Reigning Horse of the Year Curlin took the lead entering the stretch and rolled to an impressive4 1/4-length victory in the $1-million Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I) (VIDEO) at Churchill Downs.
Longshot Barcola jumped out to the early advantage, leading another longshot, Sam P., through moderate early fractions of :25.01, :49.28, and 1:13.41 for the first six furlongs. Curling began making his move rounding the second turn and Barcola continued to lead after a mile was completed in 1:37.39. From that point on, it was no contest as Curlin rolled to the front and drew off for an easy victory.
The winner paid $2.80, $2.20, and $2.10. Einstein closed in the stretch to get the runner-up spot and return $3.80 and $3.20, with Barcola holding on for third and paying $6. The final time for 1 1/8 miles on a fast track was 1:49.68. The rest of the field, in finish order, was: Grasshopper, Brass Hat, Jonesboro, Delightful Kiss, Sam P., High Blues, and Red Rock Creek.
Sent off as the heavy 2-5 favorite under jockey Robby Albarado, Curlin was making his first start since winning the March 29 Dubai World Cup (UAE-I). The Steve Asmussen trainee was saddled with top weight of 128 pounds, conceding 10 pounds to Einstein, the second high weight at 118.The winner's share of $589,000 from the Stephen Foster Handicap’s record $1-million purse improved his career earnings to $9,396,800, third on the all-time list behind Cigar, who remains the career leader with earnings of $9,999,815, and Skip Away's $9,616,360.
The win was the ninth in 12 starts for Curlin, a son of Smart Strike —Sheriff’s Deputy (by Deputy Minister) who races for Jess Jackson's Stonestreet Stables and Midnight Cry Stables. In addition to the World Cup and Stephen Foster, Curlin has victories in the Breeders’ Cup Classic Powered by Dodge (gr. I), Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I), Preakness Stakes (gr. I), Arkansas Derby (gr. II) and Rebel Stakes (gr. III) to his credit.
“It’s such an honor to be involved with this horse - he is such a beautiful animal," Asmussen said. "I’m so thankful to Mr. Jackson and the whole Stonestreet group and Midnight Cry to bring him back as a 4-year-old and just letting us enjoy him.”
“Kentucky horsemen appreciate this horse," said co-owner Jackson. "What he stands for is a classic champion and we’ll see how great he is because he is not fully defined.”
“Great, phenomenal; he’s an amazing horse," winning rider Albarado said. "Again with his routine brilliance, he is in textbook form. He’s showing that he is a superstar. He prevailed for the fans and I’m proud of him-- he’s an amazing horse-- amazing athlete.”
“It’s a victory for us, I think," said Einstein's trainer Helen Pitts. "It really is. I thought we’d been nosed out for second, but I was still tickled to death with the way he finished. I didn’t think we had the best of trips with the pace that there was early. Like Julien (Leparoux) said, with no pace, he kind of got shuffled around early and ended up back where he didn’t want to be, but he adapted to it.”
Pitts said Einstein would likely return to grass racing, with the Arlington Million (gr. IT) the ultimate goal.
“I’m not saying something like the Clark (Handicap) in the fall wouldn’t be an option," Pitts added. "Obviously he likes this track. But going forward I think you absolutely stick with your same plan. We did this today to do what we had to do because, as you can see, when he’s ready to run, he’s ready to run.”
Bred in Kentucky by Fares Farm, he was a $57,000 Keeneland September yearling sale purchase.