There’s a frisky young colt who just started bouncing around Saratoga Race Course this week.
He hasn’t even had a published workout yet, but he holds tremendous promise and expectation that is reflected in both his name and his pedigree.
Jess’s Dream arrived here just in time for his father’s induction into the National Racing Hall of Fame.
Curlin was one of eight in the class of 2014 who were enshrined during a ceremony at the Fasig-Tiption sales pavilion on Friday.
Among the two-time Horse of the Year’s 16 career starts was one stop at Saratoga, in 2008, to win the Woodward.
His incredible resumé also included wins in the Preakness, Dubai World Cup and Breeders’ Cup Classic against what is considered perhaps the best field in the history of that race.
“My husband Jess Jackson loved this horse,” said owner Barbara Banke of Stonestreet Stables. “He devised what he called a path to greatness for the horse. He took us on a magnificent ride. For two years, it was unbelievably exciting, and it was very, very quick.”
Trainer Steve Asmussen said on Wednesday that Curlin, a son of Smart Strike, was so great that he defied long-held concepts of performance by 3-year-olds.
Unraced as a 2-year-old, Curlin didn’t race until February of his 3-year-old season, broke his maiden first time out, then beat older horses in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and BC Classic after having placed in all three Triple Crown races against what was an outstanding 3-year-old crop that year.
As a 4-year-old, Curlin withstood the travel grind of running in Dubai to comes back to the U.S. and win the Stephen Foster, Woodward and Jockey Club Gold Cup again before closing his career with a fourth in the BC Classic.
“To win the Breeders’ Cup Classic against arguably the best group ever assembled, you kind of chip away at a horse’s ability or confidence or whatever . . . that did not happen with him,” Asmussen said. “He built on it. And that separated him. And that’s $5 million in two years.
“Training horses, you’re trying to put them in a position where you play toward their strengths, you avoid situations where they’re uncomfortable, training, racing circumstances. He was comfortable. He brought a tremendous amount of confidence to the table.”
“What a crew that year,” Banke said of the 2007 BC Classic. “Magnificent horses who had been at every big race. They were rocket-fast, and tough, tough competition.
“It was a wonderful ride, and fast-track to today, when I get out to the training track to see a horse named Jess’s Dream exercise this morning. It is a sport for dreamers. Jess was a dreamer. I’m a dreamer. If you’re not a dreamer, you don’t belong in this sport.”
The other contemporary inductees were two-time champion Ashado, trainer Gary Jones and jockey Alex Solis.
The historic review committee inductees were Clifford, who finished his career as a stallion at Hurricana Farm in Amsterdam, and Lloyd Hughes, the first jockey to win the Preakness three times.
Pillars of the Turf inductees were breeder Edward Bradley and owner/breeder E.P. Taylor, who was instrumental in the building of Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto.
Starlight Racing bought Ashado at Keeneland in 2002 for $170,000, which usually is below the median at a sale like that.
Twelve years later, she was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame.
“Easy business. Just buy a horse and go to the Hall of Fame,” joked Jack Wolf, who partnered with his wife, Laurie, and Johns Martin and Paul Saylor as owners of Ashado.
On the way to a stellar career record, she made frequent stops at Saratoga, winning the Schuylerville and Spinaway as a 2-year-old and the Go for Wand at 4.
After she retired in 2005, she sold for a record $9 million at the Keeneland broodmare prospect sale, which helped Starlight expand and become more active searching for graded stakes-caliber horses.
“You get a horse like this once in a lifetime,” Wolf said. “You look at the odds she went off in all these races, and she won enough of them, you sort of go in there gun-shy, because she’s 3-5. From a nervous standpoint, you almost rather be 5-1 or 6-1. Her record speaks for itself.”
Solis, who came to the U.S. from Panama with $700 in his pocket to become a Hall of Famer, ranks ninth in career purse earnings in North America and has 18 riding titles on the southern California circuit.
He was presented by his friends, Hall of Famers Chris McCarron and Lafitte Pincay, a fellow Panamanian, and Solis’ brother flew in from their home country to attend the ceremony. He stood in the back waving a Panamanian flag.
“I want to thank God for making me this size,” Solis said. “If I had been a little taller, Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan would have been in trouble.”
Pierre Manigault, a great-great-grandson of Hurricana Farm patriarch Stephen Sanford, accepted the plaque for Clifford, who won 42 of 62 career starts, then produced many top-quality horses for the farm. He finished his remarks by acknolwedging the ongoing work of the Friends of Sanford Stud Farm, who have been preserving what’s left of the farm on Route 30.
“This is just so fulfilling for me, and what must it have been for them,” said an emotional Sam Hildebrandt, one of the FSSF caretakers. “And that’s what it’s all about, the history.”
Gretchen Jackson, who owned Barbaro with her husband Roy, made some opening comments one day after she replaced Stella Thayer as president of the National Museum of Racing.