Curlin, above, looking like Bo Derek in "Ten."
The two main contenders for 2008 Horse of the Year are last year's defending champion, Curlin, and the moderately disgraced Big Brown, who looked good on the comeback trail while running down a loose-on-the-lead type in the Haskell at Monmouth on August 3rd. Everyone is hoping that the Eclipse honors will be settled on the track in the Breeder's Cup Classic at Santa Anita, but that race is very much up in the air. Curlin's connections don't seem to be in a big hurry to go to California in October, putatively because of the controversial polytrack. Jess Jackson, Curlin's majority owner, is planning to run his horse at the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont on Sept. 27th (guess where I'll be that day), and in the Japan Cup on December 7th (Pearl Harbor Day - who's idea was this?). These could be Curlin's last two races before becoming a big old stud.
The intrigue about a race between the country's best three-year-old and four-year-old has been heating up all summer, culminating with Richard Dutrow and the Big Brown camp challenging Curlin's connections to a match race at Churchill Downs to take place in late November (which is a horrible idea - think about poor Ruffian). Curlin's people declined, because they're planning for the champ to be in Tokyo, but responded by offering to donate $50,000 to Anna House, a daycare center for backstretch workers at Belmont, if BB would come to the Woodward at Saratoga. Big Brown's team declined because, in what seems an odd decision, they're planning to run their horse on the grass at the Monmouth Stakes on Sept. 13. The timing of the turf race would also seem to necessarily rule out the two tough guys meeting up at Belmont just two weeks later for the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Oh, well.
There's another reason I'd like to see Big Brown and Curlin in the Breeder's Cup Classic: they both might lose. Ladbrokes, the UK's largest (legal) bookie, currently has the 3-1 favorite listed as Henrythenavigator, Europe's champion miler, with Curlin at 4-1 and Big Brown at 8-1. I think I still like Curlin to win, but getting BB at 8-1 seems like a sale price that even Walmart couldn't beat.