As 12 horses headed to the post in the $6 million Dubai World Cup (UAE-I), trainer Steve Asmussen stood in the paddock at Nad Al Sheba racecourse. “I’m just wanting the real Curlin to show up,” he said. Moments later, the Smart Strikecolt more than obliged, rolling to a 7 ¾-length win and convincing viewers of one sure thing – right now "the real Curlin" is the best horse in the world.
Curlin never looked anything but a winner as he warmed up in the post parade heading into the March 29 event in Dubai. Even when the horse behind him, A.P. Arrow, broke away from his handler (who, in turn, was thrown from his pony) as the field approached the starting gate, the 2007 Horse of the Year demonstrated his usual professionalism. An overhead view from the cameras in the starting gate showed the 4-year-old runner on full alert, shifting nimbly below jockey Robby Albarado in the moments before the break.
No horse had ever won the World Cup from post position number 12, but the outside hole provided a perfect launching pad for Curlin’s preferred stalking trip. Settling himself in the center of the track and forwardly-placed in fourth behind the frontrunning Well Armed, the colt rated comfortably through the race’s early stages. As Asiatic Boy made his bid heading up the backside, Curlin inched up to third.
The real running began at the head of the stretch, when Albarado allowed the colt to unleash a move on Asiatic Boy, the winner of the 2007 United Arab Emirates Triple Crown, who was battling with Well Armed for second. The colt powered past those two, then was kept to the task by his rider as he drew off to win without fully extending himself. He completed 2,000 meters (9.94 furlongs) in 2:00.15.
A.P. Arrow, Great Hunter, Lucky Find, Jalil, Gloria De Campeao, Premium Tap, Sway Yed, Kocab, and Vermilion completed the order of finish. Happy Boy scratched.
“What a horse,” Albarado said while he rode back to the winner’s circle. “He does it all on race day. It’s easy when you ride a great horse like (him). He’s not even tired.”
Following the picture and once Albarado had dismounted, Asmussen had the welfare of his colt in mind as he ordered aside video crews so Curlin could keep moving.
“Come on guys, back up, the horse has to walk,” he said, and assistant trainer Scott Blasi made a rapid exit with exercise rider Carmen Rosas leading from the offside shank. Once the champion runner was on his way back to the barn, Asmussen was able to breathe a little easier.
“We’re very proud of Curlin; it’s a great honor to be involved with a horse like him and I hope we’re in the middle of putting him on top of everybody else,” he said. “He went back into training to show his greatness, and I think he did that today. He's spoiled us with his consistency and brilliance. Pre-race the horse was in great shape and he stepped from the stalls and just spoiled us again.”
Praise has been bountiful for Curlin’s connections, who brought the colt back for a 4-year-old campaign rather than retiring him to stud. Majority owner Jess Jackson was largely responsible for the decision, as his Stonewall Stable controls 80% interest in the colt. A 20% interest in Curlin is also owned by Midnight Cry Stable, the racing entity owned by incarcerated attorneys William J. Gallion and Shirley A. Cunningham Jr.
“I hope this helps Sheikh Mohammed (bin Rashid al Moktoum) promote this race,” Jackson said. “I truly feel that international racing at this racecourse – both on the dirt and turf – defines the champion.”
Curlin had the riders of the second- and third-place finishers in awe when they came back from the gallop out.
John Murtagh, the jockey aboard Asiatic Boy, called the winner “a monster” while assuring that his horse “ran a marvelous race and fought and fought to get his second place.”
Aaron Gryder,Well Armed’s pilot, said, “He ran fantastic; he broke well and had horses on him the whole way and never really got a big breather… (but) I saw Curlin on the outside of us, and he’s just a very talented horse.”
Bred in Kentucky by Fares Farm out of the Deputy Minister mare Sherriff’s Deputy, Curlin now owns an 8-1-2 record from 11 career starts. His resume includes victories in the Preakness Stakes (gr. I), the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I), and the Breeders' Cup Classic - Powered by Dodge (gr. I).
Success in the Dubai World Cup took the colt's lifetime earnings to $8,807,800, which ranks him third behind Cigar ($9,999,815) and Skip Away ($9,616,360) among all-time North American earners.
Curlin will ship back to Keeneland on April 6. Plans for the rest of his 2008 campaign have yet to be announced.