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CURLIN & PEPPERS PRIDE: The New Benchmarks

Two venerated records fell in the past 7 days, and the horses that now hold them are curious opposites.

CURLIN easily handled the slop at Belmont last Saturday to capture his second consecutive Jockey Club Gold Cup and surpass the $10 million mark in earnings.  The previous record money winner was the legendary Cigar, whose $9.9+ million kept him at the top for a decade.  Cigar amassed his bankroll during a thrilling sixteen-win streak, which tied him for the most consecutive wins with Citation.

Over the years, a few other horses matched Cigar’s win record (but nowhere near his earnings), most recently Hallowed Dreams, a Louisiana-bred filly who raced mostly in Louisiana and at Lone Star Park, and mostly in allowance and state-bred stakes during her win streak.  Yesterday, a filly named PEPPERS PRIDE did what Cigar, Citation, Mister Frisky and Hallowed Dreams could not.  PEPPERS PRIDE won her 17th race in a row, remaining undefeated in her career.

PEPPERS PRIDE, like Hallowed Dreams, comes from a humble family and races in allowance and state-bred stakes in NEw Mexico.   PP’s 17th start had been pushed back five months due to poor track conditions, but the tough mare was in fine form and put away Silver Expression in an AOC at Zia Park.

There they are, folks, the new benchmarks.  It says a lot about the sport that the horse with the longest win streak has only $861,000 in earnings, while the horse with the biggest bankroll has only raced 15 times (and won 11).  The horses with longevity are not our “superstars” – but the top-level performers are the ones who get on TV (at least when ESPN feels like it). 

There may not be a solution to the discrepancy.  Grade 1 winners and Classic winners are the horses that start lifelong fans, but they are like the pro sports athletes in other leagues- larger than life and unapproachable to the average fan, protected and pampered between brief appearances on-track to thousands of spectators.  Each time they run is risky to their health and potential breeding value. 

Small-scale leagues and tracks have the most loyal fans because they know the players intimately.  The farm league pitcher goes to church with you.  The local point guard’s daughter is in the same class with your son.  Peppers Pride is the hometown girl done very, very good.

With cable racing networks, these smaller tracks are getting coverage unknown in the past.  More people can be “local fans” of Pepper, or of My Little COnnor or Mr. Franks.  They’re no Big Brown, but at least they have raced a few years so people can enjoy them.

The last benchmark standing is the one least likely to ever be attained.  The way young, top-class colts are handled these days, it will take an incredible horse to capture that elusive Triple Crown.

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