OCEANPORT, N.J. Curlin put the finishing touches on a championship season with a stirring stretch run and splashed his way to victory in the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic at Monmouth Park on Saturday.
The race was marred in the final yards when European star George Washington broke down and was euthanized on the track.
Curlin, the Preakness winner, moved into contention around the final turn and swept past Hard Spun and Lawyer Ron before a cheering crowd of 41,781 that had endured a rain deluge most of the day.
In a meteoric rise to stardom, Curlin capped a sensational campaign by once again defeating Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense as well as leading older horse Lawyer Ron and all his other 3-year-old rivals. Trained by Steve Asmussen, Curlin won for the sixth time in nine starts, has never been worse than third and likely will be voted Horse of the Year.
"He showed he's a true champion," jockey Robby Albarado said. "He's an amazing horse."
The victory in the final race of the two-day, 11-race, $23 million Breeders' Cup was tempered by yet another horrifying breakdown in one of racing's biggest events. While Curlin and Albarado were crossing the finish line, George Washington was in distress after shattering his right front ankle.
A brown screen was brought out on the track to prevent the fans from watching, and the 4-year-old colt was put down at the request of trainer Aidan O'Brien.
"He had a fracture in his ankle and dislocated his ankle. That's a hopeless injury," said Larry Bramlage, the track's on-call veterinarian. "The trainer requested that he immediately be euthanized."
In last year's Breeders' Cup Distaff, Pine Island broke down and was euthanized and Fleet Indian sustained a career-ending injury. In last year's Preakness, Derby winner Barbaro suffered catastrophic injuries at the start of the race and was euthanized eight months later.
Before the rain ended about 90 minutes before the Classic, a handful of the sport's biggest names dominated the Breeders' Cup, including trainers Nick Zito and Bob Baffert.
Zito won the Juvenile with War Pass, and now is the early favorite for the Kentucky Derby, while Baffert took the Juvenile Fillies with Indian Blessing and the Sprint with Midnight Lute.
As the sun broke through for awhile, so did trainer Todd Pletcher, who ended an 0-for-33 Breeders' Cup run when English Channel upset 4-5 favorite Dylan Thomas in the $3 million Turf.
Jockeys Cornelio Velasquez and Garrett Gomez were two-time winners, with Velasquez winning with War Pass and then Kip Deville in the Mile and Gomez aboard both Baffert winners.
Curlin, coming off a victory over Lawyer Ron in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, finished 4 1/2 lengths ahead of Hard Spun, with long shot Awesome Gem third and Street Sense fourth.
The big chestnut colt covered the 1 1/4 miles in a speedy 2:00.59 over a sloppy track and returned $10.80, $5.20 and $4.20. The track record is 2:00 2/5 set in 1962 by Carry Back.
Hard Spun, the Derby runner-up who came into the race with a win over Street Sense in the Kentucky Cup Classic, returned $7.60 and $5.80. Awesome Gem returned $9.40 to show.
For Street Sense, the loss was tough to take in the final race of his brilliant career.
"I had no excuse. I had nothing but racetrack in front of me," said Street Sense jockey Calvin Borel. "We just got outrun. I'm sad to see him go, but he's going off to be a dad now."
Tiago was fifth, followed by Any Given Saturday, Lawyer Ron and Diamond Stripes.
Asmussen, one of the nation's leading trainers, adds his first Classic win to his first win in a Triple Crown race. The trainer has been impressed with every step Curlin has taken, even after he finished a dull third in the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth in August.
"He's a big-day horse," Asmussen said. "He settled calm and waited for things to happen."