7fur thru 1 1/4 mi...Horse Of The Year is NOT, nor has it ever been, for the horse who would win the race--rather it's for the horse that ran the best races---no one was saying Favorite trick, Ladys Secret, Kotashan would've beat them all at 1 1/4 on the dirt---they were HOY because they had the best years! Curlin DID NOT have to win on grass, did he? He wasn't supposed to. Zenyatta did all she was supposed to do, and she did it with style.....The point is this WAS a very weak year for males--you said it! If you trade coasts, have Curlin out West and Zenyatta back East, brother it's no contest, Zenyatta would have been recognized for the great mare she was....

27 Jan 2009 8:18 PM
Julie L.

Those last two lines in your article concerning Affirmed and Curlin were great. I am so pleased that Curlin repeated as Horse of the Year as he rightly deserved it. I don't follow others who say he didn't. Zenyatta is a brilliant filly but let's face facts if she does deserve HOY then being of the weaker sex she is expected to compete one on one with the boys to prove she rightly deserves HOY. I don't feel that it is a put down to mares or females in general (me being one) I am just realistic in the fact that males tend to be stronger and faster than females. So, I believe it's time for Zenyatta, with her being a big girl to boot, to take on the boys. I think that she will be able to handle them just fine and would love to see her in the Santa Anita Handicap. If she does this and wins and she stays in the same form as last year then she should win HOY hands down.

27 Jan 2009 8:25 PM

Congratulations Curlin!!!  There will always be the naysayers, but the overwehlming vote (eclipse voters and the people's vote) says it all.  Curlin was seen, and Curlin got his due.  

27 Jan 2009 10:23 PM

Congratulations to Curlin and his connections for a second HOY. Curlin danced every dance, always showed up, and took on anyone willing to be there against him. And he raced on all types of surfaces, even when things didn't always turn out right. He was willing to give it a go no matter what the surface was.

I don't agree with those who feel a filly or mare needs to beat the males to earn Horse of the Year. The honor is bestowed on the horse who performed the best during the entire year, not who necessarily performed and won in either the BC Classic or against males. Those two accomplishments would certainly be wonderful, but they are not prerequisites.  

Azeri was 2002 HOY and to my understanding, at that point had never faced males.

Best wishes to all the horses and people earning Eclipse Awards last night. You are all true champions.

27 Jan 2009 11:40 PM
Abbie Knowles

Curlin is a marvellous horse but not as good as Cigar, Seattle Slew (how on earth he was not horse of the year in 1978 when he beat Affirmed twice is beyond me!)and Secretariat. He cannot help having owners like his!  

However Curlin is a great champion as is Zenyatta.  Opinions as to who should have won will always differ and there is something special about an unbeaten racehorse! So can sympathize with Zenyatta fans and am a big one myself!  She is terrific!  I love Street Cry and wanted him to win the Dubai World Cup and was so pleased he did. Have followed his career as a stallion with great interest as i do all the Darley stallions!  

Do very much hope that Curlin will make a top stallion and he certainly has both the pedigree and looks to do so and will, i am sure, be given the best possible opportunities seeing as he is at Lane's End.  i follow all their stallions too, especially A P Indy of course!

A great article, many thanks.

God Bless

Best wishes


27 Jan 2009 11:40 PM
The Wizard

Fortunately the turf writers stayed with tradition and rightfully voted Curlin HOTY. Zenyatta had a terrific year, but only in California except for one race, and mostly on the fake surface. And she is after all a filly, who beat only fillies and mares. You got to beat the boys to be HOTY unless there weren't any standout colts and geldings (Azeri).

And if you compare the Beyer Speed ratings for their races in 2008, Curlin's ratings were consistently

higher...he is simply the faster horse.

28 Jan 2009 8:33 AM

It's simple for Zenyatta. Race against top competition on different surfaces. Don't hide on the synthetic surfaces. And she needs to race against open competition. If you want to be HOY, that's what you have to do. It's not a secret. She did what she needed to do to win female honors. But not nearly enough to be HOY. Especially considering the year Curlin had.

28 Jan 2009 9:44 AM

Curlin is a deserving winner.  I was worried they would give it to the synthetic track star, Raven's Pass. Glad they have some common sense. For once, It was nice to see a sound, consistant horse continue on as a 4 year old.  It was also very nice to see a horse's connections NOT AFRAID to take on all comers, regardless of the competition,  conditions, specific track surface, distance, etc...That was nice to see,  also very rare in horse racing. 

