04/27/2008 11:00PM

Curlin drills for first time since Dubai

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Even under the cover of darkness, and even with attention riveted on the 134th Kentucky Derby, it’s still impossible for a horse as important as Curlin to escape notice at Churchill Downs.

One of the first horses on the track Monday morning after it opened at 6 a.m. Eastern, Curlin was sent through his first drill resembling a workout since he won the March 29 Dubai World Cup. Although the breeze – if that’s what it can be called – was too slow to be listed among the official workouts, Daily Racing Form caught the 2007 Horse of the Year going a half-mile in about 55.60 seconds.

Trainer Steve Asmussen, who had been deliberate and serious during the first few minutes of a group interview Monday morning when talking about his Derby candidates, Pyro and Z Fortune, finally cracked a smile when someone brought up Curlin.

“He went well,” said Asmussen. “He went through his paces. We’re just looking to get him on a normal schedule. I want to get him back into a rhythm and see where we’re at with him. We’ll slowly pick up his training regimen, so it’ll probably be three weeks to a month before we know what we’ll do with him.”

In his last three races, Curlin sandwiched wins in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic and $6 million Dubai World Cup around a winning prep for the World Cup. He has earned more than $8.8 million and has dead aim on Cigar’s record of nearly $10 million.

“His legacy is in our hands,” said Asmussen. “We’re proud to have the opportunity to showcase his talents.”

Field of 11 likely for Oaks, led by Proud Spell

With entries for the 134th Kentucky Oaks to be drawn Tuesday, a field of 11 3-year-old fillies appeared likely for Friday, with Proud Spell definitely in the lineup and her Larry Jones-trained stablemate, Eight Belles, opting out to run instead in the Derby.

Proud Spell drilled five furlongs Sunday at Churchill in 58.40 seconds. Other notable Oaks works over the weekend included a five-furlong breeze in 1:00.60 by Country Star over the Keeneland Polytrack on Saturday. Country Star, one of the likely favorites, was scheduled to stay at Keeneland until Wednesday, said trainer Bobby Frankel.

As of Monday, this was the prospective lineup for the Grade 1, $500,000 Oaks: A to the Croft, Calvin Borel to ride; Absolutely Cindy, Brian Hernandez Jr.; Awesome Chic, Robby Albarado; Bsharpsonata, Eric Camacho; Country Star, Rafael Bejarano; Golden Doc A, Kent Desormeaux; Proud Spell, Gabriel Saez; Elusive Lady, Eibar Coa; Rasierra, Jamie Theriot; Little Belle, Rajiv Maragh; and Pure Clan, Edgar Prado.

Terrific Storm heads Wednesday feature

The proverbial calm before the storm takes place here Wednesday, when a 10-race card will be run without a stakes. Fourteen stakes will be run here the subsequent three days – two on Thursday, six on Friday, and six on Saturday, culminating with the Derby.

Wednesday’s $56,400 allowance with a basic third-level allowance condition and $80,000 claiming option serves as the Wednesday feature, and Terrific Storm can only be too glad the race will be run over the Churchill turf. With 2 wins and 1 second from 12 turf starts elsewhere, Terrific Storm really seems to step up his game at Churchill, having racked up 4 wins and 3 seconds from just 9 races over this course.

His opposition is formidable as he tries to get over a couple of subpar races at Gulfstream Park. A.P. Xcellent, runner-up last summer in the Hollywood Gold Cup, is one of the older horses entered against him. The 5-year-old A.P. Xcellent will be making his first start for new connections after being sold at auction last fall.

Other viable contenders in the ninth-race feature include Jazz Quest, Frost Giant, and Rahystrada. In all, 16 were entered, although only as many as 10 can start, assuming the race stays on the grass.

* Although Churchill is using its new Super High Five wager on the last race each day, the bet will be offered Saturday on the Derby, the 10th of 12 races. If only one bettor correctly selects the first five finishers, he or she also will be awarded a 2009 Mercedes Benz SL550 as a bonus. The Super High Five, a $1-minimum wager with no consolation payoffs, carries over to the next racing day if no one wins.