The big moment awaits for all of horse racing, that hoped-for Curlin-versus-Big Brown showdown in the Oct. 25 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita. And the decision may be partly in the able hands, er, hooves, of that noted punching bag, Hawaii Calls.
When Curlin takes to Santa Anita’s synthetic surface for one final workout between the fourth and fifth races of Monday’s Columbus Day program, Hawaii Calls will be pacing the $10-million star. They call that a “work in traffic,” and Hawaii Calls is the traffic.
Trainer Steve Asmussen and majority owner Jess Jackson want this last frolic to see how Curlin responds to the synthetics in the afternoon, which they feel is different than morning workouts and could pose a danger.
Hawaii Calls is Curlin’s stablemate, a 4-year-old with two victories of his own, but an apparent top value as sparring partner for the reigning horse of the year. Asmussen has called Hawaii Calls “a fabulous work horse” and said he has “a big stride and is very steady.” He is also well-bred. His daddy is 2000 Kentucky Derby winner Fusiachi Pegasus.
Jackson and his wife, Barbara, spoke recently of their affection for Hawaii Calls and the occasional concern they have for the horse’s psychological well-being.
“Poor guy,” Jackson said, smiling. “He’ll get out there a head or a neck in front of Curlin, and then Curlin will blow right by him at the end.”
Both said that a common aftermath of these workouts has Curlin barely breathing hard and Hawaii Calls gasping for air.
Jackson’s camp will make its announcement, to run or not to run, Tuesday morning, shortly before the Breeders’ Cup pre-entry deadline at noon. At that time, an entry payment of $50,000 is due. A second and final entry payment for the Classic, and the 13 other Breeders’ Cup races on Oct. 24 and 25, is due Oct. 21.
Entry fees vary from race to race. The $5-million Classic brings $125,000, with the Oct. 21 fee set at $75,000. The least expensive Breeders’ Cup race is the new 1 1/2 -mile marathon, which costs $5,000 for the pre-entry and another $7,500 on Oct. 21.
Since the start of the current Santa Anita meeting, Sept. 24, there have been five fatal breakdowns -- four of them in morning training -- on the new synthetic surface. The most recent was trainer Kathy Walsh’s mare, Awesome Express, who broke a hind leg Thursday morning.
The year 2006 was a challenging one for jockey Edgar Prado.
In February, he lost his mother, Zenaido, to breast cancer.
In May, he rode Barbaro to a victory in the Kentucky Derby that was so impressive that a Triple Crown seemed a real possibility. Two weeks later, on the main stretch at Pimlico, Barbaro broke down in the Preakness and, eight months later, had to be euthanized.
“It was a roller-coaster year,” Prado said.
So, Prado has decided to do something in memory of his mother and to the benefit of his sport.
The Hall of Fame jockey, who has won more than 5,000 races, including three in the Breeders’ Cup, will donate 5% of his winnings on Breeders’ Cup weekend to charity, including the Susan G. Komen fund that fights breast cancer and the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund.
“I want a lot of rides, so I can do a lot for these charities,” Prado said.
Next stop: Hollywood
Southern California racing moves to Hollywood Park the week after the Breeders’ Cup. The highlight of that fall meeting will be the Turf Festival, a Thanksgiving weekend program with three Grade I races, the $500,000 Hollywood Derby, the $500,000 Matriarch and the $400,000 Citation.
Remembering ‘The Shoe’
Today is the fifth anniversary of the death of Bill Shoemaker, Hall of Fame jockey and winner of 8,833 races, including four Kentucky Derbies and 11 Triple Crown races. He had suffered paralyzing injuries in an auto accident in San Dimas on April 8, 1991, and trained horses from a wheelchair for six years after the accident. He was 72 when he died.