With a dominant 4 ¼-length victory by reigning “Horse of the Year” Curlin in the $1 million Stephen Foster Handicap (Grade I) behind him, trainer Steve Asmussen was looking toward the future for his champion on Sunday morning. And the immediate future could have a distinctive green tint, as in the color of grass.
Asmussen has never shied from dreaming big things with Stonestreet Stable LLC’s and Midnight Cry Stable’s champion, and has occasionally mentioned the possibility of a trip to Paris to compete in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (Group 1), Europe’s greatest race for older horses, as a possible stop in the 4-year-old campaign for the son of Smart Strike.
Curlin came out of his romp in the Stephen Foster, in which he carried high weight of 128 pounds and defeated a strong field of nine rivals under a hand ride by jockey Robby Albarado, in good shape. And Asmussen said the notion of a trip to the famed Longchamp Racecourse for the 1 ½-mile turf test on Oct. 5 was again on the table – but some foundation would have to be laid before the discussion between the trainer and Stonestreet owner Jess Jackson about that potential journey becomes serious.
“We’ve talked about it since last year, since the Classic and he put him back in training,” said Asmussen.
The Stephen Foster Handicap victory improved Curlin’s record to 9-1-2 in 12 races and extended his winning streak to five races – a string that includes wins in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic Powered by Dodge (GI) and the $6 million Dubai World Cup (GI). The winner’s prize of $589,000 from the Stephen Foster Handicap’s record $1 million purse improved his career earnings to $9,396,800. The victory moved the Kentucky-bred Curlin closer to second-place Skip Away on American racing’s all-time earnings list. Skip Away earned $9,616,360 in his career, while Cigar remains atop the career earnings list with $9,999,815.
With an eye toward an Arc bid, Asmussen plans to work Curlin over Churchill Downs’ Matt Winn Turf Course, and then look for a turf race somewhere in North America on the weekend of July 12-13. He would prefer a race over an international style course, such as those at Arlington Park, Belmont Park or Woodbine. Major turf races for older horses scheduled that weekend include the $500,000 Man O’ War (GI) at 1 3/8 miles at Belmont Park and the $200,000 Arlington Handicap (GIII) at 1 ¼ miles at Arlington Park. Asmussen said that if the champion turned in a “Curlin-esque” performance in that race, he would ship to France to train at Chantilly and would probably have one race prior to the Arc in France, most likely a traditional Arc prep like Longchamp’s Prix Foy (Group 2).
“If we don’t like how he works on the turf, then we’ll change plans and that will have to be discussed,” Asmussen said. “But right now we’re going to plan on working him on the turf, with the possibility of running him on the turf the weekend of the 12th.”
As Asmussen considers a possible Arc bid for Curlin, he has relied heavily on the expertise of his brother, retired French riding champion Cash Asmussen. Cash won the Arc de Triomphe in 1991 aboard Suave Dancer and won the French Derby four times.
“One of the things that gives me a great level of comfort about the Arc is Cash,” he said. “He gives me all the confidence in the world.”
Although Curlin’s margin of victory in the Stephen Foster Handicap was the second largest in the 27-year history of the race, Asmussen admitted to some anxious moments during the race. The champion broke a bit slower than expected from his rail post and was in a pocket behind horses heading into the far turn as early leader Barcola cruised along in fractions of :25.01, :49.28 and six furlongs in 1:13.41.
“Robby said he hit the side of the gate leaving there,” Asmussen said. “You’re concerned how fast the horse on the lead was going to sprint home after going :25 (for the first quarter). Then when you were watching the race you could see Robby’s confidence and knowing the horse, you could see how happy he was.”
Asmussen was also pleased with the return to form displayed by Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Pyro in his victory in Saturday’s $175,000-added Northern Dancer Stakes (GIII) on the Stephen Foster Handicap undercard. The win under jockey Shaun Bridgmohan snapped a two-race losing streak that included a 10th place finish as the favorite over Polytrack in Keeneland’s Toyota Blue Grass (GI) and an eighth-place finish behind Big Brown in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI).
