05/27/2007 11:00PM

Curlin back to work; Sightseeing drops out

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Curlin and Street Sense have been the marquee horses for this year's Triple Crown, with a victory apiece so far. Both are potential runners for the 139th Belmont Stakes on June 9 at Belmont Park, and Monday it was Curlin who began his serious preparation for the 1 1/2-mile race with a five-furlong work in 1:03.20 at Churchill Downs.

The work was the first of two that trainer Steve Asmussen has planned for Curlin during the three weeks between the Preakness, which Curlin won May 19, and the Belmont. Street Sense, who won the Kentucky Derby on May 5 before a narrow loss in the Preakness, is scheduled to work Wednesday at Churchill, after which trainer Carl Nafzger is expected to decide whether to go to the Belmont.

If those two plus Hard Spun all head to the Belmont, the field is expected to be small. On Monday, trainer Shug McGaughey took out one of the fringe players, Wood Memorial runner-up Sightseeing, saying he is going to await the Dwyer Stakes at Belmont Park on July 4.

So, 12 days before the Belmont, the field had five horses who best could be described as definite - Curlin, Hard Spun, Imawildandcrazyguy, Slew's Tizzy, and Tiago - with Street Sense a 50-50 proposition. Three others - Chelokee, Circular Quay, and Rags to Riches - are very doubtful. Trainer Darrin Miller said he is considering the Belmont for Sedgefield, the fifth-place finisher in the Derby, but is more likely to run this Saturday in the Ohio Derby at Thistledown.

Curlin worked just after dawn at Churchill Downs with his regular exercise rider, Carmen Rosas. He proceeded through fractions of 13.60 seconds, 26.80, 38.60, 51.20, and 1:03.20 before galloping out six furlongs in 1:16.60.

Curlin worked nine days after the Derby in preparation for the Preakness, and again worked nine days after the Preakness.

"We're just trying to be pretty rhythmatic where we're at with him," Asmussen said. "I want to keep him familiar where we are with him. He was comfortable and relaxed and traveling the right way."

The easy manner in which Curlin went through the work "was a testament to his quality," Asmussen said.

Asmussen said Curlin would work again next Monday, June 4, and then be flown to New York on Tuesday, June 5.

Here at Hollywood Park, Tiago worked a strong mile with jockey Mike Smith in 1:39.20 on Sunday morning for trainer John Shirreffs. Tiago, who won the Santa Anita Derby, finished seventh in the Kentucky Derby and then was kept out of the Preakness.

"We were very happy with the work, even though it didn't quite work out the way we wanted," Shirreffs said at his barn Monday morning. "There was a bit of a false start. He was supposed to work with Bullistic, but he got in front of Bullistic at the start."

Like Curlin, Tiago has raced just five times, so Shirreffs believes he still is on an upswing.

"He's maturing, obviously, and I think the Derby was a good experience for him, shipping and racing, which is the first time he did that," Shirreffs said. "He got stopped on the backside and lost a little momentum then. Then down the lane, Mike kept looking for someplace to split horses, but he couldn't find that, either. He didn't get the trip. I felt with any luck at all, he'd have been third in the race."

Curlin was third, with Tiago two lengths behind him.

Two years ago, Shirreffs went to all three Triple Crown races with Giacomo, who won the Derby. He said bypassing the Preakness this year was "for us, a no-brainer."

"If you win the Derby, you're obligated to go on," Shirreffs said. "For a horse like this, who's still maturing, it made sense to come home and get ready for the Belmont."

When Giacomo and Tiago ran in the Derby, Shirreffs shipped to Churchill Downs just days before the race. But he is changing course for the Belmont with Tiago, who is scheduled to fly early Wednesday morning to New York.

"I think it would be advantageous to give him a work over the Belmont track," Shirreffs said. "He'll work there on Sunday."

- additional reporting by David Grening and Marty McGee