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Asmussen pointing Curlin to Man o' War
ELMONT, N.Y. - The decision by the New York Racing Association to move the Grade 1 Man o' War from its traditional fall slot to next Saturday may turn out better than anyone in the organization could have hoped.
As many as three Breeders' Cup winners could show up in the race, led, of course, by defending Horse of the Year Curlin, who would be making his turf debut in the $500,000 Man o' War. While licensing issues regarding the owners still have to be resolved, trainer Steve Asmussen indicated Friday that the Grade 1 status of the Man o' War makes it a more attractive option than the Grade 3, $200,000 Arlington Handicap, also next Saturday.
"I think the fact it's a Grade 1 gives it the advantage,'' Asmussen said of the Man o' War. "It's all licensing right now.''
The licensing issues could be resolved at the beginning of the week when a Kentucky civil-court judge is expected to formally transfer the assets of two Kentucky attorneys who own a minor interest in Curlin to those who won a civil-case judgment against them.
Attorneys Shirley Cunningham Jr. and William Gallion, who race as Midnight Cry Stable, own 20 percent of Curlin. Both attorneys face a second criminal trial on a charge of criminal conspiracy after the initial trial ended Thursday in a mistrial. Prosecutors allege that Cunningham and Gallion intended to defraud their clients out of tens of millions of dollars from a $200 million settlement reached in 2002 with the manufacturer with the diet-drug combination fen-phen.
Cunningham let his New York license expire last year. Last month, Cunningham withdrew his request for a new license request when it became clear he would be turned down.
Asmussen planned to work Curlin for a second time on turf on Monday at Churchill Downs and then await word on licensing before making shipping arrangements. Asmussen said he has a planeload of horses shipping to New York on Thursday. The plane arrives at Stewart Airport in Newburgh, which is about a 90-minute van ride to Belmont.
If Curlin, who ended his 3-year-old campaign with a victory in the Breeders' Cup Classic, does run in the Man o' War, he will face Breeders' Cup Turf winners Red Rocks (2006) and Better Talk Now (2004).
Red Rocks is expected to arrive in New York on Tuesday, according to trainer Brian Meehan. Red Rocks, who finished third in last year's BC Turf, is 1 for 2 this year. He won an allowance race in May at Lingfield before finishing sixth in the Coronation Cup at Epsom.
"I didn't run in the Derby there as a 3-year-old and I shouldn't have run him there as a 5-year-old,'' Meehan said Friday from England. "He did not enjoy the track at all.''
Meehan said Red Rocks came out of the race in good order and may stay in North America for the remainder of the year with a third run at the Breeders' Cup Turf at Santa Anita his primary objective.
Trainer Graham Motion said that provided Better Talk Now worked well Saturday at Fair Hill, he would run in the Man o' War, a race he won in 2005 when it was held in September. Motion had run Better Talk Now in the United Nations at Monmouth the last three years, but noted that the horse hit himself in last year's running over a firm turf course.
"We would feel a little silly if he hit himself again,'' Motion said about skipping the U.N. "Belmont suits him better at the end of the day, plus it gives him an extra week."
Others under consideration for the Man o' War include Grand Couturier, winner of last year's Sword Dancer; Sudan, a Group 1 winner in Europe; and Interpatation, Cosmonaut, Distorted Reality, and Operation Red Dawn.
Zaftig to miss summer stakes
Zaftig, dominant winner of the Grade 1 Acorn, will be forced to miss the summer's big races for 3-year-old fillies due to a stress fracture in her left front foot, co-owner John Moore said Friday.
Moore said that Zaftig, trained by Jimmy Jerkens, would definitely be forced to miss the Coaching Club American Oaks here on July 19 and the Alabama at Saratoga on Aug. 16. He said she could possibly be back for the Grade 1 Gazelle here at Belmont on Sept. 13.
Initially it was believed that Zaftig had a bruised foot, but further tests by Dr. Patty Hogan at her clinic in Cream Ridge, N.J., revealed the stress fracture. Moore said no surgery would be required and that Zaftig would simply get stall rest.
"She will be 100 percent,'' said Moore, who owns the filly with his wife, Susan. "If it was anybody other than her you could proceed, but you don't do that with a very valuable filly. We'll give her four weeks, six weeks, whatever it takes. We've always been extremely conservative with our horses, so we'll err on the side of giving them more care.''
Mr. Universe in allowance
While they wait for Zaftig to come back, the Moores have several other nice runners in their stable. One of them, Doremifasollatido, a 2-year-old New York-bred daughter of Bernstein, won a five-furlong maiden race by six lengths Friday.
Mr. Universe, a 3-year-old son of Aldebaran, meets winners for the first time Sunday in a first-level allowance race. On May 10, Mr. Universe won a maiden race by 12 lengths. Mr. Universe will be stretching out from 7 1/2 furlongs to 1 1/16 miles while breaking from post 10.
"I think he'll like it,'' trainer Jimmy Jerkens said. "It's tough to do, but I don't want to back him in distance. I think he has a future going longer.''
One of Mr. Universe's toughest foes will be August Rex, who is also stretching out from a sprint to 1 1/16 miles.
Dutrow runners scratch
Trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. scratched two major players from Friday's graded stakes at Belmont.
Dutrow scratched Not for Money from the Grade 2 Tom Fool Handicap and Looky Yonder from the Grade 2 Top Flight Handicap.
According to assistant trainer Michelle Nevin, Not for Money was diagnosed with a bruised foot. Looky Yonder was scratched presumably to run in the Grade 1 Princess Rooney at Calder next weekend.
* Evening Attire, the 10-year-old gelding who finished second in the Brooklyn last out, worked four furlongs in 48.23 seconds Friday morning over the Belmont training track.