10/29/2007 12:00AM

Curlin completes spectacular rise

EmailOCEANPORT, N.J. - From unraced maiden to Horse of the Year, all in nine months. That was the story arc for Curlin. He began his career in February, and completed a sensational, ambitious 2007 campaign Saturday at Monmouth Park with an emphatic victory in the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic, a win that should clinch for Curlin both Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old male.

Curlin ($10.80), ridden by Robby Albarado, came roaring off the turn and collared pacesetting Hard Spun at the top of the stretch, then went on to win by 4 1/2 lengths. He completed 1 1/4 miles on a sloppy track in 2:00.59. Albarado and Curlin's trainer, Steve Asmussen, both got their first Breeders' Cup victories.

Asmussen said Curlin is a special racehorse "to accomplish what he has accomplished, in the length of time he had to get to this level."

Hard Spun held on for second by 4 3/4 lengths, with the longshot Awesome Gem rallying for third. Street Sense, the 5-2 favorite, moved with Curlin on the turn, but then flattened out and finished fourth.

Tiago was fifth and was followed, in order, by Any Given Saturday, Lawyer Ron, and Diamond Stripes.

George Washington broke down badly in his right front leg while trailing in the stretch run, was pulled up at the sixteenth pole, and had to be euthanized right there, in front of the grandstand. Tarpaulins were brought out to shield the crowd from the grim scene, which happened just as Curlin was being brought into the winner's circle to cheers.

George Washington's trainer, Aidan O'Brien, requested that the colt be cremated so that his ashes could be brought back to Ireland and buried at O'Brien's Ballydoyle training center, according to the International Racing Bureau.

The death of George Washington cast a pall at the end of a day that had gone off remarkably well otherwise, considering the wet, soggy conditions.

A crowd of 41,781 - the second-smallest in the 24-year history of this event - attended Saturday's card, which was the second day of the inaugural two-day Breeders' Cup format. Rain showers from Friday continued into Saturday, and were quite heavy at times, leaving the main track sloppy and the turf soft. But shortly after the Distaff, the sun finally got the best of the clouds, and bathed Monmouth Park in glorious fall light.

The Classic was considered a showdown for Horse of the Year because all the leading contenders for the prize were in the race, including Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense, top

3-year-olds Any Given Saturday and Hard Spun, and the nation's best older horse, Lawyer Ron.

Curlin's resume included victories in the Preakness Stakes against Street Sense and the Jockey Club Gold Cup against Lawyer Ron. He had competed exclusively in stakes since winning a maiden race in his debut at Gulfstream Park in February, after which he was purchased by a partnership of Jess Jackson's Stonestreet Stables, Satish Sanan's Padua Stables, and George Bolton. They acquired 80opercent of Curlin from his original owners, the Midnight Cry Stable of William Gallion and Shirley Cunningham Jr., who retained a 20opercent interest.

Curlin finishes the year with 6 wins in 9 starts. He also won the Arkansas Derby, was third in the Kentucky Derby, and came in second in the Belmont.

One of the only questions regarding Curlin entering the Classic was his aptitude at Monmouth Park, since he had finished third in the Haskell Invitational here during the summer to Any Given Saturday and Hard Spun. But his performance in the Classic indicated that his flat race in the Haskell might have been due to knocking off the rust following the Triple Crown, in which he and Hard Spun were the only two horses to compete in all three legs.

The doubts, however, caused Curlin to be the fourth choice of nine in the Classic.

Hard Spun, as expected, took the lead in the Classic and led the field through fractions of 23.11 seconds, 45.85, 1:10.67, and 1:35.86. Curlin and Street Sense were alongside one another, sixth and seventh early, for the first six furlongs.

As the field advanced around the far turn, Curlin began his rally. Still outside of Street Sense, he moved inside of a tiring Lawyer Ron and set his sights on Hard Spun. Curlin took the lead just inside the three-sixteenths pole, and drew off.

"Everything went perfect, starting with all the speed up front," Albarado said. "It unfolded just the way we wanted, but it also takes a hell of a horse to get it done. Curlin was there for us every step of the way."