06/10/2008 12:00AM

Curlin breezes for whatever's next


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Curlin had what would be his final prep for the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap - if indeed owner Jess Jackson and trainer Steve Asmussen decide to run - when he breezed a half-mile in 49 seconds early Monday over a fast Churchill Downs racetrack.

With regular exercise rider Carmen Rosas aboard, Curlin went to the track at about 6:20 a.m. Working without company, and after getting a full head of steam to the half-mile pole, he went through fractions of 12.60 seconds, 24.60, 37, and 49, galloping out five furlongs in 1:02.80.

Asmussen, who watched from the frontside of the racetrack, said he was pleased with the breeze but added that he is not fully committed to running Curlin, the 2007 Horse of the Year, after the colt was assigned 128 pounds in the 1 1/8-mile Foster, which is set for Saturday at Churchill. Entries will be taken and drawn Wednesday.

"He's prepped for the race, but I don't like the weights at all," said Asmussen. "I thought 126 would have been enough."

Curlin, a 7 3/4-length winner of the March 29 Dubai World Cup in his last start, would be a heavy favorite in the Foster. Owned primarily by Jackson's Stonestreet Stable, the colt has worked every Monday at Churchill since April 28.

Churchill announced last week that the purse for the Foster will be $1 million if the winner of a Grade 1 race starts, with the apparent motivation being to ensure that Curlin will run. The base purse is $750,000.

After the weights were released Saturday, Asmussen said Churchill "may have outsmarted themselves again" by raising the purse. After the work Monday, he said: "Everybody encourages you to bring one back," alluding to Jackson's decision to race Curlin as a 4-year-old instead of have him retired to stud, "and then they show you how dumb you are for doing it. How much weight do they want him to carry?"

The 128-pound assignment would be the highest in a Grade 1 race in North America in more than 10 years. Skip Away carried 128 in winning the 1998 Pimlico Special. Later that year, he carried 131 in winning the Grade 2 Iselin Handicap at Monmouth Park.

Asmussen has said he could substitute Student Council, winner of the Grade 1 Pimlico Special on May 16, as a Foster starter if he decides not to run Curlin. Student Council, assigned 120 pounds, is owned by Ro Parra. Asmussen has said he will not run both.

Robby Albarado will have the mount if Curlin runs, and Shaun Bridgmohan would ride Student Council.

On another jockey note, Kent Desormeaux, the rider of Big Brown, is scheduled to be here Saturday to ride in "at least a few" races on the Foster card, according to agent Mike Sellitto. The Foster is the anchor of a blockbuster Saturday program that also will include five other graded stakes. Here is a quick rundown of those:

* Grade 2, $300,000 Fleur de Lis Handicap: Hystericalady is expected to be the starting 121-pound highweight in the 1 1/8-mile Fleur de Lis, which appears to be coming up pretty light. Only Peach Flambe and Kathleens Reel were considered definite challengers, while possible starters include Tough Tiz's Sis and Dawn After Dawn.

Hystericalady, trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, was the runner-up to Ginger Punch last fall in the Breeders' Cup Distaff. She won the Grade 1 Humana Distaff here in 2007 and was a close third as the favorite in the Humana last month.

* Grade 3, $175,000 Northern Dancer Stakes: Three also-rans behind Big Brown in the May 3 Kentucky Derby are likely to reconvene in the 1 1/16-mile Northern Dancer: Recapturetheglory (fifth), Pyro (eighth), and Visionaire (12th). Others likely are My Pal Charlie, Texas Wildcatter, Tiz Now Tiz Then, and Unbridled Vicar.

Pyro worked shortly after Curlin on Monday morning, breezing a half-mile in 50.80 seconds.

* Grade 2, $200,000 Jefferson Cup: A sizable field of 3-year-old turf runners is expected for the 1 1/8-mile Jefferson Cup, with the probable cast likely to include Old Man Buck, Wicked Style, Bobby Blue Eyes, Budge Man, Halo Najib, Nistle's Cruch, and Tizdejavu. At least several more are possible, according to the Churchill racing office.

* Grade 3, $200,000 Regret Stakes: Pure Clan, third behind Proud Spell in the May 2 Kentucky Oaks, will make her return to action by shifting to the grass in the 1 1/8-mile Regret. Her opposition is expected to include Absolutely Cindy, C J's Leelee, Clearly Foxy, Magical Theater, Miss Mafioso, and Zee Zee.

* Grade 3, $150,000 Early Times Mint Julep Handicap: Dreaming of Anna looks like a heavy favorite in a medium-size field of fillies and mares in this 1 1/16-mile turf race. Mama I'm Home, Ballymore Lady, Kiss With a Twist, and Sprung will be among her challengers.