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NTRA Thoroughbred Notebook

News and notes from around the Thoroughbred racing world, compiled by NTRA Communications.

Through history, the Thoroughbreds who became North America’s leading money-earner rank amongst the greatest racehorses of all time, from Man o’War to Seabiscuit, Citation to Kelso, Alysheba to Cigar. Saturday at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y., reigning Horse of the Year Curlin seeks to put his name atop that exclusive list and become North America’s first $10 million horse in the 90th running of the Grade 1, $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup Invitational.

The Jockey Club Gold Cup will be televised live by ESPNEWS and can also be seen live on TVG and HRTV with a scheduled post time of 4:52 p.m. Also Saturday are the $600,000 Beldame for fillies and mares (2:40 p.m.), the $600,000 Flower Bowl Invitational for fillies and mares on the turf (3:13 p.m.), the $400,000 Vosburgh at six furlongs (3:46 p.m.), and the $600,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational (4:19 p.m.).

The winner’s purse in the Jockey Club Gold Cup is worth $450,000, and should Curlin, who won the Gold Cup last year, score a repeat victory, he would add to his current earnings total of $9,796,800 and surpass the great Cigar ($9,999,815) as the richest North American-based racehorse ever. Cigar’s record has stood for 12 years, second only to Kelso’s ($1,977,896), which endured for 15 years before being broken by Affirmed ($2,393,818).

“It’s so exciting to think he might break the record,” said owner Jess Jackson of Curlin, who has won four of five starts this year including Grade I wins in the Dubai World Cup, the Stephen Foster, and the Woodward. “But first, he’s got to win.”

Curlin, who will break from post five, will go off as a heavy favorite against the eight others who were entered in the 1¼-mile race.

“It’s not about the money, it’s about his place in history,” said Jackson, noting that Skip Away (1996-97) was the last horse to repeat in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. “I think Curlin has already proven he’s one of the best, and I think one of the best in the last half-century, if not the century. That’s just an owner’s selfish view of the horse he loves, but that’s the way I feel. It’s an honor just to be included with horses like Cigar.”

The complete Jockey Club Gold Cup Invitational field, in post position order, is: Ravel (jockey: Rafael Bejarano, morning line odds: 30-1); Merchant Marine (Cornelio Velasquez, 12-1); Timber Reserve (Kent Desormeaux, 12-1); Wanderin Boy (Alan Garcia 10-1); Curlin (Robby Albarado, 3-5); Angliana (Rajiv Maragh, 30-1); A.P. Arrow (Ramon Dominguez, 20-1); Stones River (Gabriel Saez, 20-1); and Mambo in Seattle (Edgar Prado, 7-2).

Zenyatta, racing’s paragon of perfection, and stablemate Tiago, defending champion in the $500,000 Goodwood Stakes, will be major players at Santa Anita in Arcadia, Calif., on Saturday when the Oak Tree Racing Association presents an unprecedented six Grade I stakes races, each with Breeders’ Cup World Championship implications.

Unbeaten Zenyatta, the 4-year-old filly who has towered over her opposition in seven starts, will be a solid choice in the $250,000 Lady’s Secret Stakes at 1 1/16 miles, but could get her sternest test yet when facing Hystericalady, winner of three consecutive Grade II stakes by a combined 19½ lengths.

Tiago will defend his title against 10 rivals in a wide-open Goodwood with the mile-and-one-eighth event to serve as a final prep for the $5-million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita on Oct. 25, climaxing an expanded Breeders’ Cup program featuring 14 championship races over two days.

A top-notch field of 10 entered the $400,000 Yellow Ribbon Stakes for fillies and mares at 1 ¼ miles on turf with trainer Todd Pletcher’s Wait a While the one to beat. The 5-year-old gray mare won the Yellow Ribbon by 4 ½ lengths two years ago and is two-for-two over the Santa Anita turf.

The $250,000 Clement L. Hirsch Turf Championship at 1 ¼ miles features Spring House, also two-for-two over the local grass, and an odds-on winner of the Del Mar Handicap in his last start.

The $250,000 Ancient Title Stakes at six furlongs, a prep for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, has attracted such crack sprinters as Idiot Proof, who took the 2007 Ancient Title, and Street Boss. The latter has won his last five starts including Hollywood Park’s Triple Bend Handicap and Del Mar’s Bing Crosby Handicap, both Grade I races, in his last two.

Stardom Bound, a dazzling 4 ½-length winner of the Grade I Del Mar Debutante in her last start, will be the center of attention in the $250,000 Oak Leaf Stakes for 2-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles.

First post for the unique 11-race program billed as Breeders’ Cup Challenge Day is at 2:30 p.m. Excepting the Clement L. Hirsch Turf Championship, winners of the Grade I stakes will be assured a starting spot in their respective Breeders’ Cup events under the event’s “Win and You’re In” program. The Breeders’ Cup will take place at Oak Tree at Santa Anita this year on October 24-25.

Multimillionaire Perfect Drift will return to Turfway Park one more time for congratulations and honors as he begins his retirement. A special celebration and ceremony is planned for Saturday, September 27, as part of festivities surrounding the Florence, Ky., track’s Kentucky Cup Day of Champions.

Now nine years old, Perfect Drift was retired earlier this year after racing at the sport’s highest levels during his eight-year career. From 50 career starts he posted 11 wins, 14 seconds, and seven thirds and collected $4,714,213 in earnings. He won seven graded stakes and was graded stakes-placed in 14 others. He also competed in five consecutive renewals of the Breeders’ Cup Classic, finishing third in 2005.

Perfect Drift was bred and campaigned throughout his career by Stonecrest Farm, the Kansas City, Mo., breeding and racing operation of Dr. William A. Reed, a cardiovascular surgeon who now chairs the Department of Cardiovascular Diseases at Kansas University Hospital in Kansas City, Ks.

“The whole family has enjoyed a wonderful experience with Perfect Drift for the past nine years,” said Dr. Reed, who will be on hand for the ceremony. “‘Drift’ was foaled in Kentucky but grew up here on our farm. This is just a new time in his life.”

Saturday will be a homecoming of sorts for the bay gelding, who broke his maiden at Turfway and also won the Lane’s End Spiral and Kentucky Cup Classic there. “He established his reputation and fan base at Turfway Park,” said Reed, “so it seemed appropriate that he would return to his racing home for his retirement.”

Perfect Drift will be led to the paddock by his longtime groom, Richard Anderson, and exercise rider, Mike Bowlds. After a brief presentation, Murray Johnson, who trained Perfect Drift for all but his last four races, will saddle Perfect Drift to lead this year’s Kentucky Cup Classic field onto the track.

Among those Perfect Drift will escort prior to Grade II, $350,000 race is possible favorite Honest Man, who was an impressive winner of the Iselin Handicap at Monmouth Park last time out. The main question for the Larry Jones trainee surrounds Turfway’s Polytrack racing strip, because Honest Man has never raced over a synthetic surface.

“Honest Man has done very well training on the Tapeta [synthetic surface at Fair Hill], and when I galloped on this track today, it’s very similar, so I expect him to run well,” said Jones.
The Kentucky Cup Classic is the last of five stakes races that make up this year’s 15th annual Kentucky Cup Day of Champions. The Saturday Turfway card also features the Grade III Kentucky Cup Distaff at 1 1/16 miles, the Grade III Kentucky Cup Juvenile at 1 1/16 miles, the Grade III Kentucky Cup Sprint at 6 furlongs, and the Kentucky Cup Juvenile Fillies at one mile. This year marks the 15th renewal of the Kentucky Cup Day of Champions. The stakes series begins with Race 6 on the 12-race card.