08/18/2008 12:00AM

Curlin impresses in main-track drill


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Shortly before sunrise Monday morning, Curlin gave this sleepy town a wake-up call with a strong seven-furlong workout in what was his first-ever breeze over Saratoga's main track.

Curlin, the defending Horse of the Year, worked seven furlongs in 1:24.84 under regular exercise rider Carlos Rosas as he prepares for the Grade 1, $500,000 Woodward Stakes here Aug. 30. Curlin worked in company with stablemate Hawaii Calls, breaking off about a half-length in front of that horse while on the inside.

Curlin went in fractions of 12.56 seconds, 24.74, 36.74, 48.65, and 1:00.09. He galloped out a mile in 1:37.95 and pulled up 1 1/8 miles in 1:52.54. By comparison, Monday's third race, an optional claiming race, went in 1:51.78 for 1 1/8 miles.

Unlike a week ago, when Hawaii Calls actually finished a neck in front of Curlin, this time Curlin finished three to four lengths ahead of Hawaii Calls, who was ridden by Shaun Bridgmohan.

"He handled the track beautiful, I didn't see anything wrong," Rosas said. "I turned him loose a little bit today, you guys saw what happened. He left the other horse at the quarter pole. I told Shaun last week we went head and head, and he said Hawaii Calls worked good. I said, 'He won't go good next week.' I said 'You better wear your goggles today because at the quarter pole you're going to need them.'"

Steve Asmussen, the trainer of Curlin, felt it was important to get one workout in over the track on which Curlin would be running. Last year and until Monday Curlin had trained here exclusively over the Oklahoma training track.

"I think that he handled it well," Asmussen said. "If he had struggled with the racetrack, it would have shown in one form or another, especially cooling out. It definitely seemed like something he could handle. He galloped out real big and came back nice."

Asmussen noted that Curlin "was looking around a bit" when he galloped through the stretch prior to his work.

"Once he was into his work, he was very serious, steady, and impressive," Asmussen added.

Asmussen said Curlin would have one easy work next Monday over the training track. Curlin's opponents in the Woodward are expected to include Metropolitan Handicap winner Divine Park, A.P. Arrow, Star Plus, and Wanderin Boy.

Proud Spell, Music Note paths diverge

Following their stirring stretch duel in Saturday's Grade 1 Alabama, winner Proud Spell and runner-up Music Note appear to be headed in different directions.

Proud Spell, who added the Alabama to her victories in the Kentucky Oaks, Delaware Oaks, and Fair Grounds Oaks, is likely to make her next start in the Grade 2, $750,000 Cotillion Stakes at Philadelphia Park on Sept. 20. Music Note, who beat Proud Spell in the Mother Goose but fell a head short to her Saturday, will most likely run next in the Grade 1, $250,000 Gazelle on Sept. 13 at Belmont Park.

Proud Spell shipped to the Fair Hill training center in Maryland on Sunday, and trainer Larry Jones said he was happy with the way his filly came out of the race.

"I don't know what we're going to do just yet," said Jones, who noted that he and owner Brereton Jones were going to discuss things this week. "The Cotillion is a possibility. The money is what you need to chase. She's already won two Grade 1's, and they're the two biggest Grade 1's the way I rank them."

While Larry Jones said he would like to skip the Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic at Santa Anita because it's run over a synthetic surface, he said owner Brereton Jones "hasn't ruled it out."

Meanwhile, Rick Mettee, who oversees Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum's Godolphin Racing string in New York for trainer Saeed bin Suroor, said both Music Note and third-place finisher Little Belle came out of the race well.

"Saeed indicated to me that all things being well, we'll probably run Music Note in the Gazelle," said Mettee, who noted that Little Belle would not run in that race unless Music Note did not run.

Little Belle, who won the Grade 1 Ashland on Keeneland's synthetic surface, could be a candidate for the Grade 1 Spinster at Keeneland on Oct. 5.

Grand Couturier to Joe Hirsch

Grand Couturier, who won the Sword Dancer Invitational for the second year in a row, came out of his race extremely well, trainer Robert Ribaudo said, and thus will make his next start in the Grade 1, $600,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational at Belmont on Sept. 27.

"Right now, it's more simplified because he came out of the race good, he's fresh mentally, and soundness-wise he's good," Ribaudo said. "It makes things easier to point for the Joe Hirsch."

