Racing’s Nice Rivalries: Curlin, Laborious Spun, and Road Sense

Curlin would have been a fantastic star no matter when he was born.

He was that good.

Stonestreet Stables’ son of Good Strike was a two-time Horse of the 12 months who retired as North America’s all-time main earner and later was voted into the Corridor of Fame. He received the Preakness, in simply his fifth profession begin, then added victories within the Breeders’ Cup Basic and Dubai World Cup and received the Jockey Membership Gold Cup twice.

He was a champion who dominated the game  … apart from these spring days in 2007 when he confronted two fellow members of his 3-year-old crop, Road Sense and Laborious Spun.

For a lot of that 12 months, the distinction between Curlin, Road Sense, and Laborious Spun was paper skinny as they engaged in a collection of memorable clashes and proved themselves to be nearly as good of a trio of 3-year-olds as the game has ever seen.

“It was a troublesome 12 months for the opposite 3-year-olds,” mentioned Larry Jones, who skilled Laborious Spun, in 2017. “Again then in 2007 they had been saying Laborious Spun, Road Sense, and Curlin had been nearly as good of a gaggle of 3-year-olds since 1957 when there was Daring Ruler, Spherical Desk, and Gallant Man. All three of them turned out to be good sires and they’re nonetheless profitable at stud. It’s good to know that 10 years later everybody nonetheless holds that class in such a excessive regard.

“It was an incredible crop and I haven’t seen that form of depth since then. There have been some nice horses, however not as many as there have been in 2007. I do know if Laborious Spun had been born a 12 months later, he would have been a Triple Crown winner. Huge Brown would have wished no a part of Laborious Spun.”

Curlin was ultimately topped champion 3-year-old male and Horse of the 12 months in 2007, but it surely was a wild heavyweight title combat that was not determined till the final spherical and sparked intense debate for a lot of the 12 months about whom was the very best of the massive three.

The soldiers had been:

  • Curlin, a winner of six of 9 begins in 2007 who closed out his profession with 11 wins in 16 races and earnings of $10,501,800, skilled by Steve Asmussen.
  • Road Sense, the 2-year-old champion and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner of 2006, victor within the Kentucky Derby and Travers Stakes, and crushed by a head within the Preakness, skilled by Carl Nafzger.
  • Laborious Spun, winner of the King’s Bishop, Kentucky Cup Basic, Lane’s Finish, and Lecomte Stakes at 3 and second within the Kentucky Derby, Haskell Invitational, and Breeders’ Cup Basic, skilled by Jones.

Road Sense and Laborious Spun had been retired after the 2007 Breeders’ Cup Basic, but the reminiscence of the trio’s six conferences – three involving all three of them –  at 3 guarantees to stay on for years to return.

“They had been three of the very best colts that ever competed towards one another within the Triple Crown. They confirmed up each time for each race and took turns profitable and ending second,” mentioned Barbara Banke, whose late husband, Jess Jackson, owned Curlin. “It was actually fabulous. I get pleasure from these reminiscences.”

As fierce because the rivalry might have been on the racetrack, there was nothing however respect and admiration among the many connections as their horses battled within the 12 months’s most necessary races.

Jones mentioned his mom referred to as Nafzger “her favourite coach” and Asmussen mentioned if there was every other horse he would have preferred to coach that 12 months it was Laborious Spun.

“I had nothing however respect for Carl and Larry and their horses,” Asmussen mentioned. “Hats off to all of them.”

The primary time the three rivals squared off got here on a becoming stage.

It was the primary Saturday in Could after they performed the main roles within the Kentucky Derby.

Proprietor Jim Tafel’s Road Sense was the favourite at odds of 4.90-to-1 that day at Churchill Downs, however there was some apprehension after he completed second on an artificial floor within the Blue Grass.

But that loss didn’t sway the boldness of Nafzger, who skilled Road Sense.

“We thought our horse was prepared,” mentioned Nafzger, who had received the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs a 12 months earlier together with his Derby favourite. “We thought we might win the race, if we bought the journey.”

Curlin, skilled by Steve Asmussen, was the second alternative by a miniscule margin, going off at 5-1. He got here into the Derby with an ideal 3-for-3 file, having received the Arkansas Derby by 10 ½ lengths and Insurgent Stakes previous to that.

