Stonestreet Stable and Midnight Cry Stable’s reigning “Horse of the Year” Curlin completed his serious training for Saturday’s Stephen Foster Handicap (Grade I) with an easy half-mile work on Monday at Churchill Downs.
The 4-year-old son of Smart Strike completed four furlongs over a “fast” track in :49 with exercise rider Carlos Rosas in the saddle. The Steve Asmussen trainee worked around 6:30 a.m. (EDT) on a humid morning and covered the distance in fractions of :12.60, :24.60 and :37. He galloped out five furlongs in 1:02.80.
Asmussen was displeased with the 128-pound weight assignment for his star in Saturday’s 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-olds and up, but said Curlin remains on target for an expected run in the Stephen Foster Handicap. The race has a value of $750,000-added, but a Churchill Downs purse supplement of $250,000 will drive the Stephen Foster purse to a record $1 million if at least one winner of a previous Grade I stakes race competes on Saturday.
“We like where he’s at – he’s an awesome horse,” Asmussen said. “It’s all about Curlin now, the other things are out of your control. To not run him would be an injustice to him. But giving solid horses 15 pounds is a challenge. I guess they were happy the day they got Azeri beat here."
Asmussen referred to the 2004 running of Churchill Downs’ Humana Distaff (GI) in which 2002 “Horse of the Year” Azeri, who carried 124 pounds, was upset by Mayo On the Side, who had been assigned 114 and edged the champion by a head.
Curlin carried 132 pounds in his 2008 debut in the Jaguar Trophy at Nad Al Sheba in Dubai, then he toted 126 pounds in a 7 ¾-length romp in the $6 million Dubai World Cup (GI) over the same track on March 29. Asmussen said he thought 126 pounds would have been a more equitable weight assignment for Curlin in the Stephen Foster, which would be Curlin’s third start of the year and his first in the United States.
“When you look at it, you’re giving quality horses 15 pounds and that’s quite significant,” Asmussen said. “He must overcome. They didn’t put him back in training to debate weights.”
Curlin will have regular jockey Robby Albarado in the saddle for the Foster. He has a career record of 8-1-2 in 11 races with earnings of $8,807,800. His two wins this year in Dubai are part of a four-race winning streak by Curlin that also includes last fall’s $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup (GI) at Belmont Park and the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic Powered by Dodge (GI) at Monmouth Park.
DENIS OF CORK, MACHO AGAIN RETURN FROM BELMONT – Mr. and Mrs. William K. Warren Jr.’s Denis of Cork and West Point Thoroughbreds’ Macho Again, the second- and fifth-place finishers, respectively, in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes (GI) were scheduled to return to Churchill Downs on Monday afternoon.
“I was very pleased with his race. He showed up,” trainer David Carroll said of Denis of Cork, who previously had run third in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands.
“He made up some ground, but the winner (Da’ Tara) ran huge that day.”
Carroll said Denis of Cork would get a little time off before embarking on a summer campaign.
“The Travers (Aug. 23 at Saratoga) is our main goal,” Carroll said. “Before that we will look at the Jim Dandy (July 27 at Saratoga) or the Haskell (Aug. 3 at Monmouth Park).”
The Jim Dandy is one of the options under consideration for Macho Again, according to trainer Dallas Stewart.
“Either that or the West Virginia Derby, a Grade III for $750,000,” Stewart said referring to the Aug. 2 race at Mountaineer Park. “Either one would give us plenty of time.”
Macho Again won the Derby Trial on opening day of the Spring Meet and finished second in the Preakness (GI) before his Belmont run.
PYRO BREEZES EASY HALF-MILE FOR RETURN NORTHERN DANCER – Winchell Thoroughbreds, LLC’s Pyro, the winner of the Louisiana Derby (GII) and a disappointing eighth in the $2 million Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI), tuned up for a return to competition in Saturday’s $175,000-added Northern Dancer Stakes (GIII) with an easy half-mile breeze on Monday at Churchill Downs.
The 3-year-old son of Pulpit completed the distance in :50.80 under exercise rider Carlos Rosas. His internal fractions were :13.40, :26 and :38.80 as he worked over a “fast” track.
Trainer Steve Asmussen is hoping to get Pyro back on track in the 1 1/16-mile Northern Dancer. At one time the colt was among the favorites for the Kentucky Derby until he finished 10th as the favorite in the Toyota Blue Grass (GI) over Polytrack at Keeneland. He followed that race with his dull effort behind then unbeaten Big Brown in the Kentucky Derby.
“Backing up to a mile-and-a-sixteenth coming off a disappointing Derby, we just want to get back on track with him,” Asmussen said.
Asmussen has not been able to pinpoint any specific physical or mental concerns that could explain the colt’s back-to-back losses after he opened the season with impressive wins in the Risen Star (GIII) and Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds.
“It just snowballed,” Asmussen said. “I think when you say mental, it got to be mental because of not having the results that he wanted. He’s just a very nice, competitive horse that expects good things to happen and when it didn’t go his way, it hurt his feelings – just like the rest of us.”