Pyro was doing well on the morning after his comeback win. Asmussen said the Pulpit colt would be pointed toward the $200,000 Dwyer (GII) at 1 1/16 miles at Belmont Park on July 6 and, if all goes well, the $1 million Haskell Invitational (GI) at 1 1/8 miles at Monmouth Park on Aug. 3.
EINSTEIN COULD RESURFACE IN JULY 4 FIRECRACKER – Trainer Helen Pitts reported that Einstein came out of his runner-up finish to Curlin in Saturday’s Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) in good shape.
“He’s mad because he lost,” Pitts said. “He’s run in four Grade Is now this year with two firsts and two seconds, so you can’t knock that.”
Pitts said there is a possibility Einstein could run back in the one-mile, $200,000-added Firecracker Handicap (GII) at Churchill Downs on July 4.
“He ran pretty hard yesterday,” Pitts said. “The Firecracker is an option. I don’t want to have to wait two months for the (Arlington) Million (on Aug. 9). If I can make sure he is good and fresh, he could run in the Firecracker then have five weeks before the Million. Another option is the (Grade II) Arlington Handicap (on July 12), but I don’t want to go a mile-and-a-quarter and then a mile-and-a-quarter, and that would be only four weeks before the Million.”
SUPER DERBY LOOMS ON RADAR FOR MY PAL CHARLIE – Trainer Al Stall Jr. was mulling over options for B. Wayne Hughes’ My Pal Charlie after the colt’s runner-up effort in Saturday’s Northern Dancer Stakes (GIII).
“That race was basically a repeat of his race in the Louisiana Derby,” Stall said of another runner-up effort behind Pyro. “He seems to run much better at his home track and maybe shipping to Hot Springs (for the Arkansas Derby) and Lone Star (for the Lone Star Derby) hurt him a bit.
“I am going to talk with Mr. Hughes and maybe give the colt a little time off. We could go to Louisiana Downs. They run a race down there called the Prelude (on Aug. 16) and if you win that you get a free ticket into the Super Derby (on Sept. 20). That would give him plenty of time in Shreveport to get acclimated.”
FOOTNOTES FROM FOSTER DAY – Galen May, assistant to trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, said that Hystericalady came out of her 7 ½-length romp in the Fleur de Lis (GII) in good order and would return to her Northern California base on Wednesday. “She is doing great this morning,” May said. “It is always good when the rider doesn’t have to use the stick.” … Early Times Mint Julep (GIII) winner Dreaming of Anna left Churchill Downs early Sunday morning to return to Arlington Park. … Also heading back to Chicago on Sunday was Recapturetheglory, who finished fourth in the Northern Dancer. … Trainer Pete Anderson plans to keep Hobeau Farm’s Delightful Kiss at Churchill Downs after the gelding’s seventh-place finish in the Stephen Foster. “I may go on to Iowa, which was the plan all along,” Anderson said, referring to the Grade II Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Breeders’ Cup on June 28. “I knew we were in trouble yesterday when I saw 25 (a 25-second first quarter in the Foster). It is hard to believe horses like that can go in 1:13 (for six furlongs). A horse with his style, it is tough to overcome a pace like that.”
CRUM, WOLFORD JOIN CELEBRITY ROSTER FOR HORSEMEN’S POKER TOURNAMENT – Hall of Fame basketball coach Denny Crum of the University of Louisville and four-time National Football League All-Pro Offensive lineman Will Wolford have joined the roster of celebrities that will participate in a horseman’s Texas Hold’em Poker Tournament set for Monday, June 16 in the Triple Crown Room of the Jockey Club Suites at Churchill Downs.
The tournament, which offers a grand prize of $10,000, will also feature celebrity players that include Hall of Fame trainer and four-time Kentucky Derby winner D. Wayne Lukas and Hall of Fame jockeys Don Brumfield and Gary Stevens.
