Curlin's July 1 work over the Churchill Downs turf proved good enough for him to run next in the Man o' War (gr. IT) at Belmont Park on July 12.

Curlin's July 1 work over the Churchill Downs turf proved good enough for him to run next in the Man o' War (gr. IT) at Belmont Park on July 12.

Anne M. Eberhardt

Curlin Headed to Belmont for Man o' War

Horse of the Year Curlin will make his turf debut in the $500,000 Man o’ War Stakes (gr. IT) July 12, trainer Steve Asmussen announced Tuesday.

“We’ve been OK’d to race in New York and we’re planning on flying him to Belmont on Thursday,” Asmussen said. “I have no particulars; that was handled by Stonestreet (majority owner of Curlin).”

Asmussen and Stonestreet Stable’s Jess Jackson have been like two travelers planning a trip overseas without knowing if their passports are valid.

With their long-range goal for Curlin the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (Fr-I) at Longchamp Oct. 5, it had been imperative that they run their star on the grass this coming weekend, either in the Man o’War Stakes (gr. IT) at Belmont Park or the Arlington Handicap (gr. IIIT) the same day. By Monday, they still had no idea if they’d be allowed to run in either one due to the licensing issues regarding the colt’s minority partners Shirley Cunningham Jr. and William Gallion, whose recent trial for defrauding their clients of $65 million in the fen-phen diet drug case ended in a mistrial.

It has been tough enough for Jackson and Asmussen to prepare for such an ambitious campaign without having their hands tied by legal entanglements and not knowing where they are allowed to race their horse. Now they finally know.

Asmussen stated he preferred the Man o’War with its grade I status and stiffer competition (from Breeders’ Cup Turf winners Better Talk Now and Red Rocks), which would give him and Jackson a better gauge as to how Curlin would stack up against grade and group I horses.

“That’s the question we want answered this weekend, if Curlin is of the caliber to be considered for the Arc,” Asmussen said. “Two previous Breeders’ Cup Turf winners should definitely give us that measure.”

The decision to point for the Arc is a simple one, the trainer said. “I think the Arc is one of the greatest races in the world and we’re hoping to prove that Curlin is one of the greatest horses in the world,” Asmussen said. “If we can establish a grade I form on him this Saturday in the Man o’War, we’ll make arrangements from there to get him to Chantilly and start our preparations with him to be comfortable going right-handed. That will start Saturday, and if all goes well we’ll still have a lot to do.”

If everything works out in the Man o’ War, a race Asmussen said Curlin doesn’t have to win but has to “look the best,” the colt would likely prep for the Arc in the Prix Foy (Fra-III) at Longchamp.

As for the decision to run Curlin on the turf, Asmussen said, “It’s for the horse’s legacy. To have won the Breeders’ Cup Classic in such a strong running last year, and to win the Dubai World Cup, I think international racing is going to be very strong in the future and I want Curlin to be in the forefront of that movement. The Classic being run on a synthetic surface was not a factor. With what we’d like to get done with Curlin is something nobody’s done before. Back-to-back Breeders’ Cup winners is pretty amazing in one sense, but it’s been done before.”

Curlin’s campaign at four has resulted in victories in the Dubai World Cup (UAE-I), Stephen Foster (gr. I), and Jaguar Trophy under 132 pounds, which he used as a prep for the World Cup. The son of Smart Strike has increased his lifetime earnings to $9,396,800.