Asmussen used the same race last year as a launching point for the successful second half of the 3-year-old campaign of Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Zanjero, who had finished 12th in the Kentucky Derby before dropped a narrow decision to Centennial Farms’ Chelokee in the Northern Dancer. Zanjero went on to win the Indiana Derby (GII) and West Virginia Derby (GIII) after that outing.
“I still think there’s a Grade I in him,” Asmussen said. “We’ve got to get back on track. This isn’t going to be the race of his life, but hopefully it’s a step in that direction.”
Pyro has a career record of 3-2-1 in eight races and has earned $1,056,718.
POZNANSKY’S FIRST CD WINNER LONGSHOT PLAYER’S DELIGHT – Beating long odds has kind of been par for the course this spring at Churchill Downs for jockey Neil Poznansky. So, it should have come as no shock that when he hit the winner’s circle for the first time in 2008 with Ullaroesch on Saturday for owner-trainer Ingrid Boak, he brought a $108.60 payoff with him.
“Let’s face it, it was a tough time to get started here,” Poznansky’s agent Norm Schmitt said. “You come in Derby Week with a rider nobody knows with a name nobody can pronounce.”
To Kentuckians who may not know the name, Poznansky has done his best work in Canada, highlighted by winning the 1996 Eclipse Award as the top apprentice rider in North America.
In 2007, he decided to come to the States, but getting here took longer than expected.
“I had to keep waiting on my visa,” Poznansky said. “In August, a friend of mine, Justin Nixon who was training in Maryland, said I should come down and gallop horses for him after I got the visa. So I did, and the first horse he put me won at Timonium.”
That was Poznansky’s lone win from two mounts last year. After Maryland he went to New York to gallop horses for Hall of Famer Bill Mott and spent the winter with Mott at Payson Park in South Florida.
“I was looking to get started back and I was getting on some of Bill’s Derby horses and he suggested I come here,” Poznansky said. “It has been slow, but the win sure helps. We had been knocking on the door (with two seconds and three thirds from 11 previous mounts) and people are starting to take notice.”
Now, if they can just get the name right.
BARN TALK – It was hotter than hot Sunday at Churchill Downs, and keeping with that theme, no humans were hotter than the leading jockeys and trainers at the 52-day Spring Meet.
The top three riders – Robby Albarado, Miguel Mena and Julien Leparoux – won eight of the 10 races on the card, and the leading trainers – Tom Amoss and Ken McPeek – won with their only entrants on the program.
Albarado had his second four-win day of the meet to go with his four-bagger of May 24 and increase his win total to 41 after 32 days of racing. Mena and Leparoux had two wins each Sunday to raise their totals to 38 and 37, respectively.
Two of Albarado’s wins came for McPeek on Subscriber in the fourth and Must Be Gold in the ninth. Leparoux delivered the Amoss victory aboard Maria Victoria in the opener.
McPeek, who never has won a Spring training title here, and Amoss, who shared the 2002 Spring title with Dale Romans, have saddled 21 winners each. Steve Asmussen is third in the trainer’s standings with 16 victories.
CORRECTION – An item in the June 8 Barn Notes incorrectly stated Golden Yank was a dead-heat winner of the 2007 Delta Jackson (GIII). Golden Yank finished third.
WORK TAB (Track: FAST) – Bruce Lunsford’s Tessa Blue, winner of the 2007 Indiana Oaks (GIII) and Inside Information Breeders’ Cup, worked a half-mile in :49 over a fast track for trainer Frank Brothers. The move was the 13th fastest of 35 at the distance. … Kim and John Glenney’s Transduction Gold worked five furlongs in 1:02.40, the eighth fastest of 22 at the distance. Transduction Gold, winner of the 2007 Sycamore (GIII) at Keeneland, left later in the morning for Southern California where he is scheduled to run in Saturday’s 1 ¾-mile Round Table Handicap on the turf.
Through Sunday, June 8
Jockeys Starts 1-2-3
Robby Albarado 156 41-19-22
Miguel Mena 211 38-27-27
Julien Leparoux 201 37-36-37
Calvin Borel 206 30-32-32
Shaun Bridgmohan 139 26-27-18
Brian Hernandez Jr. 111 10-19-13
Jamie Theriot 149 25-22-10
Jesus Castanon 169 21-14-18
Elvis Trujillo 61 10-9-17
Corey Lanerie 127 9-18-14
Larry Sterling Jr. 68 9-8-9
Ken McPeek 48 21-7-4
Tom Amoss 49 21-6-8
Steve Asmussen 76 16-14-12
Mike Maker 37 11-6-4
Dale Romans 87 10-18-16
Ian Wilkes 33 10-6-5
Eddie Kenneally 39 8-8-7
Cody Autrey 42 7-8-7
Steve Margolis 33 7-6-6
Wesley Ward 25 7-5-5
Nick Zito 19 7-5-1
Four (4) trainers tied with six (6) wins
Ken and Sarah Ramsey 37 12-5-6
Maggi Moss 19 10-2-3
Zayat Stables, LLC 33 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
Seven (7) owners tied with three (3) wins