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Skip Away, not Curlin, should hold earnings record

Shouldn't the top earner in North American racing history be the horse who has earned the most in North American racing? That may seem like an obvious assumption, but that's not how it's done in racing. Curlin's designation as the richest horse in North American racing history is based on flawed logic and fuzzy math.

With his victory in the Jockey Club Gold Cup Saturday at Belmont Park, Curlin has bankrolled $10,246,800. The problem is that $3.6 million of that comes from his win in a foreign country in the Dubai World Cup. He's earned $6,646,800 in North America. Meanwhile, Skip Away earned $9,616,360 in North America. So who's the richest horse in North American racing history? How can it not be Skip Away?

The industry recognizes Curlin as No. 1 on the earnings list because someone decided to lump foreign earnings in with domestic earnings. It did the same for Cigar, whose $9,999,815 bankroll also includes a Dubai World Cup payday.

Sorry, but that doesn't work, and here's why: Based on the system that's in place, a horse can earn in excess of $10,245,800, racing someplace else, say Japan, start once in the U.S. or Canada, run third or fourth and become the top money-earning horse in North American racing history.

That's exactly how a horse named Taiki Blizzard is listed as the 19th leading money-earning horse in North American racing history by the sport's official record keeper, Equibase. Taiki Blizzard raced here just twice, finishing third in the 1997 Oak Tree Breeders' Cup and sixth a few weeks later in the Breeders' Cup Classic. His total earnings on North American soil were just $27,500, but he earned $5,496,049 in Japan. Combine the two and he's in our top 20, which is, of course, absurd.

It's bound to happen some time: a horse will ship here from Japan with gobs of earnings, win or merely hit the board in a race here and, according to our system, will have to be recognized as the richest horse in North American racing history.

The obvious answer to this mess is to start recognizing the top money-earners as the horses who have made the most here. And that's Skip Away, still No. 1 in my book.

Old money
That John Henry, after all these years, remains 12th in career earnings with $6,591,860 speaks volumes about what a remarkable horse he was. He raced from 1977 through 1984 and never appeared in a Breeders' Cup race or a Dubai World Cup.

After adjusting his earnings for inflation, you come up with $14.4 million in today's dollars.

Zenyatta still perfect
There were a lot of good performances by a lot of good horses over the weekend, but Zenyatta's performance in the Lady's Secret at Oak Tree stood out.

On paper, the Lady's Secret set up perfectly for Hystericalady, the only speed in the race, and that's exactly the way it unfolded on the track. Zenyatta broke a step slow and quickly found herself two lengths behind Hystericalady, who was getting her own way on the front.

With the other two horses in the race hopelessly in over their heads, the Lady's Secret was essentially a match race, and horses who get loose on the lead are supposed to be have a huge edge match races. Zenyatta, who also had to come three wide, was compromised by the way it unfolded, but still went by a very good mare with ease, drawing away to a 3 ½-length win. It was a remarkable performance.

"She just seems to be sent from heaven, man," winning jockey Mike Smith told reporters after it was over. "She does things horses aren't supposed to do. She's flawless. I mean, what else can you do beyond flawless? Her race today was incredible."

In any other year, Zenyatta would be a serious Horse of the Year candidate, but it's hard to imagine any scenario where she could wrest the title away from Big Brown or Curlin. Running in the Classic isn't the right thing to do, either. Not this year, when the race might include two of the best male horses to race in years. She's going to have to settle for a win in the Distaff and a very deserving Eclipse Award as the nation's best older filly.

Bill Finley is an award-winning racing writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated. Contact Bill at wnfinley@aol.com.