It remains to be seen what the loss will mean to trainer Steve Asmussen's plans to take Curlin to France for a run at the Prix d' l'Arc de Triomphe (Fr-I) this fall. Though Curlin, the reigning U.S. Horse of the Year, didn't need to win here, he was overpowered by Red Rocks, who got first jump on the prohibitive favorite and drew away in deep stretch to win by two lengths under Javier Castellano.
Red Rocks won the 2006 Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) at Churchill Downs but has been generally undistinguished since. The Irish-bred 5-year-old by Galileo was coming off a sixth-place finish in Epsom's Coronation Cup (Eng-I) five weeks ago.
Mistical Plan upset the $400,00 Princess Rooney Handicap (gr. I) at Calder Race Course earlier in the day, commencing a memorable day for Reddam.
Curlin, who won last year's Breeders' Cup Classic Powered by Dodge (gr. I), got second by a half-length over the closing Better Talk Now, who won the 2005 Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT). So Breeders' Cup winners went 1-2-3 in the seven-horse Man o' War. It was the first time that three Breeders' Cup winners started in the same race since the 1993 Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I). The final time was 2:12.60 for the 1 3/8-mile trip on firm going, more than two seconds off the Belmont mark for the distance.
The race set up beautifully for the late runners in the field as Sudan, soon headed by Mission Approved, set off on a quick pace and left the rest of the field more than seven lengths behind heading into the clubhouse turn. Mission Approved, tracked closely by Sudan, clicked off fractions of :22.69, :47.62 and 1:11.92 while maintaining a hefty 10-length advantage over the rest. Sudan took over on the final turn while completing the mile in 1:35.90.
Sudan led by more than two lengths at the top of the lane, but Red Rocks, who tracked in third all the way around, followed by Curlin on his outside, closed in quickly. Curlin, with Robby Albarado aboard, was in striking distance as they left the furlong pole but Red Rocks was not to be caught this day.
“That was a dream trip for my horse," Castellano said. "I sat behind the speed, made my move and then waited for the late kick of Curlin. I didn’t see Curlin for awhile but because I had such a great trip, I thought I would be able to hold on.”
Curlin held off Better Talk Now and Ramon Dominguez for the runner-up spot.
“We’ll just evaluate how he comes out of the race," Asmussen said. "I don’t want to rush to judgment (on Curlin's future). He was a step slow coming out of the gate; I wasn’t surprised as he had the outside draw. We’ll just evaluate more thoroughly. We’ll monitor his condition. He looked like he ran second to a Breeders’ Cup winner.”
Trained by Brian Meehan, Red Rocks added blinkers for the Man o’ War, which helped him relax after showing rankness in the Coronation June 6. The dark bay left quarantine at Aqueduct July 10 after shipping over from Great Britain earlier in the week. Coming into the Man o' War, Red Rocks had won twice in eight starts since the '06 Breeders' Cup. His most recent victory came in a condition allowance at Lingfield May 10, his first race in six months. Red Rocks ran third in last year's Breeders' Cup Turf.
"Once (Red Rocks) got into the straight and got straightened up and balanced, I knew he was going to be hard to pass," Meehan said. “He’s a five-year-old horse now and he’s proved himself with group/grade one horses all his life. Everything is always easy with him. He hasn’t been given the kudos he deserves since the (2006) Breeders’ Cup. Today, he confirmed he is one of the best middle distance turf horses in the world and has been for the last two, three years."
The race, Meehan said, wasn't about beating Curlin.
“It is about beating the field and Curlin happened to be in there. Everybody loves a champion and today Red Rocks is a champion.”
Overall, Red Rocks has won six times in 19 starts with earnings of $2,810,694.
A lukewarm third choice, Red Rocks paid $14.40, $4 and $2.90, topping a $2 exacta worth $32 when combined with Curlin, the 2-5 choice who returned $2.50 and $2.10. The 9-year-old Better Talk Now, probably needing softer ground, was $2.70 to show as the second choice. Sudan, True Cause, Grand Couturier and Mission Approved followed.
Curlin's owner, Jess Jackson of Stonestreet Stable, was upbeat in spite of the defeat.
“The people applauded him in the paddock, all the way around and when he came back," he said. "It was a great race for the fans and this is part of what we are trying to do.
"We just didn’t see that late kick from him today," Jackson noted. "I don’t know if that was because he is still getting used to the turf or what. My feeling right now is that he needs another turf test. We know what he can do on dirt, and that is always an option.
“I’m disappointed, but this is not a setback. And the horse that beat him is a very good horse, and I congratulate them on a great race."