Speaking during a March 25 teleconference hosted by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, Albarado reconfirmed what Curlin’s victory in the Feb. 28 Jaguar Trophy in Dubai seemed to say – that the Steve Asmussen trainee is improving with age.
“We all like to say they get better as they get older, and Curlin is a perfect example,” the jockey said. “He’s more mature, he’s bigger, and he’s serious about horse racing. I feel like the best three races were his last three races. The Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I), the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I), and the Jaguar are probably the only three races where he really bellied down and ran hard. If he continues his streak, he could be a superstar. I think he’s going to get better as he goes on this year.”
Curlin faces his next test against a field of 12 international starters including the Japanese runner Vermilion, aiming to continue his unbeaten run with a fifth group I victory in a row, and the Mike de Kock-trained Asiatic Boy, whose since broken four-race winning streak included a 9 1/2-length score in the group II UAE Derby over the Nad Al Sheba surface last year. Familiar American entries include Great Hunter and A.P. Arrow.
“I know a few of the American horses in the race, I’ve ridden against them and watched them run,” Albarado said. “A lot of guys in the jocks’ room there know how the (foreign) horses run. (Frankie) Dettori will help me out with who’s who in the races, but it doesn’t change the strategy at all. I just have to let Curlin run his own race. You saw me ride him the last time; it was probably the most confident I’ve been on a horse in a long time. The way he moves, the way he warms up, his whole demeanor going into a race gives me confidence.”
Albarado has been aboard Curlin for every start except his maiden, when the Smart Strike colt was ridden by Rafael Bejarano to a 12 3/4-length win at Gulfstream Park. The duo marked up graded victories for Jess Jackson’s Stonestreet Stable and Midnight Cry Stables in the Rebel Stakes (gr. III), Arkansas Derby (gr. II), and Preakness Stakes (gr. I) before finishing second in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) and third in the Haskell Invitational (gr. I) en route to their past three wins. In addition to Horse of the Year honors, Curlin also took home an Eclipse Award as the top 3-year-old male of 2007.
“I think he means a lot to racing,” Albarado said. “Everyone needs a star, and it seems like whoever wins the (Kentucky) Derby is the star for the year. But if Curlin can continue this streak he’s on, he’s going to establish a fan base like no one’s had in years.”
According to Albarado, Curlin’s recent 2 1/4-length score in the Jaguar was deceptively small.
“If I’d hit him he would have won by 10 or 15 lengths, but that wasn’t the point,” the jockey said. “The point was to get him ready for (the World Cup), and that’s what we did. But when I rode him in that race I felt like he was just galloping. I wish everybody had an opportunity to feel it. There’s so much power, so much confidence, so much ability. He’s a finely-tuned athlete, easy and effortless.”