After a terrible journey chasing roses May 5, inexperienced Curlin has every right to improve in Saturday's Preakness Stakes (gr. I), says assistant Scott Blasi, who is handling the colt for trainer Steve Asmussen this week.
The son of Smart Strike will be Asmussen’s third Preakness starter, but the first to come to the race after running in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I). Curlin finished third after encountering some traffic.
Blasi said he agreed with the analysis of some veteran trainers – including Derby winner Street Sense’s trainer Carl Nafzger – that Curlin is likely to improve from his experience at the Louisville track. The race was just the fourth of Curlin’s career and followed three decisive victories.
“Street Sense ran a brilliant race on that day,” Blasi said Thursday morning. “Hopefully, our horse found out that it wasn’t going to be a cakewalk every time he went over there. He’s won three races by 28 lengths. He found himself in a position he’d probably never been in before.
Asmussen finished fifth in his Preakness appearances with Snuck In (2000) and Easyfromthegitgo (2002).
“Those were nice horses, but those horses weren’t capable of doing what we feel this horse is capable of doing,” Blasi said.
Blasi is taking care of Curlin for his boss while Asmussen attends the funeral of his grandmother. The trainer is scheduled to arrive in Baltimore Friday.
Curlin shipped from Kentucky Wednesday morning. He made his first trip to the Pimlico track Thursday morning and galloped a mile under regular exercise rider Carmen Rosas. The colt was scheduled to school in the paddock before Thursday’s sixth race.
Regular jockey Robby Albarado will ride the colt in the Preakness.
The Preakness horses are saddled on the turf course prior to the race. Since he probably will not have a chance to school Curlin on the turf course, Blasi said Asmussen will probably opt to saddle the colt in Pimlico’s enclosed paddock and walk him to the turf course. That is the procedure Curlin followed at Oaklawn Park – where the Arkansas Derby (gr. II) starters are saddled in the infield – before his smashing victory.
“I think Robby brings a lot to the table as far as he learned as much about Curlin as Curlin learned that he’s going to have to run," Blasi said. "I think it’s going to work out well.”
Curlin found trouble early in the Derby, but managed to get free and finish well.
“He was definitely running at the wire,” Blasi said. “That’s not an easy thing to do as far as horses going a mile and a quarter and horses getting tired. I like the direction he had at the end of the race, as far as how green he was early on.”
Blasi said that Curlin has shown his connections that he is ready for the difficult assignment in the Preakness two weeks after the Derby.
“The thing I loved about the Derby and why I thought we were in such good shape to come here is 20 to 30 minutes after the Derby in the test barn this horse felt great,” Blasi said. “He was walking around and he drank about three-quarters of a bucket of water and gave all the signs that that race really hadn’t stressed him out. That’s a very positive sign for all of us.”
Blasi said the colt appears to be mentally fresh, too.
“I’ve seen horses sulk after a race, but this horse was very upbeat and very energetic,” Blasi said. “Just watching him around the barn and stuff, I think he’s even shown a little more life.”
While top stakes horses rarely are asked to run in major events 14 days apart in this era, Blasi said the sprawling Asmussen operation has experience with quick turnarounds.
“From having 200 head, I think we’ve been in a lot of different scenarios with horses, as far as running them back in two weeks,” he said. “We feel very comfortable with doing that.”
Blasi said the decision to bring Curlin to the Preakness after the Derby came after careful examination of the colt.
“We’re running in the Preakness because we think we belong and we think we can win,” he said. “That’s the only reason to run anyway.”