The countdown to the opening of the second half of the 2008 campaign by Stonestreet Stable and Midnight Cry Stable’s reigning “Horse of the Year” Curlin is now down to hours, and trainer Steve Asmussen is ready to see the imposing chestnut colt run in Saturday’s $1 million Stephen Foster Handicap (Grade I).
The 4-year-old son of Smart Strike drew the rail post in a field of 10 older stars in the 27th running of the 1 1/8-mile Stephen Foster, which is carded as the 10th of 11 races on the “Stephen Foster Super Saturday” program at approximately 5:51 p.m. (all times EDT). Churchill Downs oddsmaker Mike Battaglia has installed the winner of the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic Powered by Dodge (GI) and the $6 million Dubai World Cup (GI) at Nad Al Sheba as the 3-5 morning line choice in a talented group that also includes Brass Hat, the winner of the 2006 Donn Handicap (GI) and the track record-holder for 1 1/16 miles at Churchill Downs; Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (GI) winner Einstein, a three-time Grade I winner on the turf; and Grasshopper, a narrow loser to 2007 Kentucky Derby (GI) winner Street Sense in last year’s Travers (GI) at Saratoga.
Curlin was scheduled to school in the Churchill Downs paddock during Thursday’s fifth race.
“I’m very anxious to run him,” Asmussen said at his Churchill Downs barn on Thursday. “He’s a very exciting horse to be around, and this is his purpose. He’s very dialed-in. He schooled well last week, he schools again today. I think he’s an absolutely gorgeous animal, but I’m biased.”
The race will be Curlin’s first since he cruised to a 7 ¾-length romp in the Dubai World Cup on March 29. Curlin will attempt to become the second horse to complete the World Cup-Stephen Foster double. Godolphin’s Dubai-based Street Cry dominated both races in 2002.
Asmussen vividly remembers Street Cry’s 6 ½-length victory in the Stephen Foster and said that he planned Curlin’s trip to Dubai for the World Cup, which consisted of a six-week stay at Nad Al Sheba and a prep race over the track a month before the World Cup, with the Godolphin runner in mind.
“He (Street Cry) had a prep before the World Cup and then ran dynamite in it,” Asmussen said. “I was here that day for his Stephen Foster – and wow! I witnessed it and thought, ‘Oh, my goodness.’ So that form influenced us in going over there and spending the time, because I thought that horse had the best performance off winning the World Cup.”
Curlin has worked strongly at Churchill Downs in preparation for the Foster, including a brilliant seven-furlong work in 1:24.60 on June 2. Asmussen believes his champion is ready, although he has “normal” concerns over the colt’s draw of the rail post at a 1 1/8-mile distance that is probably a bit short of his best. Curlin is one-for-two at the Foster’s 1 1/8 miles, but has won four of five races at 1 ¼ miles – with his third-place finish to Street Sense and Hard Spun in last year’s Kentucky Derby being his only setback at that distance.
“He’s not a ‘juvenile’ as he was when I think (post position) came into play,” he said. “He’s a very seasoned animal. I’m very pleased with how comfortable he is with his surroundings, but he needs to run. The test is going to be how fast you are. Reputation doesn’t win races – how fast you’re going does.”
Curlin has been very fast in his career and brings an 8-1-2 record in 11 races and earnings of $8,807,800 into Saturday’s Stephen Foster Handicap, trailing only Cigar’s $9,999,815 and Skip Away’s $9,616,360 on the North American all-time earning list. With his two victories in Dubai to start the year, Asmussen’s first “Horse of the Year” is off to a grand start on 2008 – but his trainer knows there are still six important months remaining in the year.
“I think that this is exactly the beginning of the second half of it, and I think you want to savor it as much as possible,” Asmussen said. “That being said, I think the first half was decided and that went perfectly. So I think this is very exciting and this is the second half. We broke it up the same as last year, into two separate campaigns.”
Asmussen was outspoken about his unhappiness with the 128-pound impost assigned to Curlin for the Stephen Foster. He said that concern was both for the champion’s comeback in the Stephen Foster and for what the colt could face in handicap races down the road should he be as successful as Asmussen hopes on Saturday.
