The whole idea of the Breeders' Cup is to decide championships on the racetrack, and that's certainly what happened in 2007 when Monmouth Park in New Jersey played host for the first and only time – particularly in the biggest race of them all, the Grade 1 Classic.
Street Sense, who six months earlier became the first winner of the G1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile to also win the G1 Kentucky Derby, was the 5-2 favorite. Co-second choices at 7-2 were Any Given Saturday, winner at Monmouth of the G1 Haskell Invitational, and Lawyer Ron, the best older horse in the field who had won the G1 double of the Whitney and Woodward at Saratoga. Derby runner-up Hard Spun, who in mid-summer took the G1 King's Bishop at Saratoga, added a top-class front-runner to the field.
In the end, it was Curlin who crushed them all, the strapping son of Smart Strike splashing over a sloppy track to a convincing 4 ½-length victory under Robby Albarado. The 2007 Classic was not only a denouement to Horse of the Year honors for the G1 Preakness and G1 Jockey Club Gold Cup winner, it has stood the test of time as the best performance in the history of the Breeders' Cup's marquee event as measured by BRIS Speed Ratings.
The teletimer showed 2:00.59 as the final time for the mile and a quarter Classic, but the BRIS Speed Rating of 121 is the highest in the Classic – or any Breeders' Cup dirt race – since Bloodstock Research Information Services began compiling BRIS Speed Ratings in 1990. The BRIS Speed Ratings assess efforts objectively using a precise algorithm to assign a number to each runner's effort based on rigid criteria, largely removed from human interpretation.
To put Curlin's 121 BRIS Speed Rating in perspective, the typical winner of a Grade 1 race for 3-year-old males and up would earn a number around 106. The typical winner of a $10,000 open claimer in that age bracket might earn an 88, while a typical $10,000 maiden claiming winner might earn a 75.
Breeders' Cup Classic
Top Performer: Curlin, 2007, Monmouth Park
BRIS Speed Rating: 121
Curlin had the racing world buzzing after his career debut at Gulfstream Park earlier in the year when he won a seven-furlong maiden race on Feb. 3 by 12 ¾ lengths for the Midnight Cry Stable and trainer Helen Pitts. Trainer Ken McPeek had purchased the colt for $57,000 from the Keeneland September Yearling Sale from Eaton Sales, agent for breeder Fares Farm.
When Curlin made his next start in the G2 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park, majority interest had been sold and he was racing for a new partnership of Stonestreet Stables, Padua Stables, George Bolton and Midnight Cry and was in the care of Steve Asmussen. The chestnut colt won the Rebel by 4 ½ lengths and G2 Arkansas Derby by 10 ½ lengths and came into the Kentucky Derby as the 5-1 second choice behind Street Sense, who was the tepid 9-2 favorite.
The Derby and its big field proved to be a tough task for the late-running Curlin, who had trouble early while far back and rallied wide to get third behind Street Sense. He returned two weeks later to edge Street Sense by a head in the Preakness and then was narrowly defeated by the top filly Rags to Riches in the G1 Belmont.
After a short break, Curlin finished third behind Any Given Saturday and Hard Spun in the Haskell in early August, then defeated Lawyer Ron by a neck in his first try against older horses in the Sept. 30 Jockey Club Gold Cup.
Monmouth Park had been pelted with rain in the hours before the Classic and the track was a muddy mess when the field of nine entered the starting gate. The two main track Breeders' Cup races for 2-year-olds (Juvenile and Juvenile Fillies) were won wire to wire, but the Sprint and Distaff saw the winners come from off the pace, so it was unclear if there was any type of bias.
Hard Spun set a quick, uncontested pace through the first mile (:23.11, :45.85, 1:10.67 and 1:35.86) while Curlin and Street Sense raced as a team in fifth and sixth down the backstretch and then moved into contention nearing the turn for home. The trio of 3-year-olds separated themselves from the field at the top of the stretch, Hard Spun clinging to a lead with Street Sense along the rail and Curlin posing a menacing threat on the outside.
In a flash, it was over. Curlin pulled away from Hard Spun with powerful strides while Street Sense struggled to keep up, losing the show spot to late-running Awesome Gem.
The win made Curlin 3-year-old champion and Horse of the Year in a runaway vote. The big chestnut would repeat as Horse of the Year in 2008 though he came up short in the Classic won by longshot European runner Raven's Pass on the all-weather synthetic track then installed at Santa Anita.
Top Five Winning Breeders' Cup Classic BRIS Speed Ratings:
1) Curlin, 2007, MTH, Speed Rating: 121
2) Saint Liam, 2005, BEL, Speed Rating: 119
3 – tie) Pleasantly Perfect, 2003, SA, Speed Rating: 117
3 – tie) Cigar, 1995, BEL, Speed Rating: 117
3 – tie) Unbridled, 1990, BEL, Speed Rating: 117
Breeders' Cup Sprint
Top Performer: Cajun Beat, 2003, Santa Anita Park
BRIS Speed Rating: 116
Unlike the 2007 Classic, the 2003 Breeders' Cup Sprint at Santa Anita only muddied the waters in the Eclipse Awards for outstanding sprinter. The 2-1 favorite in the race, Aldebaran, trained by Robert Frankel, simply didn't show up that day, finishing fifth after a seven race campaign featuring G1 victories in the San Carlos Handicap at Santa Anita, the Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park and the Forego Handicap at Saratoga. He also had won the G2 Churchill Downs Handicap and G2 Tom Fool Handicap.
Cajun Beat, on the other hand, had just won graded stakes victory to his name, that coming at Turfway Park in the G3 Kentucky Cup Sprint Stakes on Sept. 13. The Grand Slam gelding, racing for Padua Stables and John and Joseph Iracane and trained by Steve Margolis, was a 22-1 outsider when the field of 13 broke from the gate in the Breeders' Cup Sprint.
Under jockey Cornelio Velasquez, Cajun Beat sat just off the pace through an opening quarter mile in a blazing :21.02, then held a narrow advantage through a half in an amazingly fast :43.32. He opened a clear lead at the top of the stretch, clicking off five furlongs in :55.07, then drew away to a 2 1/4-length victory in 1:07.95 for the six furlongs. It would be Cajun Beat's only G1 victory and was not enough to convince Eclipse Award voters, who bestowed outstanding sprinter honors to Aldebaran.
The 2003 Breeders' Cup Sprint truly was the performance of a lifetime for Cajun Beat, who managed to add two additional G3 races to his resume in 2004. He bid for a repeat in that year's Breeders' Cup Sprint at Lone Star Park but finished fifth behind Speightstown at 14-1.
Top Five Winning Breeders' Cup Sprint BRIS Speed Ratings:
1) Cajun Beat, 2003, SA, Speed Rating: 116
2) Orientate, 2002, AP, Speed Rating:115
3) Safely Kept, 1990, BEL, Speed Rating: 114
4 – tie) Sheikh Albadou, 1991, CD, Speed Rating: 113
4 – tie) Thor's Echo, 2006, CD, Speed Rating: 113
4 – tie) Roy H, 2017, DMR, Speed Rating: 113
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