08/31/2008 11:00PM

Classic in mix for Curlin


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - As large 18-wheel trailers began transporting horses from Saratoga to points south and west on Monday, there is at least one horse of note who won't be leaving the grounds here anytime soon.

Curlin, winner of Saturday's Grade 1 Woodward Stakes, will remain at Saratoga where he will continue to train until owner Jess Jackson and trainer Steve Asmussen decide where the reigning Horse of the Year will make his next start. Last year, Curlin trained here through the end of September before shipping to Belmont to win the Jockey Club Gold Cup.

Though there are many races from which to choose, the two leading candidates for Curlin's next start are the $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park on Sept. 27 or the $500,000 Goodwood Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita on the same day. A win in either race would enable Curlin to pass Cigar ($9,999,815) and become the sport's all-time leading money earner. Curlin has earned $9,796,800.

The Goodwood is being run over the newly installed synthetic surface at Santa Anita, where this year's Breeders' Cup will be held on Oct. 24-25. While Jackson has previously stated that he is not inclined to run Curlin over synthetic surfaces, he seemed to soften his stance somewhat following the Woodward. Jackson has horses with trainers in Southern California who will soon begin training over the new Pro-Ride surface.

"I don't want to be a guinea pig with him and be the first one on the racetrack," Asmussen said Sunday morning. "Speaking with Mr. Jackson, he has horses that are going to move in there I believe as early as Tuesday, and the feedback will start then as far as the surface. I think everybody right now is extremely curious of that for a multitude of horses."

If Curlin were to run in the Goodwood and demonstrate that he can handle Santa Anita's new surface, then it could set up a potential matchup between him and Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Big Brown in the Breeders' Cup Classic on Oct. 25.

"It's something that everybody would like to see," Asmussen said of a Big Brown-Curlin showdown. "I'm curious."

Curlin and Big Brown are the leading contenders for Horse of the Year. Big Brown has won four Grade 1 races against 3-year-olds while Curlin has won the Dubai World Cup, Stephen Foster and Woodward.

"Curlin has now won two Grade 1's after he came back from the World Cup, which kind of separates him," Asmussen said. "Him winning a Grade 1 at Saratoga -the graveyard of champions - it sure doesn't hurt his status."