Curlin Completes Final Belmont Stakes Preparations

Curlin Completes Final Belmont Stakes Preparations
Photo: Reed Palmer Photography/Churchill Downs
Curlin, working at Churchill Downs in final preparation for the Belmont Stakes.

(Edited Churchill Downs report)

Preakness Stakes (gr. I) winner Curlin completed his serious preparation for Saturday's Belmont Stakes (gr. I) with a four-furlong work at Churchill Downs on Monday, June 4.
 
The 3-year-old Smart Strike   colt covered the distance over a "fast" surface in :50.60 under regular exercise rider Carmen Rosas.  The Steve Asmussen-trained colt, who finished third in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), was timed by Churchill Downs clockers in fractions of :13.60, :25.60 and :38 and galloped out five furlongs in 1:04.60.  The move ranked 29th among 41 at the distance.

"That was what we want to see," said Asmussen.  "He looks very familiar, very loose.  He went a half-mile in :50-and-three and was off in 13-and-change.  He went nice and smooth through the wire and galloped out good."

Curlin will board a plane late Tuesday morning that will take him to New York and a run in Saturday's Belmont Stakes, the 1 ½-mile third jewel of racing's Triple Crown.

He is owned by Stonestreet Farm, Padua Stable, George Bolton and Midnight Cry Stable.
 
"It's a great opportunity at a classic -- it's a very grand stage," said Asmussen.  "It's very exciting, especially coming off the Preakness and that victory so fresh in our minds.  It's extremely exciting to have him in the barn and training so well."

Despite the absence of Derby winner and Preakness runner-up Street Sense in the Belmont, Asmussen expects a strong test for Curlin in a field that will include Hard Spun, the Kentucky Derby runner-up and third-place finisher in the Preakness.
 
"It would be nice for the race to see all three of them," he said.  "I think Hard Spun is an excellent horse and his races are going to prove that he is, and nobody should be taken lightly in the race.  Imawildandcrazyguy has the exact same pattern as last year's Belmont winner had, and everybody saw how [trainer John] Shirreffs' horse [7th place finisher Tiago] galloped out after the Derby.  I think the fact that that Street Sense and Curlin went to the wire so well and finished a head apart in the Preakness, a little bit will be missing there.  But there's nothing to be taken for granted with him not in the race."
 
Curlin gave Asmussen his first victory in a Triple Crown race.  He will be Asmussen's first starter in the 1 ½-mile Belmont, a race that the trainer believes will provide an opportunity for his star to take over the leadership of the 3-year-old division in this year's chase for an Eclipse Award championship.
 
"I think all of the classics are difficult and they pose their own problems," he said.  There are different variables in the distance and the stage of being on a mile and a half racetrack.  You're not going to hide in any corners - you're going to be out there and you've got to do it.  I'd rather lead him over than any other horse."

Monday also marked the return to serious training of Stonestreet Farm's unbeaten 3-year-old Tiz Wonderful, also trained by Asmussen.  The son of Tiznow   emerged as a major contender for the Kentucky Derby last fall with victories in the Iroquois (gr. III) and Kentucky Jockey Club (gr. II) at Churchill Downs, but was forced to leave the Kentucky Derby trail when he encountered a tendon problem in his right front leg early this year.

Tiz Wonderful breezed four furlongs in an easy :53.20 under Rosas.  It was the first work for the colt since the injury.

"He's an absolutely beautiful mover," said Asmussen.  "Their paths are crossing and the timing is beautiful."
 
Asmussen is targeting the $500,000 Jim Dandy (gr. II) on July 29 at Saratoga for the return of Tiz Wonderful.  He believes the colt continues to possess the talent and capability to live up to the promise he displayed in his three races as a 2-year-old.
 
"If anybody can, he can," Asmussen said.  "He's a beautiful mover and I think he's doing a hundred percent, and that's all there is.  He traveled perfect."
 
Tiz Wonderful scored a 12 ½-length victory in his racing debut in September at Saratoga and has earned $228,792 in his three victories.
 
Another 3-year-old working for Asmussen was Winchell Thoroughbred's Zanjero, who finished 12th in the Kentucky Derby.  He breezed six furlongs in 1:15.80 in preparation for a start in the $200,000-added Northern Dancer Breeders' Cup (gr. III) during Churchill Downs' "Stephen Foster Super Saturday" program June 16.

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