Curlin, the 3-10 favorite against six rivals, looked like a big winner as he clicked into gear for jockey Robby Albarado rounding the final turn. He drew even with pacesetter Past the Point, a 40-1 shot, in upper stretch as second choice Divine Park retreated. But after getting a slight advantage, the champ labored in the final eighth of a mile before prevailing by 1 1/4 lengths.
“Curlin is meant for the big moment,” said trainer Steve Asmussen. “He takes it all in stride.”
Added Albarado: “He spoils us with his brilliance.”
Making his first start in seven weeks, Curlin appeared to be a tired horse, running the final furlong in 14 seconds while under steady encouragement from Albarado to put away Past the Point, who had visibly slowed after setting quick fractions.
This was Curlin's race debut at historic Saratoga, where he has been a steady presence in the mornings for much of the year.
The final time was a so-so 1:49.34 on a fast track following quarter-mile splits of :22.89, :46.20, 1:09.61 and 1:35.33.
With the victory, Curlin's 10th in 14 starts, the 4-year-old Smart Strike colt boosted his earnings to $9,796,800, moving him past Skip Away into second place all-time among Thoroughbreds. Cigar, with 19 lifetime victories and earnings of $9,999,815, leads the way. Curlin could go for the earnings record in the $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) Sept. 27 at Belmont Park at 10 furlongs, although there may be other options.
Curlin is owned by Jess Jackson's Stonestreet Stables. Jackson was pleased with Curlin's accomplishment.
“Aside from the Dubai race and the Breeders’ Cup, this is the most important race we’ve won because of the historic nature of this race and its premier contribution to Curlin’s legacy," Jackson said. "With all the superstition and the `Graveyard of Champions,’ I was glad the horse showed what he is and we won."
Addressing a possible match-up with Big Brown, Jackson added: “It would be great for racing, great for fans and great for the industry. But my understanding is that Big Brown is going to the breeding shed after this year, so time is running out. And that may be true for Curlin. Curlin has genes that this industry needs, distance and stamina. He has no genetic shortcomings.”
“The perfect scenario would be to run in the best races, the Jockey Club Gold Cup and the Breeders’ Cup, and then go overseas to the Japan Cup (Jpn-I). But that will be hard to press into a four-week schedule. We’ll wait and see. He loves Belmont and now I think he loves Saratoga."
This was Curlin's first start since his connections, considering an international campaign against the world's best grass horses, entered him in the Man o' War (gr. IT) at Belmont Park July 12. Curlin fell way off the pace in that 1 3/8-mile test but closed up well enough, finishing second by two lengths to the victorious Red Rocks, the Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) winner in 2006.
With grade I wins in the Preakness, Jockey Gold Cup and Breeders' Cup Classic, Curlin became the Horse of the Year in 2007. The robust chestnut ripped off convincing victories Dubai World Cup (gr. I) and Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I) this season. With the Woodward now in his win column, Curlin has six consecutive victories on dirt.
The race unfolded beautifully for the winner after he settled down. Curlin drifted out on the clubhouse turn and brushed with Out of Control on his outside, but he fell into a nice stalking spot in fourth place on the backstretch as Past the Point and Edgar Prado went to the front over Wanderin Boy and Divine Park. They stayed that way, with Past the Point dictating the pace, for the opening six furlongs before Curlin moved up on the outside of Divine Park. The latter, the 9-2 second choice, came under a ride from Alan Garcia on the far turn and soon dropped out as Wanderin Boy, ridden by Julien Leparoux fought on in third.
That's the way they finished as Past the Point crossed the wire 1 1/2 lengths in front of Wanderin Boy. A.P. Arrow ran on to finish fourth, followed by Loose Leaf, Divine Park and Out of Control.
Curlin paid $2.70, $2.40 and $2.10.
“The pace was very, very rapid, but Curlin got away in good order," Albarado said. "I was little wider than I wanted to be around the first turn, but he gave me an indication on the backside that he would be there for me. We were between two horses and getting bounced around a little, but he is a big horse and he handled it."
Albarado said he knew that Curlin would have responded had Past the Point come back in the final stages.
“He knows when they cheer for him," he said. "He gets swollen up with confidence. Racing needs a star like Curlin, and today he showed what he could do.”
The gritty Past the Point, making his grade I debut for trainer Eoin Harty and Darley Stable, returned $13.80 and $6.40. The $2 exacta was worth $41.80.
Multiple graded winner Wanderin Boy was trying to give trainer Nick Zito bookend grade I victories at the Saratoga meet after the Hall of Fame conditioner won the opening weekend's Whitney Handicap with Commentator. Wanderin Boy was $3.50 to show.
Dr. D.F.C. scratched.
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