“You plan on having success, that’s why you do this,” he said. “I think most all of the time everybody’s walking over there thinking they’re going to win – that’s why they’re walking over there. But where do you go from here? Also, it’s quite substantial to be giving 10 to 15 pounds to this quality of older horses. How much is enough? Weight matters, and how much matters. Everything has a point where it’s not worth it.”
Two other horses with Dubai World Cup experience competed in the Stephen Foster. Victory Gallop, the winner of the 1998 Belmont Stakes, finished third in the 1999 World Cup and followed that effort with a Stephen Foster romp in which he established Churchill Downs’ track record for 1 1/8 miles (1:47.28). Captain Steve won the 2001 Dubai World Cup, but was runner-up to longshot Guided Tour in that year’s Foster.
EXERCISE RIDER ROSAS RIDING HIGH WITH CURLIN – Mornings with Curlin would be a dream for any rider, but it is a dream that Carlos Rosas lives every day.
Rosas has been the regular exercise rider Curlin since the reigning “Horse of the Year” arrived in trainer Steve Asmussen’s barn in February 2007.
“There have been maybe two or three times that I haven’t been on him in the morning since the day he came to the barn,” Rosas said. “It is a great feeling to be on him every morning. It is awesome to be part of it and awesome to be part of his life.”
Rosas, who has worked six years for Asmussen, remembers the first time he got on Curlin.
“I felt like he was a good horse. Scott (assistant trainer Scott Blasi) told me how much they had paid for him and I thought that was a lot of money,” Rosas said of the seven-figure purchase. “After I galloped him, I could understand why they paid as much as they did.”
The ride has included last year’s Triple Crown series, the triumph in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Monmouth Park and a six-week stay this year in Dubai where Curlin won two races, including the $6 million Dubai World Cup (GI) in his most recent start.
Saturday’s Stephen Foster will mark Curlin’s first start in 11 weeks and carrying 128 pounds against nine rivals.
“He has to show up,” Rosas said. “People have said that horses sometimes have a tough time coming back from Dubai, but, to me, it seems like he’s back.”
CLEARLY FOXY RACING FOR OVERBROOK IN THE REGRET – Last fall, Charles Laloggia owned a trio of 2-year-old fillies who were putting together banner campaigns. The three, all trained by Mark Casse, were dubbed “Charlie’s Angels.”
However, one of the Angels has new ownership and soon may have a new home.
Clearly Foxy, winner of the Natalma (GIII) at Woodbine in September, will race in Saturday’s Regret (GIII) in the colors of Overbrook Farm.
“He has had a lot of offers before, but this is the first time he has sold one,” said Norman Casse, son of Mark Casse, who oversees his father’s Kentucky string. “I am glad we are going to be able to keep her for Saturday and it is an honor to train for Overbrook.”
The other “Angels” are graded stakes winner Officer Cherrie and graded stakes-placed Lickety Lemon.
Casse is not sure how much longer Clearly Foxy will be in his barn.
“It depends on how we do Saturday,” Casse said with a laugh. “If she runs badly, they may take her.”
ALBARADO WIDENS LEAD IN RACE FOR LEADING RIDER – Robby Albarado rode two winners on Wednesday’s card to boost his lead to four over Miguel Mena in his quest for his first riding title at Churchill Downs.
After 33 days of the 52-day Spring Meet, Albarado has ridden 43 winners. Albarado’s victories came in the fourth aboard Little Somethin ($7.60) for trainer Jason Cook, and in the eighth aboard I’m So Lucky ($6.80) for trainer John Ward.
Mena secured his 39th victory of the meet when he took the opener aboard In Orbit ($2.80) for trainer D. Wayne Lukas.
BARN TALK – Frank Calabrese’s champion Dreaming of Anna was scheduled to arrive at Churchill Downs on Thursday afternoon for her run in Saturday’s $150,000-added Early Times Mint Julep (GIII). The 2006 Eclipse Award winner will be housed in Barn 33. … 2006 Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Michael Matz was scheduled to arrive Friday morning from Fair Hill (Md.) with his two runners for the Stephen Foster Super Saturday card. Matz will send out Visionaire for Team Valor International and Vision Racing in the $175,000-added Northern Dancer (GIII), and Hidden Creek Farm’s Street Sounds in the Early Times Mint Julep. Those horses will be stabled in Barn 17. … Idoitmyway, the first foal from 2000 Golden Rod winner Miss Pickums, broke her maiden on her ninth try Wednesday in winning the fifth race. Paul McGee trained Miss Pickums and in addition to the 4-year-old Idoitmyway also trains her 3-year-old half-sister Sheltered and has a Miss Pickums 2-year-old in the barn.
