“Curlin’s been a monster since he was a yearling,” said McPeek after the Stonestreet Stable superstar was installed as the 3-5 favorite in the Woodward. “If he runs back to his numbers, he’s physically impossible to beat.”
Of course, McPeek has a better perspective on Curlin than most. He purchased the colt for $57,000 as a yearling for an ownership group in 2005. After he ran away to a 13-length victory in first start in February 2007, the colt was sold for an estimated $3 million and transferred to Steve Asmussen's barn.
“I wish my name were still next to his,” McPeek said.
Curlin, a 4-year-old son of Smart Strike, was recently assigned an international Timeform rating of 134.
“A 134 is practically off the charts,” said trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, who saddles second choice Divine Park in the Woodward. “A 115 is the starting point for grade I horses. He’s one of the best horses we’ve seen in the past 15 or so years, and we are looking forward to taking him on.”
McLaughlin, vying for his first Saratoga training title, adds, “I have a lot of respect for Curlin. If both of us have a perfect day, he’s better than us. But I am confident we have the best chance to beat him.”
Eight are entered in the 1 1/8-mile Woodward, which will be Curlin's debut at Saratoga. The race is the 10th on an 11-race card with a 5:45 EDT post time. It will be telecast live by MSG from 5:30 to 6 p.m. Regular rider Robby Albarado will be aboard Curlin, who will break from post 5.
A victory in the Woodward would move Curlin, the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) and Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) champion up to second on the all-time list with earnings of $9,796,800. He currently stands in third at $9,496,800, behind Cigar ($9,999,815) and Skip Away ($9,616,360).
“One of the great things about (owner) Mr. (Jess) Jackson keeping him in training is being able to run in this race, with its history,” said assistant trainer Scott Blasi of Curlin. “There are only so many opportunities. We’ve never dodged anyone, and we’ve never had one given us – he’s always had to earn it.”
During the course of 2007, Curlin went from debuting maiden to Horse of the Year by capturing the Rebel (gr. III), Arkansas Derby (gr. II), Preakness (gr. I), Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) and Breeders' Cup Classic. This year, he won the World Cup by a record margin of 7 3/4 lengths, then returned from Dubai to win the Stephen Foster (gr. I) at Churchill Downs in June.
His connections then contemplated an international campaign on turf but have apparently backed off that plan since Curlin finished second to 2006 Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) winner Red Rocks in the Man o'War (gr. IT) at Belmont Park in July.
Divine Park, the Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I) winner, is 3-1 on the morning line. Winner of six of his eight starts, the 4-year-old Chester House colt was ninth in the Malibu (gr. I) at Santa Anita over an artificial surface he did not care for, and then was seventh after breaking through the gate in the General George (gr. II) at Laurel.
Hot jockey Alan Garcia rides Divine Park.
Nick Zito, who started the meet off with a bang when he sent out 7-year-old Commentator to win the Whitney Handicap (gr. I), tries for bookends with Arthur Hancock III’s 7-year-old Wanderin Boy, who was seventh in last year’s Woodward. Wanderin Boy warmed up by winning a seven-furlong optional claimer at Saratoga on July 28.
Zito named Julien Leparoux aboard Wanderin Boy, the 8-1 third choice. “There’s been other trainers who have won the Whitney and the Woodward the same year," he said, "but not with two different horses, both of them seven years old.”
Todd Pletcher, whose Lawyer Ron managed to sweep both last year on his way to Eclipse honors as top older horse, enters A.P. Arrow, who was fourth to Curlin the Dubai World Cup. In two subsequent starts, though, A.P. Arrow was sixth in the Suburban (gr. I) and eighth in the Whitney. He'll race without blinkers in the Woodward
Pletcher defeated Curlin twice last year -- with the filly Rags to Riches in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) and in the Haskell with Any Given Saturday.
“We're going to go over there and give it our best shot,” said the trainer. “We’re going to hope for the mystique of Saratoga and the `Graveyard of Champions’ … and all that stuff. We need all of those stars to align and all the planets to align and we need everything and then some to go right. He’s a better horse at this stage, but we’ll see. Things happen sometimes.”
Darley Stables’ Past the Point, winner of an optional claimer here on Aug. 3; Out of Control, saddled by Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel, and Dr. D.F.C., who took the overnight Solomon Northup Stakes at Saratoga Aug. 9, complete the field.
Here are the horses in post position order, followed by trainer, jockey and morning line odds:
1. A.P. Arrow, Todd Pletcher, Cornelio Velasquez, 20-1
2. Loose Leaf, Ken McPeek, Eibar Coa, 15-1
3. Past the Point, Eoin Harty, Edgar Prado, 15-1
4. Divine Park, Kiaran McLaughlin, Alan Garcia, 3-1
5. Curlin, Steve Asmussen, Robby Albarado, 3-5
6. Dr. D.F.C., Rodrigo Ubillo, Aldo Arboleda, 50-1
7. Out of Control, Bobby Frankel, John Velazquez, 12-1
8. Wanderin Boy, Nick Zito, Julien Leparoux, 8-1
Each assigned 126 pounds.