02/28/2008 1:00AM

Curlin coasts in Dubai


Curlin's prep race for the Dubai World Cup went off perfectly Thursday night in Dubai, with the 2007 Horse of the Year coasting to an easy 2 1/4-length victory, while both he and jockey Robby Albarado gained valuable experience competing under the lights of Nad Al Sheba Racecourse for the first time.

The story of the race was well captured by the scene about three furlongs from the finish of Curlin's prep race, a 2,000-meter handicap with a $175,000 purse: As the jockeys of the other five horses all rode vigorously, Albarado sat stock still as Curlin moved up to engage the pacesetting Imperialista. Curlin took the lead about a quarter-mile from the finish, and with minimal exertion easily held sway over Familiar Territory, who was the second choice in U.S. betting.

While Curlin appeared to be running easily, and clearly was not being asked for his best, he stopped the timer in a fast 2:00.60, just more than one second slower than the track record, set by Dubai Millennium in the 2000 World Cup. Curlin carried 132 pounds, 15 more than his rivals, and paid $2.40 to win in U.S. betting.

Unraced since easily winning the Breeders' Cup Classic last fall, Curlin arrived in Dubai on Feb. 17 and got in a work over the Nad Al Sheba track last weekend. He shipped well, trained well, and looked completely unruffled by his new surroundings before, during, and after his victory Thursday night.

Breaking from post 1, Curlin was slightly rank while pinned down at the fence in the early going, but cleared all the horses except the pacesetter and was eased to the outside by Albarado, where he settled into an easy stride until turning into the long Nad Al Sheba stretch.

"We wanted to save a bunch for the World Cup," Albarado said. "I just wanted him to settle. He needed this race mentally as well as physically, and I think we accomplished what we wanted to today."

The World Cup, run over the same distance, is March 29. The competition will be significantly stronger - but so will Curlin.

Cocoa Beach romps in UAE Oaks

Later on the card, Cocoa Beach added the $250,000 UAE Oaks to her UAE 1000 Guineas title. The Chilean-bred daughter of the Seattle Slew sire Doneraile Court romped to a six-length victory under Ted Durcan in the listed contest, traveling the 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.09. Love of Dubai was second. Godolphin's UAE 1000 Guineas runner-up Fiesta Lady came home a distant ninth of 10.

Trained by Saeed bin Suroor for Princess Haya of Jordan, Cocoa Beach is now 6 for 7 lifetime and is being considered for a tilt against colts in the UAE Derby on Dubai World Cup Night.

- additional reporting by Alan Shuback