Laborious Spun, owned by Rick Porter’s Fox Hill Farm, was the fourth alternative at 10-1. He lacked a Grade 1 win and turned in his closing Derby prep when he captured the Grade 2 Lane’s Finish Stakes on an artificial floor at Turfway Park.

“We needed to settle for that Road Sense and Curlin had been the favorites over us,” Jones mentioned. “I noticed Curlin break his maiden and I used to be in awe. Road Sense was the 2-year-old champion, so we had been simply hoping that the development we noticed in our horse would proceed.”

When the beginning gates opened, jockey Mario Pino wasted no time in taking Laborious Spun to the entrance because the Pennsylvania-bred son of Danzig carved out fast early fractions of twenty-two.96 and 46.26 seconds with longshots Cowtown Cat, Teuflesberg, and Stormello in closest pursuit.

In the meantime, Road Sense and Curlin had been lingering behind the 20-horse area. After being steadied early, Curlin was 13th after the opening half-mile, whereas Borel guided Road Sense from publish seven to the rail shortly after the break and was content material to maintain the Eclipse Award winner in 19th in the course of the early phases.

On the flip, Laborious Spun drew clear and opened a three-length lead on the quarter pole that had Jones believing one thing magical was about to occur.

“When Laborious Spun sprinted away within the lane, I mentioned ‘Oh my gosh.’ I bought weak-kneed,” Jones mentioned.

But as robust as Laborious Spun regarded on the lead, alongside the rail Road Sense was rolling at a excessive pace, gaining floor with each stride.

Approaching the eighth pole, Road Sense collared Laborious Spun after which drew clear to a 2 ¼-length victory.

Properly behind them, Curlin discovered his finest stride too late and rallied to seize third, 5 ¾ lengths behind Laborious Spun.

“Calvin bought the right journey that we dreamed about,” mentioned Nafzger, who notched his second Kentucky Derby victory, following Unbridled’s 1990 triumph.

Two weeks later, the trio moved on to the Preakness at Pimlico, the place Road Sense was a heavy 6-5 favourite to maintain his Triple Crown hopes alive.

Surprisingly, Laborious Spun broke slowly and didn’t seize the early lead, stalking Xchanger and Flying First Class from third. Curlin and Road Sense had been as soon as once more on the again, trailing by 13 and 15 lengths, respectively, after the opening half-mile.

Approaching the ultimate flip, Pino made his transfer aboard Laborious Spun and grabbed a two-length lead after six furlongs in a swift 1:09.80.

On the flip, Curlin launched a robust, huge transfer that carried him into third behind Laborious Spun and CP West on the prime of the stretch. But behind him, Road Sense was within the midst of much more highly effective transfer. Coming off the rail, the Derby winner surged by a gap between the three horses in entrance of him and shortly spurted away to a size and a half lead on the eighth pole.

A Triple Crown bid within the Belmont Stakes appeared assured, however then one thing that ignites the eagerness in followers of horse racing occurred. What occurred remains to be debated to this present day. Did the center in Curlin take over? Did Road Sense pull himself up after reaching the lead? Did Borel turn into overconfident? Was it a mixture of all three?

Regardless of the motive, beneath urging from jockey Robby Albarado, Curlin chewed into Road Sense’s lead within the closing sixteenth of a mile, making a pulsating stretch duel that was captured completely by the animated name from NBC announcer Tom Durkin.

“Laborious Spun attempting to intestine it out. Right here comes Road Sense into the breach and on by to the lead. And Curlin’s to his exterior. Road Sense in entrance on the eighth pole. Curlin giving his all a size and a half behind … Coming to the end, Road Sense. Right here comes Curlin. Curlin surging. Road Sense in deep water. Too near name! Too near name!”

On the wire, Curlin poked his head in entrance because the end line arrived a number of yards too late for Road Sense.

Laborious Spun was one other 4 lengths again in third.

 “Curlin was such a robust horse. I can’t evaluate him to every other horse I’ve been round, particularly with reference to how he got here out of races,” Asmussen mentioned. “That made me assured heading into the Preakness off the 2 weeks relaxation, and his skill to cowl the mile and three-sixteenths in 1:53.46 and battle again within the stretch like he did exhibits how gifted he was.”

Years later, Nafzger nonetheless laments a missed alternative to chase a Triple Crown sweep.

