Reigning Horse of the Year Curlin worked an easy half-mile over the main track at Churchill Downs on Monday in preparation for what trainer Steve Asmussen plans as the colt's debut on turf this weekend.
The 4-year-old son of Smart Strike worked at 6:30 a.m. and comfortably covered the distance in :50.80 over a ”fast“ surface. He completed the work in fractional times of :13.20, :26.20 and :38.80 and galloped out 5 furlongs in 1:05.
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The breeze followed last week's 7-furlong work on turf in 1:31.20 and was Curlin's final move in preparation for his expected first outing on turf on Saturday in either the Grade I, $500,000 Man o' War at Belmont Park or the $200,000 Grade III Arlington Park Handicap at Arlington Park. The decision on which race will be Curlin's target hinges on the resolution of a licensing issue in both racing jurisdictions regarding the colt's minority owner Midnight Cry Stable.
”He's an awesome horse — I'm excited,“ Asmussen said.
This weekend's race will be an important test for Curlin as majority owner Jess Jackson of Stonestreet Stable and Asmussen consider a possible trip to France to run in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, Europe's top test for older horses on Oct. 5.
Asmussen would prefer the Man o' War for Curlin, who has won five consecutive races that include the $750,000, Grade I Jockey Club Gold Cup; the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic; the $6 million Dubai World Cup; and the Grade I Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs.
The 13⁄8-mile Man o' War is expected to attract two other Breeders' Cup champions in Red Rocks, winner of the Turf at Churchill Downs in 2006, and Better Talk Now, winner of the Turf at Lone Star Park in 2004.
”That race is coming up fabulous,“ Asmussen said. ”If you're going to venture overseas, you don't want to be kidding yourself about how good or bad you are on the turf.“
If the licensing issue is resolved, Curlin would fly to New York on Thursday for Saturday's race. If all goes well, he would probably ship to Saratoga for a brief stay and travel to France shortly thereafter.