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'Horse of the Year' Curlin, Belmont Stakes Hope Denis of Cork Work At Churchill Downs
A busy Monday at Churchill Downs saw significant training moves by several major stakes winners, including works by reigning “Horse of the Year” Curlin and Belmont Stakes (Grade I) contender Denis of Cork.
Stonestreet Stables LLC and Midnight Cry Stables Curlin, winner of the $6 million Dubai World Cup in his most recent start, breezed five furlongs in 1:02.80 over a “fast” track under exercise rider Carlos Rosas. Curlin breezed in the company of a stablemate and the move by the Steve Asmussen-trained son of Smart Strike ranked as the 17th fastest of 31 at the distance. It was the colt’s sharpest move since his return to training following his World Cup victory at Dubai’s Nad Al Sheba on March 29.
“I thought he went beautiful,” said Asmussen. “I think we’re in a very good spot with him and he seems to be coming around as expected.”
Curlin, the winner of the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic Powered by Dodge and third in last year’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI), is being pointed toward a return to racing in the $750,000-added Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) at Churchill Downs on June 14. Monday’s work was Curlin’s third since his return from Dubai. He had breezed a half-mile in :52.20 over a “fast” track at Churchill Downs on May 5 and followed that with a slow five furlongs in 1:06 on a “muddy” track on May 12.
Mr. and Mrs. William Warren’s Denis of Cork, third to unbeaten Triple Crown hopeful Big Brown in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands and winner of the Southwest (GIII) at Oaklawn Park, turned in a solid five-furlong breeze as he worked for the first time since his strong effort in “Run for the Roses.” The David Carroll-trained son of Harlan’s Holiday, who is being pointed toward a run in the mile and a half Belmont Stakes (GI) on June 7 at Belmont Park, covered the distance in 1:01 just after the break for track maintenance. Jockey James Lopez was in the irons for the breeze, which ranked fifth among the 31 at the distance.
“He’s just starting to come back to himself,” said Carroll. “He finished up strong in the Derby and galloped out. With all the rain we’ve had here, I didn’t do a whole lot with him since the Derby – you don’t have to do a whole lot with him. Today we just let him stretch his legs, and he just went beautiful.”
Carroll said the work was everything he had hoped to see in Denis of Cork’s first significant training move since his Kentucky Derby bid. The colt is expected to breeze twice more before he travels to Belmont Park in an effort to derail Big Brown’s bid to become the 12th horse to sweep Thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown.
“It’s good to get his head back in the game,” Carroll said. “We’ll see what happens in the Belmont. Big Brown is just a beautiful horse – a fantastic horse. But it wouldn’t hurt me to see him get beat. (Grade II Peter Pan winner) Casino Drive will be the second choice, but after that I don’t know. We fit well in that race with him.”
Denis of Cork won his first three starts, including the Southwest on Feb. 18, but turned in a poor effort in a fifth-place finish in the Illinois Derby (GII) at Hawthorne on April 5. Carroll’s colt rebounded in the Kentucky Derby, where he was last in the field of 20 in the early going and trained the leaders by 19 lengths. He rallied in the stretch to finish 8 ½-lengths behind the unbeaten Big Brown in third. Denis of Cork was ridden by Calvin Borel in the Kentucky Derby, but jockey Robby Albarado will have the mount on Warren’s colt in the Belmont Stakes.
Other works of note on Monday at Churchill Downs included moves by several stars from the Asmussen stable, including two horses that represented the barn in the Kentucky Derby. Winchell Thoroughbreds LLC’s Pyro, winner of the Louisiana Derby (GII) and eighth in Kentucky Derby, breezed five furlongs in 1:04.40. Zayat Stables’ Z Fortune, tenth in the Kentucky Derby, covered the same distance in 1:02.20. Asmussen said Pyro would run next in the $175,000-added Northern Dancer (GIII) on June 14 at Churchill Downs, while Z Fortune would run in the Ohio Derby (GII) at Thistledown.
Indiana Derby (GII) and West Virginia Derby (GIII) winner Zanjero breezed four furlongs for Asmussen in :49.80 in preparation for a run in the $400,000 Lone Star Park Handicap on May 26. Fantasy (GII) runner-up Alina breezed five furlongs in 1:02.90 in preparation for a run in the $100,000-added Dogwood (GIII) on May 31 at Churchill Downs, while Churchill Downs Handicap (GII) runner-up Noonmark breezed the same distance in 1:03.40 in a prep for the $125,000-added Aristides (GIII) on the same date. Kodiak Kowboy breezed five furlongs for Asmussen in 1:02.80.
Other Monday works included a move by Kentucky Jockey Club (GII) runner-up Blackberry Road, who breezed four furlongs in :52.80. … Veteran sprint stakes winner Off Duty breezed four furlongs in :51 for trainer Lynn Whiting. … Cowtown Cat, 20th in last year’s Kentucky Derby, breezed six furlongs in 1:12.40 for trainer Todd Pletcher. … Tessa Blue breezed five furlongs for trainer Frank Brothers -in 1:01.40.