Stonestreet Stable and Midnight Cry Stable’s Curlin dazzled onlookers with a strong work at Churchill Downs on Monday as the reigning “Horse of the Year” tuned up for planned run in the $750,000-added Stephen Foster Handicap (Grade I) on June 14. Meanwhile, Mr. and Mrs. William Warren’s Denis of Cork completed his serious preparation for Saturday’s Belmont Stakes (GI) with an easy half-mile breeze under the Twin Spires.
Curlin worked a strong seven furlongs in the company of a stablemate for trainer Steve Asmussen and covered the distance over a “fast” track in 1:24.60. Denis of Cork, who finished third to unbeaten Triple Crown contender Big Brown in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI), later breezed four furlongs under jockey Robby Albarado in :48.60.
Curlin had regular exercise and workout rider Carlos Rosas in the saddle and worked alongside Stonecrest Stable’s 4-year-old Sonoma Cat around 6:30 a.m. (all times EDT). He covered the seven-furlong distance in fractions of :12.80, :25, :37, :48.80 and 1:12.40. He galloped out a mile in 1:37.60 and continued his strong gallop-out through a mile and an eighth in 1:51.60. Sonoma Cat, with Shaun Bridgmohan up, could not keep up with the champion and completed his seven-furlong move in 1:26.20.
“I was very pleased with his effort,” said Asmussen. “We did plenty with him this morning. We want him to be sharp going a mile and an eighth.”
The 4-year-old son of Smart Strike has not competed since he opened his 2008 campaign with a pair of victories in Dubai, with the $6 million Dubai World Cup (GI) on March 29 being his most recent outing. Asmussen has been training Curlin with an eye toward a return to competition in the Stephen Foster Handicap. Monday’s work impressed backside observers and indicated that the chestnut colt is right on schedule for his Stephen Foster bid.
“That’s what we’re preparing him for,” said Asmussen. “I don’t want to take anything for granted. Nothing’s in the bank. We want everything to go well, and we’ll worry about everything every day from here to there.”
Curlin’s victory in the Dubai World Cup lifted his career record to 8-1-2 in 11 races and boosted his earnings to $8,807,800, a figure that already ranks as the third highest in North American racing history.
Meanwhile, trainer David Carroll was beaming after Denis of Cork worked a solid half-mile to wrap up his serious preparation for Saturday’s rematch with Big Brown in the Belmont Stakes. Carroll’s colt worked just after the break for track maintenance.
Denis of Cork covered the first quarter-mile in :24.80 on the way to his half-mile clocking of :48.60. The son of Harlan’s Holiday galloped out five furlongs in 1:01.60.
“I was very, very happy with what I saw today,” said Carroll. “Robby was very careful not to go too fast early. He’s very deceiving. He can go fast because he covers a lot of ground, so he was under wraps the last eighth. He just let his head out and he just immediately accelerated, and it was a beautiful thing to watch. We’re excited.”
“It was a good work,” said Albarado. “He went really well. He’s showing improvement and he’s doing everything that David’s asked him to do.”
The other Belmont Stakes contender stabled at Churchill Downs was on the track on Monday for a jog. West Point Thoroughbreds’ Macho Again, the runner-up to Big Brown in the Preakness (GI) and winner of the Derby Trial at Churchill Downs, jogged about two miles under exercise rider Kenny Bourque. The Dallas Stewart-trained son of Macho Uno had worked on Friday. After a day of walking in the shedrow, he returned to the track for a jog on Sunday and Stewart said Macho Again would gallop on Tuesday morning before he heads to New York for the Belmont.
“We’re just trying to be a little careful,” said Stewart. “He’s doing great. He’s on his toes and looks awesome, so we’re just hoping to go up there with a lot in the tank.”
Both Denis of Cork and Macho Again had been scheduled to travel to New York for their final Belmont Stakes preparations on Tuesday, but the flight schedule was changed on Monday morning. The Churchill Downs-based Belmont Stakes contenders are now set to travel to Belmont Park on Wednesday.
Other horses on the Monday work tab at Churchill Downs included Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Louisiana Derby (GII) winner Pyro, who breezed six furlongs under jockey Shaun Bridgmohan in 1:14.40. Pyro, who finished eighth in the Kentucky Derby, is set to run in the $175,000-added Northern Dancer (GIII) on the June 14 “Stephen Foster Super Saturday” program. Kodiak Kowboy worked four furlongs in :51.40. Junior College breezed four furlongs in :46.80, the fastest move of 46 at the distance. Off Duty worked a half-mile in :47.60.