“We made our transfer and shot to the lead and I believed it was throughout,” Nafzger mentioned. “However in the event you regarded on the Breeders’ Futurity (at 2) when he bought to the lead, he began messing round. He wouldn’t give up, however he misplaced that momentum, that push. I didn’t count on Curlin to make that run, however he got here flying. They figured him out for the Preakness and he wasn’t a straightforward one to determine. It was an excellent journey by Calvin, however we moved too fast.”

With a Triple Crown bid derailed, Nafzger and Tafel determined to skip the Belmont and goal the Travers at Saratoga as Road Sense’s predominant summer season goal.

“Mr. Tafel preferred the Travers and it was all the time my favourite race, so we decided to go there. We had nothing to achieve by going to the Belmont. One thing to lose, however nothing to achieve,” Nafzger mentioned.

Curlin and Laborious Spun moved on to Belmont Park for the 1 1/2-mile “Take a look at of the Champion,” however with solely two-thirds of the massive three available, coach Todd Pletcher took a big gamble and entered Kentucky Oaks winner Rags to Riches within the Belmont.

The choice paid off fairly handsomely for Pletcher.

Curlin was despatched off because the 6-5 favourite within the Belmont, with Rags to Riches the 4-1 second alternative. Laborious Spun, the 9-2 third alternative, had a brand new rider within the Belmont as Jones opted for Garrett Gomez rather than Pino.

Jones mentioned he instructed Gomez to place Laborious Spun on the lead, however, very like Preakness, Laborious Spun was reserved in third within the early phases, this time racing huge by six furlongs in a dawdling 1:15 1/5, and finally got here up empty within the stretch.

That turned the Belmont into an elongated dash to the wire, which by which Rags to Riches had a tactical edge on the skin. Curlin was caught inside the front-running C P West for some time, however on the five-sixteenths pole he shot by a seam to problem Rags to Riches who had swept to a brief lead.

The 2 dueled by Belmont’s stretch and the filly by no means let Curlin get forward of her. Although Curlin as soon as once more confirmed his grit within the closing yards, Rags to Riches held on to the lead, prevailing by a head as Durkin proclaimed “It’s going to be a filly within the Belmont!”

Rags to Riches was the primary filly to seize the Belmont since Tanya in 1905 and gave Pletcher his first Triple Crown win.

Laborious Spun wound up fourth.

“Nothing in that Belmont made sense to us,” Jones mentioned.

Whereas Road Sense used the time away from his Triple Crown foes to win the Jim Dandy after which the Travers, Curlin and Laborious Spun tackled one another once more within the $1 million Haskell at Monmouth Park.

The followers once more backed Curlin and despatched him off as a 4-5 favourite, and Laborious Spun, reunited with Pino, was the 9-2 third-choice.

But it surely was the 9-5 second alternative Any Given Saturday, winner of the Grade 2 Dwyer and eighth within the Kentucky Derby, who capitalized on a day when neither of the Triple Crown protagonists turned of their finest race.  Ridden by Gomez, Any Given Saturday pulled away within the stretch to file a 4 ½-length victory for Pletcher.

Laborious Spun edged Curlin for the place spot by a head, within the course of changing into the primary – and finally solely – horse to complete forward of Curlin twice.

After the Haskell, Curlin was rested for a fall marketing campaign however Jones seized a chance to get his horse a coveted Grade 1 win. He entered Laborious Spun on Travers Day at Saratoga, however not within the “Mid-Summer time Derby.” As an alternative the Fox Hill Farms colt ran within the Grade 1 King’s Bishop (which has been re-named the H. Allen Jerkens Stakes) and registered a size and a half victory to additional illustrate the category and high quality of the massive three.

“We wished a Grade 1 win and I instructed Rick if we don’t have face Road Sense or Curlin, we’ll win a Grade 1,” Jones mentioned. “So we went for the King’s Bishop. Everybody mentioned he couldn’t flip again to seven furlongs, but it surely was no subject. He was rolling within the King’s Bishop.”

As spectacular as victories within the King’s Bishop and Travers had been for the resumes of the massive three, it was taken to a fair increased degree in the course of the closing weekend of September.

Road Sense and Laborious Spun met in a uncommon non-Triple Crown assembly of the highest two finishers within the Kentucky Derby after they confronted off within the Grade 2 Kentucky Cup Basic at Turfway Park. Contested on an artificial floor, Laborious Spun led at every name and cruised to a 1 ¼-length win over Road Sense.

