Breeder’s Cup: Raven’s Pass wins in upset
ARCADIA, Calif. ó The crowd backed him with its money and its mouth, bellowing on tiptoes as Curlin took the lead at the top of the stretch. Too soon it was over as this Breeders’ Cup was about long shots, a new surface and European imports, not America’s best horse.
Curlin was upset in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita on Saturday, demoted to a fourth-place finish behind 13-1 long shot Raven’s Pass from Britain.
Neither reigning Horse of the Year Curlin nor Raven’s Pass had ever raced on a synthetic surface. But Raven’s Pass trains on something similar, and European horses used to running on turf often make an easier transition to synthetics.
“Maybe he’s not a synthetic surface specialist,” said Curlin’s jockey Robby Albarado. “He was paddling around. These horses (Raven’s Pass and second-place Henrythenavigator) are great turf horses, and it seemed like the synthetics played like a turf course.”
Raven’s Pass capped a day of long-shot upsets at the season-ending championships, with European-based horses winning five of nine races. Seven of the winners at Santa Anita were long shots.
The richest two days in thoroughbred racing went off without a hitch, surely relieving Breeders’ Cup officials who were mindful of Eight Belles’ fatal breakdown after this year’s Kentucky Derby and George Washington being euthanized on the track after last year’s Classic at New Jersey’s Monmouth Park.
“I feel it’s probably the single most important thing that had to happen at this event for this industry at this particular time,” Breeders’ Cup president Greg Avioli said of the decision to switch to a synthetic surface for the first time in the Breeders’ Cup’s 25-year history. “I’d say Santa Anita has made some believers.”
The surface was a new experience for 4-5 favorite Curlin. More than $1 million was wagered on him to win, an amount so huge the tote board couldn’t display it.
Curlin’s biggest challenger going in was thought to be Big Brown, but the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner was forced to retire earlier this month because of injury.
Instead, the rest of the world ganged up on Curlin.
Under Albarado, Curlin left the starting gate near the back of the pack, while Casino Drive from Japan took the lead.
Entering the final turn, Albarado asked Curlin to pick up the pace, and he responded with an explosive move. The crowd of 51,331 roared as Curlin flashed into contention, taking a narrow lead at the top of the stretch.
“Curlin did what he does, going by horses, and he made his run but got a little late in the stretch,” Albarado said. “I’m disappointed he lost, but obviously, he’s done enough for us and our careers. He’s the all-time American horse, so we can never knock him.”