History awaits Curlin in Saturday's Jockey Club Gold Cup if he can become the first North American racehorse to break $10 million in earnings. A meeting with Big Brown and some of Europe's top horses in the Breeders' Cup Classic is still possible, too.
Owner Jess Jackson said Tuesday he'd like to see Curlin run in his home state of California, but the reigning Horse of the Year's schedule for the rest of the year depends on the 4-year-old's health.
"I hate to repeat the mantra, but right now it's one race at a time," Jackson said on a national teleconference. "After he tells us if he's fit and ready, we'll consider all options, including the Breeders' Cup."
The $5 million Classic will be run for the first time on an artificial surface at Santa Anita on Oct. 25. Jackson said the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs on Nov. 28 and the dirt version of the Japan Cup on Dec. 7 are other possibilities for Curlin.
"We may be in two of them," he said. "We'd invite Big Brown to join us in any race we show up in. I'm not trying to avoid Big Brown."
Big Brown, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner whose Triple Crown hopes were dashed when he was pulled up in the Belmont, is set to run in the BC Classic.
Whether Curlin shows up, Jackson said, depends on several factors, including how he comes out of Saturday's race at Belmont Park and the new synthetic surface at Santa Anita.
The track in Arcadia, Calif., opens its Oak Tree meeting on Wednesday, the first time races will be held on the Pro-Ride surface since it was installed in July. Santa Anita replaced the existing Cushion Track surface after it failed to drain sufficiently during a series of rainstorms in January and February, leading to the cancellation of 11 racing days.
The synthetic surface has critics, including Curlin's trainer Steve Asmussen.
Jackson, who lives in Northern California, said he visited Santa Anita to check the initial installation of the new surface and he may go again once racing is under way.
"It looks resilient and the times of the horses just working out are faster," he said. "I think we're going to see some records broken on this Pro-Ride. It may prove to be a great surface."
Jackson said he may ship Curlin to Santa Anita simply to see if the horse likes the surface.
"I really want to see Curlin race here (California) and the horse will tell us if he can take it," Jackson said. "As a fan of racing, I'd love to run against the competition."
Whether Curlin ends up in the Classic "has very little to do with Big Brown," Jackson said. "I see the challenge with (Europeans) Henry the Navigator and Duke of Marmalade. I'm talking about one of the great fields."
Jackson said he'll make a final decision on the Breeders' Cup within 10 days after the Jockey Club Gold Cup.
"Anybody that is overconfident about winning the Breeders' Cup on an untested surface this year has to be concerned about their own horse," he said.
Through the media, the connections of both Curlin and Big Brown have tried to lure each other into a meeting between America's best-known racehorses.
"If Big Brown would continue to run as a 4-year-old, I would be very tempted to run Curlin as a 5-year-old," said Jackson, who proposed establishing a racing league featuring older horses with big purses and major sponsors.
"I think the entire nation would appreciate and fans would want to see 3-year-olds going on and competing. Other people should step up as well."
Big Brown's big-talking trainer Rick Dutrow recently offered to let Curlin's camp name the time, place and distance for a matchup between the horses.
"He makes a lot of noise, but at the same time, he's proven to be a great trainer," Jackson said. "IEAH (Big Brown's ownership) has done a lot for the sport, but they're more concerned about the money."
Jackson has firmly declined a match race, but said he suspects the horses will meet sometime and would welcome a call from Michael Ivarone, Big Brown's principal partner.
"The point is the health of the horse," he said, "but probably both of us, if fit, would love to compete against each other."
Asked if he wants Curlin to take on Big Brown just to quiet his rival's connections, the low-key Jackson replied, "You got to be above that sort of thing."
Curlin enters Saturday's 11/4-mile Gold Cup with earnings of $9,796,800. Two-time Horse of the Year Cigar owns the record of $9,999,815, which has stood for 12 years. The winner's purse of $450,000 would vault Curlin past Cigar with total earnings of $10,246,800.
"Beating his financial record is a very big part of Curlin's legacy but only because people in our society are more focused on dollars than they should be," Jackson said. "Curlin on his own merit is a great horse. I'm more pleased about what he's done."