The subsequent day, although, Curlin carried the banner for the 3-year-old crop towards older horses within the Grade 1, $750,000 Jockey Membership Gold Cup at Belmont Park and turned the steadiness of energy in favor of the sophomores.

Lawyer Ron, coming off back-to-back wins within the Whitney and Woodward by a mixed 13 lengths, was the robust 3-5 favourite, whereas Curlin was the 2-1 second alternative. The betting public had the 2 finest horses within the area scoped out, however not the winner.

Between the Haskell and Gold Cup, Curlin lastly got here of age. In one in every of his finest performances, Curlin dueled with Lawyer Ron within the closing furlong and notched a neck victory within the sharp time of two:01.20 for the mile and 1 / 4.

“The Gold Cup was the fruits of the upward trajectory he was on,” Asmussen mentioned. “This was a horse that had began his profession in February of that 12 months and the Gold Cup took him to the subsequent degree. It proved how way more horse he grew to become with time by the tip of 2007.”

Afterward, the Breeders’ Cup Basic was painted because the race that might resolve Horse of the 12 months. A victory appeared to be sufficient to sway the vote within the course of Curlin, Road Sense, or Laborious Spun, and Lawyer Ron and Any Given Saturday had been within the combine as nicely.

Every of the massive three skilled sharply for his or her closing showdown.

“I didn’t suppose Road Sense would get beat within the Breeders’ Cup,” Nafzger mentioned.

There appeared to be no excuses, till Mom Nature joined the fray.

The 2 days the Breeders’ Cup spent at Monmouth Park had been marked by rain, rain and extra rain. Although the solar broke by the clouds in the course of the operating of the Basic, the harm to the observe had been achieved. It was a sloppy sea of goo that appeared destined to have a significant say on the end result.

Again on filth, Road Sense was the 5-2 favourite. Any Given Saturday and Lawyer Ron had been 7-2, with Curlin 4-1 and Laborious Spun an missed 8-1.

Pino took Laborious Spun proper to the entrance, opening a transparent lead on the backstretch. On the flip, Road Sense and Curlin took runs at Laborious Spun, setting the stage for what loomed an epic stretch duel, however solely one in every of them was in a position to preserve his momentum.

“If you run within the mud, you by no means know what is going to occur,” Nafzger mentioned. “We began our transfer, however by the quarter pole we had been going nowhere. We had a fantastic run with Road Sense and it might have been nice to exit with a win within the Basic, however what are you able to do? That’s horse racing.”

As Road Sense remained in impartial, Curlin surged at Laborious Spun, catching him earlier than the eighth pole and pulling away to a decisive 4 ½-length victory that made Eclipse Award voting educational and gave him two wins within the three conferences of the massive three.

“I couldn’t have been extra assured going into the Basic,” Asmussen mentioned. “I don’t suppose there was any query about how good he had turn into at that time.”

Laborious Spun held on for second, 4 ¾ lengths forward of Superior Gem. Road Sense settled for fourth.

The next 12 months Laborious Spun and Road Sense headed to stud; Road Sense with six wins in 13 begins and earnings of $4.3 million, and Laborious Spun with 7 wins in 13 begins and earnings of $2.6 million. Curlin continued his Corridor of Fame profession for yet another season and represented the distinctive 3-year-old Class of 2007 with brilliance.

Wanting again, not solely did the massive three dominate the Triple Crown races, however collectively they took it a step additional and shined because the 12 months rolled on, making them stars for all seasons.

“If Road Sense would have run third within the Breeders’ Cup it might have been first time horses ran 1-2-3 within the Derby, 1-2-3 within the Preakness and 1-2-3 within the Breeders’ Cup. Larry and Steve kidded me about messing that up,” Nafzger mentioned. “That exhibits how uncommon it was to have a number of 3-year-olds that good and that aggressive all year long.

“It was a fantastic rivalry, however I wouldn’t have minded if Curlin and Laborious Spun got here round a 12 months later,” he added with fun. “You can solely think about what one would have achieved with out the opposite two round. Every one was particular.”

Particular horses, who gave the game particular reminiscences. There will be no arguments about that.

Notice: This story was initially revealed in June 2017 and has been up to date.

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