01/18/2008 1:00AM

Curlin continues working while in limbo

Bill Denver/Equiphotos
Likely Horse of the Year Curlin continued working toward a possible comeback with a five-furlong breeze in 1:04 Friday at Fair Grounds.

NEW ORLEANS - On Monday evening, Curlin is expected to be named the 2007 Horse of the Year. On Friday morning at Fair Grounds, he was given his first five-furlong work since winning the Breeders' Cup Classic.

Curlin was timed in 1:04, taking the next step forward in trainer Steve Asmussen's training regimen. Curlin had previously recorded two four-furlong works this year.

"He's progressing," said Asmussen. "I'm very comfortable with where he's at."

While Asmussen has Curlin approaching readiness to race, whether he actually will remains unclear with the status of his ownership still tied up in court.

Jess Jackson now owns 80 percent of Curlin, having bought out two of his partners from last year, Padua Stables and George Bolton. The other 20 percent of Curlin belongs to Midnight Cry Stables, which is wholly owned by Tandy LLC. The principal owners of Tandy LLC, the attorneys Shirley Cunningham Jr. and William Gallion, are in jail pending prosecution of criminal counts and civil litigation resulting from their handling of a $200 million judgment awarded to the plaintiffs in a fen-phen civil case.

The plaintiffs, after winning the case with Cunningham and Galleon as attorneys, successfully sued them for misappropriation of $64 million of the judgment.

Asmussen, when asked if he was frustrated with the process replied: "It might be more frustrating if it were a few weeks from now, when he is closer to ready to race. Right now, my job is just to train him."

The next step in clearing up the ownership of Curlin could come Tuesday in a courtroom in Frankfort, Ky. Senior Judge Roger Crittenden, the new arbiter of the civil case against Tandy LLC, will hear a motion for foreclosure of all assets of the corporation.

If successful, the motion could result in the sale of Tandy's assets, including Midnight Cry Stables and the 20 percent ownership of Curlin. The foreclosure could mean Jess Jackson would have the chance at becoming the sole owner, or that a more functional minority partnership could take over.

Pyro, one of Asmussen's star 3-year olds, also worked Friday. Pyro finished second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and is still under consideration for the Risen Star on Feb. 9. He turned in his second workout of the year, going five furlongs in 1:03.80.

"He's progressing," said Asmussen. "But he's going to have to pick it up, timing-wise, to make the Risen Star."

Keen finds a good bargain

It's not every day you get to claim a $2 million horse for $10,000, but Dallas Keen did just that three races ago with Mercantile, and it has paid dividends for his barn.

Mercantile sold for $2 million at the Fasig-Tipton sale in February 2006.

In his two races for Keen and owner BK Racing, the 4-year-old Mercantile has finished second and first in first-level allowance races. Keen will try him again in Sunday's third race, a $35,000 optional claiming race also open to second-level allowance runners.

Mercantile managed only 2 wins in 7 starts for his previous owner, Three Sisters Thoroughbreds. His last race for the partnership was a win from which he was claimed.

"You never know what to think when you see a $2 million horse for $10,000," said Keen. "He's running and training well. We'll see where he goes and if he can make the next jump."

A victory would send Mercantile's lifetime earnings past $100,000, with more than half of that earned by the new ownership.