07/13/2008 11:00PM

Arc dream a longshot

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If Curlin’s intended trip to Paris for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe is meant to seek victory, there is no reason to send him to Longchamp off his second-place finish to Red Rocks in Saturday’s Man o’ War Stakes.

The reasons are many why a tilt at what is arguably the world’s greatest race would prove fruitless. First is his position via the Arc favorites vis-a-vis Red Rocks. The Man o’ War winner was 7 1/4 lengths behind Soldier of Fortune and 6 1/2 lengths behind Youmzain when sixth in the 1 1/2-mile Coronation Cup on June 6. On bare form alone, that puts Curlin more than nine lengths behind Soldier of Fortune and nearly nine lengths behind Youmzain, who finished second in last year’s Arc.

Moreover, the ground at Longchamp on Arc Day is never better than good, and there is a 50-50 chance that it will be something worse than good. Any cut in the ground at Longchamp would work against Curlin.

There is also the matter of Curlin’s running style. His one-paced manners serve him well on dirt where very fast paces enable him to grind out victory after victory as he simply outstays his inferior competition. On turf, expecially in France where races are run at a much slower pace even at the highest level, a horse must be able to quicken to win group races. In the Man o’ War, Curlin was put to a drive from the five-eighths pole but he never really accelerated. With Red Rocks in his sights approaching the furlong pole, Curlin petered out at the end. That in itself is the worst sign for his Arc hopes. Any horse that can’t carry his finish to the end will be out of the Arc picture.

Owner Jess Jackson has said that maybe Curlin needs one more turf prep before a final decision is made on the Arc. Would that be the Arlington Million or the Sword Dancer? The latter race does not an Arc prep make. Run around three turns on what will likely be a rock-hard Saratoga turf course, the Sword Dancer is the single 1 1/2-mile Grade 1 turf race that least resembles the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

But if Jackson and trainer Steve Asmussen decide not to go to France, it might be in Curlin’s best interests to stick to turf anyway. The world’s best horse on dirt, he did not run poorly in the Man o’ War. In fact, he ran rather well. He can win the Sword Dancer or the Turf Classic, perhaps even the Breeders’ Cup Turf, even if Red Rocks remains in America, as trainer Brian Meehan is now contemplating. A victory in any one of those races would punch Curlin’s ticket to the Japan Cup, an easier race than the Arc on a left-handed course that is almost always firm.

In the Man o’ War, Curlin was chasing a horse that is perhaps 10 pounds better in America than he is in Europe. Red Rocks earned a Racing Post Rating of 121 in the Man o’ War compared to the 112 he got in the Coronation Cup. Curlin got a 118 in the Man o’ War compared to his 126 for the Stephen Foster and 131 in the Dubai World Cup. Soldier of Fortune earned a 124+ in his Coronation Cup and a 126 for his second in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud, in which the victorious Youmzain got a 127.

All of that still leaves Curlin at least six to nine pounds behind the Arc favorites, and after Monday’s action, he may be even further behind. Montmartre’s eased up four-length victory in the Grand Prix de Paris over the Arc course and distance has made him the Arc favorite with more than one British bookmaker.

Current Arc odds at Paddy Power: Soldier of Fortune 5-1, Zarkava 5-1, Montmartre 11-2, Duke of Marmalade 6-1, New Approach 6-1, Youmzain 8-1, Frozen Fire 10-1, Getaway 12-1, Vision d’Etat 14-1. Curlin 16-1 (from 12-1), Tartan Bearer 16-1. Curlin has been taken out of the Arc betting by Ladbrokes, which quotes Montmartre as its new 4-1 favorite.