Trainer Steve Asmussen is confident that his Preakness Stakes (gr. I) winner Curlin will show up and finish strong in the final leg of the Triple Crown, the June 9 Belmont Stakes (gr. I).
"He is a competitor," said Asmussen in his first meeting with the media at Belmont Park the morning of June 8. "I think our strategy (in the Belmont) is very similar to what we always do. You know your horse and you control what you can control. I hope he is away from the gate cleanly and I hope he goes well over the racetrack. From point A to point B he is a very tough horse to beat. I think the adjustments that need to be made will be made by other horses trying to beat him."
Curlin will break from post three under jockey Robby Albarado in the Belmont. The pair is listed as the 6-5 morning line favorite.
The son of Smart Strike, out of the Deputy Minister mare Sherriff's Deputy, is owned by the partnership of Jess Jackson's Stonestreet Stables, Satish and Anne Sanan's Padua Stables, George Bolton, and the Midnight Cry Stables of Bill Gallion and Shirley Allen Cunningham Jr.
Bred by Fares Farm, Curlin enters the Belmont off a hard-fought head win in the Preakness over Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) winner Street Sense, whose connections opted to skip the Belmont in favor of late summer and fall racing opportunities.
Asmussen said he did have some fears that Curlin could bounce in the Belmont following such a gut wrenching effort in the Preakness.
"I do have a fear that he might bounce in this race," the trainer said. "I really believe in the adage of you get paid for what you do and you also pay for what you do. Street Sense isn't here and that was the horse next to him. This is a very competitive race.
Asked who he fears most in the Belmont line up, Asmussen said Hard Spun, who was second in the Kentucky Derby and third in the Preakness. "Being familiar with him, respecting him, and him being one of only two horses (the other was Street Sense in the Derby) that have beaten Curlin must be acknowledged. I think he is a quality horse."
The addition of Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) winner Rags to Riches to the field intrigues Asmussen. "Rags to Riches brings a certain amount of curiosity to the race," the trainer said. "There is no comparable form for her or common horses that this group of colts has run against. I think everybody has been impressed with her and you can't say enough good things about her. Her race (grade I Las Virgenes) in California was very impressive. That was just an amazing race and I am very curious to see how she stacks up against this group of colts.
"None of these questions will be answered until tomorrow afternoon for all of us. Let's go out and see what happens."