Registration is scheduled to begin Monday at 5 p.m. (all times EDT) and the tournament starts at 6 p.m. The tournament is limited to 250 players with a tax-deductible buy-in of $225, a playing spots remain available Cash prizes will be paid to the top 10 finishers and a special prize of a clubhouse box to the 2009 Kentucky Derby is available without playing.
Proceeds from the tournament will benefit the lifestyle and substance abuse programs at Churchill Downs. The event is sponsored by Churchill Downs, the Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association, and the Churchill Downs Racing Committee.
More information may be obtained by calling the Kentucky HBPA office at (502) 363-1077 or the Churchill Downs Horsemen’s Lounge at (502) 636-4830.
BARN TALK – A victory in the $1 million Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) aboard Curlin highlighted a three-win day for Robby Albarado and gave the veteran rider a six-victory lead over Miguel Mena in the race for leading jockey of the Spring Meet.
The win aboard Curlin gave Albarado his 49th stakes victory in his career at Churchill Downs, second only to Pat Day.
Albarado’s other victories came aboard Fitzaslew ($11.60) in the third for trainer Ken McPeek and Sly Storm ($4.60) in the fifth for trainer Tom Proctor. After 36 days of the 52-day Spring Meet, Albarado has 49 victories with Mena next at 43.
The chase for leading trainer tightened as McPeek and Steve Asmussen saddled two winners each. In addition to Fitzaslew, McPeek won the first race with Tripple Gift ($11) to boost his meet total to 23, one behind Tom Amoss. Asmussen’s total jumped to 19 with the victories by Curlin ($2.80) and Pyro ($5.60) in the Northern Dancer (GIII).
WORK TAB – Tom Walters’ Elite Squadron, winner of the Churchill Downs (GII), worked a half-mile in :47.20 for trainer Jim Baker over a “fast” track. The move was the third fastest of 65 at the distance. … Arindel Farm’s two-time Grade I winner Wait a While, on the comeback trail after suffering a minor injury in March, worked three furlongs in :37.20 for trainer Todd Pletcher. Also working for Pletcher was Team Valor International’s graded stakes winner Fairbanks, who worked five furlongs in 1:01. … Trainer Steve Asmussen sent out multiple graded stakes winners Zanjero and Kodiak Kowboy for works. Zanjero, owned by Winchell Thoroughbreds, covered five furlongs in 1:03 and Kodiak Kowboy, owned by Vinery Stables and Fox Hill Farm, worked six furlongs in 1:15.80.
2008 SPRING MEET LEADERS
Through Saturday, June 14
Jockeys Starts 1-2-3
Robby Albarado 183 49-24-25
Miguel Mena 240 43-31-31
Julien Leparoux 227 40-43-42
Calvin Borel 225 34-33-34
Shaun Bridgmohan 158 32-27-21
Jamie Theriot 176 28-30-16
Jesus Castanon 186 21-15-21
Brian Hernandez Jr. 132 12-20-15
Elvis Trujillo 75 10-10-18
Corey Lanerie 146 10-21-16
Larry Sterling Jr. 74 9-8-9
Tom Amoss 55 24-8-9
Ken McPeek 60 23-11-6
Steve Asmussen 85 19-14-13
Dale Romans 101 11-22-17
Mike Maker 40 11-7-4
Ian Wilkes 35 10-8-5
Eddie Kenneally 44 8-9-8
Nick Zito 20 8-5-1
Greg Foley 53 7-9-8
Cody Autrey 43 7-8-8
Steve Margolis 36 7-6-7
Paul McGee 35 7-6-2
Wesley Ward 27 7-5-5
Robert O’Connor II 17 7-2-4
Ken and Sarah Ramsey 40 12-6-8
Maggi Moss 21 11-3-3
Zayat Stables, LLC 40 7-8-8
Richard, Elaine & Bert Klein 29 6-7-3
Heiligbrodt Racing Stable 13 5-1-0
Padua Stables 7 4-1-0
Eliah and Lisa Kahn 4 4-0-0
Ten (10) owners tied with three (3) wins