ARCADIA, Calif. — The moments are infrequent, often obscured by the frenetic pace of his life, but every so often trainer Steve Asmussen lets it all sink in.
For the past 20 months, the horse many consider the best in the world has been in his care. And with every new accomplishment his charge achieves, Asmussen becomes more aware of his unique situation.
"For me to grow up in a racing family and to be in the middle of this," Asmussen said Monday. "I mean, growing up in Laredo, Texas, who thought we'd be here?"
"Here" for Asmussen means being on the doorstep of history.
On Saturday, less than two years after he first made himself known to the racing world, reigning Horse of the Year Curlin will attempt to put himself in the sports' pantheon when he goes for his second straight triumph in the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic.
Tiznow is the only horse to win back-to-back Classics, taking the race in 2000 and 2001.
If Curlin's connections fail to come up with new adjectives to describe him, it's because the son of Smart Strike has forced them to use so many compliments during his 15-race career.
He is the all-time leading North American money earner with a bankroll of $10,246,800; he won a Triple Crown race in just his fifth career start; and seven of his 11 career wins have come in Grade I races.
Should the blazing chestnut colt conquer a synthetic surface for the first time and claim a second Breeders' Cup, his connections know the discussion about him would shift from being one of the best in decades to one of the best of all time.
And for the normally collected Asmussen, that thought is nearly enough to overwhelm him.
"(Majority owner) Jess Jackson put him back in training obviously not for monetary reasons because it was worth more money to stop on him last year," Asmussen said after Curlin worked 4 furlongs in an easy :493⁄5 Monday in his final breeze before the Classic. "I'm so proud of what Curlin has done for everybody involved and there are just so many instances that make for the great memories.
"His run last year culminating with the Classic ... going by the $10 million mark, those are things you just don't write."
While the physical changes in Curlin have been obvious — growing from a raw, robust 3-year-old to a massive, beautifully muscled 4-year-old — it's the maturation process inside his head that Asmussen said puts the colt in a different stratosphere.
Gone is the green-acting youngster who struggled when it came to running the turns. In his place is a battle-tested veteran who simply needs maintenance now more than guidance.
"I think last year (on) race day he was what you wanted him to be, very focused, and he definitely had a game face," Asmussen said. "That's one thing that has always been tremendous about him. He's been on that stage and he's accepted it the whole time. But I think it's between races now that he has a better understanding of who he is and that the attention is for him.
"He's just a touch more easy on himself between races, just matured in so many ways."
No more was that evident than in Monday's final workout. With regular exercise rider Carlos Rosas sitting like a statue, Curlin whipped through his 4-furlong outing so easily it looked as if he were out for a routine gallop.
The question of how Curlin will take to Santa Anita's Pro-Ride artificial surface on race day still hangs heavy for Asmussen.
But the pressure and strain that comes with managing a legacy can be balanced by the exhilaration of being associated with a potential legend.
"I think all the time about how blessed we are to be involved with him," Asmussen said. "We don't feel like he (Curlin) owes us something, you just want him to run his race. And what a stage this is."