28 Jan 2009 10:54 AM

Open Company is open company.  Simple as that.  Show me a graded stake who's conditions says open to colts and geldings only.  NONE. Plenty that say open to fillies and mares only.  Fair enough.  H.O.Y. candidates should be only ones that ran in open company.  Because there is no restrictions. That being said fillies entered in the KY Derby should be held to the same standard.  Their graded qualifying stakes earnings should only come from open company graded stakes. That's why we have the KY Oaks The fillies Derby.

28 Jan 2009 2:47 PM
Driftin Sage

So...Helsbelles...Why wasn't the mudtrap at Monmouth fair? All of the horses had to run in the slop, including Curlin and he won. And as far as him not facing Street Sense, Hard Spun, Any Gvien Saturday, & Lawyer Ron this year (2008)....he beat 'em in 2007.  Where were they in 2008? He is a great horse and deserved the 2nd winning of Horse of the Year! Yes! Go Curlin!

28 Jan 2009 4:11 PM
Abbie Knowles

Curlin was admirable at 4, as were his connections for giving him the chance to race as a mature horse.  Not sure why so many top 3 year olds get packed off to stud so soon these days but hope the trend gets reversed!

Good luck to Zenyatta but Music Note and Cocoa Bech will not be pushovers if they improve as much during the Winter as i hope they will!  She does need to tackle the colts too if she wants to be the best so her connections need to bear that in mind!  

Rags to Riches proved it can be done when stumbling badly at the start of The Belmont and still beating Curlin in that home straight battle of attrition!  She was something else!!!!

Lets see more older horses (as long as they are sound and enjoy racing!) please!!!!!!  Look at Yeats in the UK.  Still winning Ascot Gold Cups!!!  There have been many great older horses in the UK and lets not forget Cigar's winning streak never even started until he was 4!!!!

God Bless

Best wishes


28 Jan 2009 8:55 PM
Matthew W

A horse that passes nine horses in 1/8 of a mile does not look like a horse that didn't handle the track---Curlin looked like a winner around the far turn---then he faded down the stretch....Curlin was given a mulligan for The Classic, and judging from all the people saying Zenyatta's wins were on "fake tracks", I think West Coast horses are in for a tough time in future Eclipse votes....Let's say Ginger Punch BEAT Zenyatta at Oaklawn, then passed on The Cup...would a Zenyatta win in Ladies Classic have won The Eclipse?

29 Jan 2009 4:33 AM
Matthew W

When a "fake track" horse goes East and loses--it's a LOSS.....When a "real track" horse goes West and loses, it's a MULLIGAN!

29 Jan 2009 4:45 AM
Racing Fan1

By creating an all-synthetic circuit, the West Coast has guaranteed itself of minor league status for the foreseeable future.

If I owned a TC nominee I would have to get the horse out of California just to see if he can run on dirt.

If you guys thought the old East Coast bias was bad, this will be much worse!

29 Jan 2009 11:33 AM

I guess it will always come down to whether you believe HOY should come down to who the best horse was or which horse had the best year in its division.  I believe the award should go to the former rather than the later.  I'm not saying that Zenyatta wasn't the best horse.  She might have beat the field in the Classic making this decision a moot point, I think she had a pretty good chance, too, given her proven form over the surface.  But she didn't contest in it and instead beat up on her division, a restricted one at that.  I also don't think Curlin had a "weak" year, the situation was nothing like Azeri's year as far as weakness in the 3-year old or older male divisions.  I also have a big problem with giving HOY to 2-year olds.  I remember when Arazi won the Juvenile and all the talk was of him for HOY.  With the hindsight that would have looked awfully foolish now.  I don't think Favorite Trick deserved it either over Skip Away.  

29 Jan 2009 9:05 PM

I agree with the comments, too, that the coast biases will only get more pronounced now.  I don't pretend to know all about synthetics tracks but to me they resemble grass more than dirt.  I personally will be sad if we lose dirt racing.  I'm not a fan of the turf race thing of slow pace and then mad rush at the end.  I'm not even sure why but I like to see a horse hand on to the lead or maybe I just like the POSSIBILITY of different pace scenarios, which doesn't seem to happen as much with dirt.  But this column isn't about synthetics.  Oops.

