Reigning “Horse of the Year” Curlin worked an easy half-mile over the main track at Churchill Downs July 7 in preparation for what trainer Steve Asmussen plans as the colt’s debut on turf this weekend.
Regular exercise rider Carlos Rosas was in the saddle as the 4-year-old son of Smart Strike worked at 6:30 a.m. (EDT) and comfortably covered the distance over in :50.80 over a “fast” surface. He completed the work in fractional times of :13.20, :26.20 and :38.80 and galloped out five furlongs in 1:05.
The breeze followed last week’s seven furlong work on turf in 1:31.20 and was Curlin’s final move in preparation for his expected first outing on turf on Saturday, July 12 in either the $500,000 Man O’ War (gr. IT) at Belmont Park or the $200,000 Arlington Park Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Arlington Park.
The decision on which race will be Curlin’s target hinges on the resolution of a licensing issue in both racing jurisdictions regarding the colt’s minority owner Midnight Cry Stable.
“He’s an awesome horse – I’m excited,” Asmussen said. “It looks like we ought to know something on the licensing today (July 7), I understand. We’re obviously very anxious about that.”
This weekend’s race will be an important test for Curlin as majority owner Jess Jackson of Stonestreet Stable and Asmussen consider a possible trip to France to run in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (Fr-I), Europe’s top test for older horses on Oct. 5.
Asmussen would prefer the Man O’ War for Curlin, who has won five consecutive races that include the $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I), the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic Powered by Dodge (gr. I), the $6 million Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) and the $1 million Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I) at Churchill Downs. The 1 3/8-mile race Man O’ War is expected to attract two other Breeders’ Cup champions in Red Rocks, winner of the John Deere Turf (gr. IT) at Churchill Downs in 2006, and Better Talk Now, winner of the Turf at Lone Star Park in 2004. Grand Couturier, winner of last year’s Sword Dancer Invitational (gr. IT) at Saratoga, is also expected to compete.
“That race is coming up fabulous,” said Asmussen. “If you’re going to venture overseas, you don’t want to be kidding yourself about how good or bad you are on the turf.”
If the licensing issue is resolved, Curlin would fly to New York on Thursday for Saturday’s race at Belmont Park. If all goes well in the Man O’ War and the Arc de Triomphe remains the target, Curlin would probably ship to Saratoga for a brief stay in Asmussen’s barn there and travel to France shortly thereafter to train at Chantilly in the weeks leading up to the Arc.
“Hopefully it goes well, and you’d train him back to make sure you’re okay,” said Asmussen. “You’re not going to start the process until you need to, but once you start the process it’ll be like a wedding date – it’ll be upon you before you know it.”
Curlin’s June 14 victory in the Stephen Foster Handicap improved his career record to 9-1-2 in 12 races and pushed his lifetime earnings to $9,396,800 – the third-highest North American total in Thoroughbred racing behind top earners Cigar ($9,999,815) and Skip Away ($9,616,30).