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Curlin arrives at site of Breeders' Cup
ARCADIA, Calif. - With all the fanfare of a visiting dignitary, Curlin arrived at Santa Anita on Sunday, and while his connections have yet to commit definitively to the Breeders' Cup Classic on Oct. 25, his presence at Santa Anita, coupled with an outstanding weekend of racing both at Santa Anita and Belmont Park, took interest in this year's Breeders' Cup out of idle and into overdrive.
There were 11 Grade 1 races on Saturday, and another Sunday. In addition to Curlin, the dazzling performances by Cocoa Beach, Grand Couturier, Stardom Bound, and the unbeaten Zenyatta made for an unforgettable afternoon of racing from coast to coast.
Officials at the Breeders' Cup and Santa Anita have done a full-court press to try and convince Jess Jackson, Curlin's majority owner, to run in the $5 million Classic, the highlight of the two-day festival Oct. 24-25 at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting. Curlin was flown west on Sunday, the day after his victory in the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park. He walked Monday, was scheduled to do the same Tuesday, and is scheduled to get his first feel of the synthetic Pro-Ride surface as soon as Wednesday.
How Curlin handles the surface over the next 3 1/2 weeks will determine whether he defends his title in the Classic. He has never run on a synthetic surface.
"Mr. Jackson wants to entertain the possibility of seeing him run out there, and the best way to see how he does is to put him on it," said Steve Asmussen, the trainer of Curlin, on Monday morning from Churchill Downs.
According to Asmussen, Curlin will have his first work at Santa Anita next Monday. That is standard operating procedure. Curlin usually works nine days after a race, then every Monday thereafter. Scott Blasi, Asmussen's top assistant - who has been assigned to Curlin since the horse joined Asmussen's barn 20 months ago - came west with Curlin and another Asmussen-trained contender for the Classic, Student Council.
Curlin won the Jockey Club Gold Cup for the second straight year. Should he win the Classic for the second straight year, he would join Tiznow as the only horse to accomplish that feat. A Classic win - against an outstanding field expected to include Big Brown, Colonel John, Go Between, Tiago, Well Armed, and possibly Commentator and the Europeans Duke of Marmalade and Henrythenavigator - would also bring Curlin his second straight title as Horse of the Year.
That will be the focus now. Going into last weekend, Asmussen's focus was on having Curlin become the richest North American-based horse of all-time. Asmussen said seeing Curlin set that record, and win the Jockey Club Gold Cup, was satisfying.
"I felt very excited watching him," Asmussen said. "All-time. When you say 'all-time,' you get a very emotional feeling. He ran incredible."
Asmussen also praised jockey Robby Albarado, who never touched Curlin with his whip in the stretch run.
"I think Robby deserves a lot of credit for recognizing the situation," Asmussen said. "He's thinking of what's next at all times."
Curlin got a Beyer Speed Figure of 111 in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.
Asmussen said Zanjero, who got a 99 Beyer Figure winning the Kentucky Cup Classic on Saturday at Turfway Park, was under consideration for both the BC Dirt Mile and the BC Classic.
Fairbanks, who got a Beyer Figure of 104 in the Hawthorne Gold Cup on Saturday, will run in the inaugural BC Marathon, trainer Todd Pletcher said Monday.
At Santa Anita Saturday, Well Armed got a Beyer Figure of 105 for his victory over Tiago in the Goodwood Stakes, a significant race in that it is the only prep for the BC Classic that will be run over Pro-Ride.
"He came out of the race great," Eoin Harty, the trainer of Well Armed, said Monday morning. "I thought he ran a great race. He relaxed and rated nicely. He's mentally matured."
Harty credited jockey Aaron Gryder and exercise rider Paul Turner with getting Well Armed to be more amenable to rating in recent months.
Well Armed has won Win and You're In races that give him berths in both the BC Classic and the BC Dirt Mile. "He's got a guaranteed spot in both races," Harty said. "It's just a matter of which one."
Harty and the WinStar Farm of owners Bill Casner and Kenny Trout also have Travers winner Colonel John pointing for the Classic.
Tiago, second in the Goodwood, will come back in the Classic. Trainer John Shirreffs on Monday said he was "happy to see Tiago at the top of his game" after Tiago trained poorly at Del Mar this summer.
Shirreffs also trains Zenyatta, who on Saturday likely secured an Eclipse Award as champion older filly or mare by winning her eighth straight race in the Lady's Secret, in which she got a Beyer Figure of 108 and defeated the top-class mare Hystericalady. Zenyatta beat last year's Eclipse winner, Ginger Punch, earlier this year.
Shirreffs and owners Jerry and Ann Moss months ago mapped out a plan to get Zenyatta to the Ladies' Classic on Oct. 24, and they are sticking with that schedule. They have no interest in taking on males for the first time in the Classic.
"It's such a thrill to have a filly like Zenyatta and have her win a big award at the end of the year in and of itself, and, in the end, is it really fair to her to run in the Classic?" Shirreffs said Monday. "She's only 4. What she's done is remarkable. Why push it?"
A potential new challenger for Zenyatta in the Ladies' Classic emerged on Saturday when Cocoa Beach upset Ginger Punch in the Beldame while earning Beyer Figure of 99. Rick Mettee, the New York-based assistant to trainer Saeed bin Suroor, said Godolphin owner Sheikh Mohammed and racing manager Simon Crisford would decide in a week whether to pay a supplemental fee to run Cocoa Beach in the Ladies' Classic.
"We thought she'd run a big race. We didn't know if we could beat Ginger Punch," Mettee said. "She went forward off her last race. If she runs back in the Breeders' Cup, she'll have to move forward again to beat the Zenyattas of the world."
Ginger Punch will defend her title in the Ladies' Classic, which was known previously as the Distaff. Lemon Drop Mom, vanned from the track as a precaution following the Beldame, was not injured but will not race again this year, trainer Tim Ritchey said.
- additional reporting by David Grening