29 Jan 2009 9:09 PM
Matthew W

Lawduck why would a Zenyatta win over Curlin in The Classic have rendered the Eclipse a "moot point"? She still would not have beaten him on dirt? It's as if the West Coast abruptly went over to synthetics and so now the East coast has abruptly decided it'e the minor leagues---minor league horses? You said yourself she might have been the bettor horse...didn't she run better than Curlin in The Cup? Whatever happened to handicapping them anyway! You said if she beats Curlin in Cup she wins! She ran lights out and he did not---right?  

30 Jan 2009 6:49 AM
John C

Smarie wrote- "And, this year his record would be very different if he had faced Street Sense, Hard Spun, Any Given Saturday, and Lawyer Ron-- rather than beating up on Wanderin Boy"

Are you kidding me? Didn't Curlin face all those horses last year and beat them all? Did you ever see him run in person? I certainly did and he was in a different class than all of those other very good horses you mention. What makes you think he could not beat them again a 4 when he did so at 3. Your comments make absolutely no sense.  Curlin deserved to be HOTY, no question about it...

30 Jan 2009 6:04 PM
Brian A.

Go Curlin!!  I'm so happy that he is now in the elite company of the greats!  But hey, why not try for three in-a-row now! (-:

30 Jan 2009 9:21 PM

As someone who is thrilled!!!! that Curlin got HOY, some of the talk about Zenyatta I find disturbing.  Her owners were rightly reluctant to put her in races with the boys after Eight Belles death.  And, if the filly and mare races were given the credit they truly are due, with purses that matched the boys, there would be a lot more recognition given to them for their accomplishments. I do not think that a filly has to beat the boys to win HOY, nor do I think they should have to.  There are plenty of tough venues to prove themselves and ore often than not, their times and distances are equal to those of the colts. Fillies and mares have become a huge part of racing...most performing equally, and often better than the males.  When the sport starts acknowledging how much the fillies and mares really bring to it, I hope to see the purses increase appropriately and the respect for them to adjust equally appropriately.  There are subtle things that take away from the overall impression of the fillies and mares.  One change I’d like to see is how the schedule is set for the Breeders Cup.  Put the juveniles on Friday with fewer viewers, and run the 3+ year old males and females on the Saturday card so they get equal attention.  There are many other things we can do to elevate the deserved respect for the filly and mare, but it’s this overall attitude that they can’t do as good as the boys, and thus are less, that bothers me.  It seems so archaic.  I was stunned when the Shah?? who owns Goldikova stood up in the winners circle at the BC and could only show regret that she is a filly…not a colt.  Goldikova’s race was the one race that literally dropped my jaw, and I would have thought everyone involved with her would have been thrilled.  I hope the day comes when it’s not unusual at all for the boys and girls to race together, but until then, I hope we don’t continue to wear blinders as to what they really bring and what they are actually accomplishing.

31 Jan 2009 2:31 PM

I didn't realize Curlin was only the second horse to receive the HOTY Eclipse at age 3 and 4.

And I didn't think he could impress me any further. God, I love that horse.

02 Feb 2009 11:36 AM

I doubt you love him as much as I do, Jamie! :-)

CURLIN is my dream horse and always will be after doing so much for me personally in a difficult year.  And what a feat for him to get two HOY's in a row! Wow! He truly deserves it. He's OUR mighty, beautiful, magnificent CURLIN.  I feel so lucky to have seen him twice in person and gotten great pictures og him. He's like a golden, coppery red marvel. I just managed to get a car that color! :-) And the licence plate? Well, "CURLIN", of course! And then, there's my Bengal cat "Curlin" as well! I'm not CURLIN obsessed or anything!

Thank you, Big boy - my beautiful CURLIN,for all you gave me - one way of the other!

Have fun and stay healthy!

GO CURLIN!!!!!!!

17 Feb 2009 12:01 PM

great comments above!!...i am a big fan of Curlin too, sad to say hes not racing anymore but hey, hes done his job already and made some big bucks. Give other horses a turn now huh? I wasn't shocked when he won the two HOY'S in a row, i knew he could do it! Thats my boy! Also very unexpected i noticed every time he raced was, he went out there with confidence i never saw in horse racing! Thats says it for itself, when you have confidence and positive thinking, you have a better chance of winning because you work harder. Now theres little Curlins coming, i am so excited to see curlin's baby horses run, and theres no doubt in mind that they will not be as good as Curlin was. Hes a true champ, and so will his babys.

-im proud of you, curlin!

06 Mar 2009 7:41 PM

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