Ribaudo said that how Grand Couturier runs in the Joe Hirsch and which Europeans are planning to come for the Breeders' Cup will determine if Grand Couturier runs in the $3 million BC Turf at Santa Anita on Oct. 25.

Grand Couturier earned an automatic berth into the BC Turf because the Sword Dancer was part of the Breeders' Cup's Win and You're In Challenge.

Better Talk Now heading to Canada

Trainer Graham Motion said Better Talk Now, runner-up in the Sword Dancer, would not be pointed to this year's Breeders' Cup Turf, a race he won in 2004 at Lone Star and has run in each of the last four years.

Motion said the probability of a firm turf course at Santa Anita would work against Better Talk Now.

Instead, Motion said Better Talk Now would make his next start in the $2 million Canadian International at Woodbine on Oct. 4, with a possible start in the $250,000 Sky Classic Stakes, also at Woodbine, on Oct. 25.

"That's going to be the logical thing to do," Motion said.

Rice sweeps top four spots in stakes

Trainer Linda Rice pulled off a remarkable feat Monday, saddling the top four finishers in the $83,250 Mechanicville Stakes for New York-breds at Saratoga.

Rice won the race with Ahvee's Destiny ($20.60), who outfinished the pace-setting Canadian Ballet by a head. It was a half-length back to Silver Timber - the only male of Rice's quartet - who finished three-quarters of a length ahead of Karakorum Elektra. It was a head back to Redefined, the 8-5 favorite.

"People kind of joked about it," Rice said. "I thought that was kind of wishful thinking that we would be 1-2-3-4. It sure feels good."

Ahvee's Destiny, a 4-year-old daughter of Rizzi, was running back just 10 days after she won an optional claiming race at Monmouth Park on Aug. 8. She was ridden by John Velazquez.

Ahvee's Destiny ran 5 1/2 furlongs over firm turf in 1:02.72.

As track announcer Tom Durkin announced, "The Linda Rice superfecta paid $3,490. Linda, I sure hope you had it."

Rice said she's superstitious and doesn't bet on her own horses.

Later on the card, By the Light rallied from well off the pace and then survived a stewards' inquiry for bumping with Street Sass at the quarter pole to win the $84,150 Union Avenue Stakes for New York-bred 3-year-old fillies. Light Tactic finished second by a neck over Just Zip It.

By the Light, trained by Richard Dutrow Jr., covered the six furlongs in 1:10.58. She is now 6 for 7 in her career.

Wait a While heads Ballston Spa

Wait a While will seek to defend her Ballston Spa title when she meets four rivals in the 20th renewal of that race Thursday. The Grade 2, $200,000 Ballston Spa Handicap is scheduled for 1 1/16 miles on turf.

Wait a While, the 3-year-old filly champion of 2006, is coming off a seventh-place finish in the Grade 1 Diana, her first start since January. Wait a While drew the rail and is the starting co-highweight at 119 pounds along with Rutherienne.

Others entered include Valbenny, Sharp Susan, and Carriage Trail.

One filly not entered was Genuine Devotion, who has won her last four starts, including the Grade 3 Locust Grove Handicap on July 6. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said Genuine Devotion was "not quite right."

Ginger Punch heads Personal Ensign

Ginger Punch, last year's champion older female, drew post 5 and will face six rivals, including stablemate Spring Waltz, in Friday's Grade 1, $400,000 Personal Ensign Stakes.

Ginger Punch, trained by Bobby Frankel, has won 11 of 19 starts, including the Grade 1 Go for Wand Handicap here July 26. This will be Ginger Punch's first start at 1 1/4 miles.

The field, from the rail out, is: So Glitzy, Lemon Drop Mom, Indescribable, Unbridled Belle, Ginger Punch, Golden Velvet, and Spring Waltz.

* The Frankel-trained Country Star ($3.80) made a successful return to the races Monday, taking a second-level allowance race by a half-length over Mari Rossa.

It was Country Star's first start since she finished sixth in the Kentucky Oaks on May 2. It was her victory on turf.

As a 2-year-old, Country Star won the Alcibiades and Hollywood Starlet, both Grade 1 races run on synthetic surfaces.

According to John Adger, racing manager for Stonerside Stable which owns the filly, Country Star may start next in the Grade 1, $250,000 Gazelle on dirt at Belmont Park on Sept. 13.