For George Bolton, the date, Feb. 4, 2007, is set in stone. Never mind that, 10 years ago on that Super Sunday, the Indianapolis Colts won it all. It was another colt, a thoroughbred named Curlin, that changed Bolton's life that day.
Bolton, from Brooklandville, was attending a pre-game Super Bowl party when his bloodstock agent phoned.
"Would you like a piece of this horse who broke his maiden (won his first race) at Gulfstream Park (Fla.) yesterday?" the agent, John Moynihan, asked. Bolton agreed and paid $700,000 for 20 percent of the strapping chestnut. Three months later the horse, a 3-year-old named Curlin, won the Preakness -- by a head -- in Bolton's backyard.
The victory, before a then-record crowd at Pimlico, buoyed Bolton's favorite pastime. Today, he and two partners own 20 thoroughbreds; one, a sire named Astrology, finished third in the 2011 Preakness. Curlin's white-knuckled win, in a photo-finish, fueled Bolton's fancy and earned him recognition among horsemen.
"Curlin was my first big horse, and he took me so many places," said Bolton, 53, chief investment officer for an asset management firm in San Diego, Calif. "He helped me financially and put me at the top of the (racing) game. He gave me trophies, which are fun to look at -- but the memories outweigh the trophies."
Like the Preakness finish, in which Curlin and Street Sense, the Kentucky Derby winner, seemed to cross the wire as one. The crowd tensed, waiting for the photo.
"That was the longest minute of my life," Bolton said. "There was perspiration coming from my forehead and my chin."
Then the tote board flashed "4," Curlin's number, and Old Hilltop exploded.
"Even now, looking at the (Preakness) trophy, it's not as big a visual, in my mind, as when that number went up," Bolton said.
Flush with victory, he posed with Curlin for "probably 100 photos" afterward, mindful of keeping his distance.
"Curlin was very masculine and would take a chunk out of you," Bolton said. "I was always the second guy closest to him, because I was so scared he'd bite me."
The next evening, while dining at a Hunt Valley restaurant, Bolton -- who'd attended Gilman and spent a summer mucking stalls at Timonium Race Track -- received a standing ovation.
"Baltimore treated us like gold," he said.
Curlin's victory was no fluke. He was third in the Kentucky Derby, second in the Belmont Stakes and first in the Breeder's Cup Classic, earning Horse of the Year.
"That horse is exceedingly bright," Bolton said. "He was Mr. Cool in the paddock, where he'd almost fall asleep. But the second they shut that (starting) gate, his jockey felt him tense up. He held his energy until it mattered."
In December, 2007, offered a generous buyout, Bolton sold his shares in the horse for more than $16.6 million. A year later, the stock market crashed. In hindsight, he said, "it seemed like a very timely sale. I've felt remorse but no regrets."
Curlin has since become a world-class sire whose offspring have earned more than $10 million. He stands at stud at Hill 'n Dale Farm in Lexington, Ky.
"I see him about once every other year," his old owner said. "But I stay out of biting distance."
And Bolton? He still has Triple Crown-sized dreams.
"We hope to get (to the Preakness) again," he said. "You can't force it, you just hope that it happens. I do want to win the Kentucky Derby, though. If I said I didn't, my eyes would water and my nostrils would flare."