LEPAROUX. LANERIE HEADLINE ‘JOCKEY TALK’ – Jockeys Julien Leparoux and Corey Lanerie will be the featured guests during this Saturday’s “Jockey Talk” – a new program at Churchill Downs that allows horse racing fans to mingle with their favorite race riders.
Each Saturday throughout the remainder of the Spring Meet fans will get a chance to meet, visit, receive autographs and take pictures with select Churchill Downs jockeys from 11:30 a.m. to noon (all times Eastern) in the paddock area.
Leparoux, a 24-year-old native of France, began Thursday as the third-leading rider at the meet with 37 victories. He won last year’s Spring and Fall meet riding titles. Louisiana-born Lanerie, 33, had nine wins at Churchill Downs’ Spring Meet, good for 10th in the standings.
HRTV ONSITE FOR STEPHEN FOSTER SUPER SATURDAY – HorseRacing TV (HRTV) will be at Churchill Downs on Saturday for ‘Horse of the Year’ Curlin’s return to action in the $1 million Stephen Foster Handicap (GI). Host Peter Lurie will be joined by longtime TV racing personality Caton Bredar to report the latest developments surrounding “Stephen Foster Super Saturday.”
WORK TAB – Hobeau Farm’s Delightful Kiss tuned up for his run in Saturday’s Stephen Foster Handicap by working three furlongs in :36.40 on a fast main track for trainer Pete Anderson. The move was the seventh fastest of 20 at the distance. … Maggi Moss’ Indian Chant, winner of the Aristides (GIII) in his most recent start on May 31, worked a half-mile in :47.80 for trainer Tom Amoss. The move was the second fastest of 56 at the distance. … Elizabeth Lavin’s multi-stakes winning Junior College worked five furlongs in 1:01.60 for trainer Tony Reinstedler for the seventh fastest work of 13 at the distance. …Whirlie Bertie, a two-time winner at the Spring Meet, breezed five furlongs for trainer Steve Margolis in 1:00 – the second fastest of 13 works at the distance. (Turf: FIRM, Dogs Up) – Phoenix Stakes (GIII) winner Off Duty breezed five furlongs 1:03.60 for trainer Lynn Whiting. …Cowtown Cat, winner of the 2007 Illinois Derby (GI) and 20th in last year’s Kentucky Derby for trainer Todd Pletcher, breezed four furlongs in :54.20. …Aegon Turf Sprint (GIII) winner Mr. Nightlinger breezed four furlongs in :52.40.
2008 SPRING MEET LEADERS
Through Thursday, June 11
Jockeys Starts 1-2-3
Robby Albarado 162 43-19-22
Miguel Mena 220 39-28-28
Julien Leparoux 205 37-37-38
Calvin Borel 214 31-33-32
Shaun Bridgmohan 143 29-27-18
Jamie Theriot 153 25-22-12
Jesus Castanon 173 21-15-19
Brian Hernandez Jr. 121 11-20-13
Elvis Trujillo 68 10-10-18
Corey Lanerie 131 9-19-14
Larry Sterling Jr. 69 9-8-9
Tom Amoss 50 21-7-8
Ken McPeek 50 21-7-4
Steve Asmussen 76 16-14-12
Mike Maker 40 11-7-4
Dale Romans 91 10-19-16
Ian Wilkes 34 10-6-5
Eddie Kenneally 40 8-8-8
Cody Autrey 43 7-8-8
Greg Foley 49 7-8-6
Steve Margolis 33 7-6-6
Wesley Ward 25 7-5-5
Paul McGee 32 7-5-2
Nick Zito 19 7-5-1
Three (3) trainers tied with six (6) wins
Ken and Sarah Ramsey 39 12-6-8
Maggi Moss 20 10-3-3
Zayat Stables, LLC 34 7-6-7
Richard, Elaine & Bert Klein 28 6-7-3
Heiligbrodt Racing Stable 11 5-1-0
Padua Stables 7 4-1-0
Eliah and Lisa Kahn 4 4-0-0