11/29/2007 1:00AM

Curlin joins Asmussen barn down south

EmailThe big horse, Curlin, has joined the Steve Asmussen string at Fair Grounds, but his fate still remains up in the air, Asmussen said on Thursday.

Curlin, who had been based at Churchill Downs since his win in the Breeders' Cup Classic, shipped from Kentucky to New Orleans early this week.

"He's at the Fair Grounds, but as for his status, I honestly don't know," Asmussen said.

The owners Jess Jackson and George Bolton own 80 percent of Curlin, but it's the other 20 percent that has led to a state of uncertainty. Curlin's original owners, racing as the Midnight Cry Stable, have been charged with taking millions of dollars awarded to plaintiffs in a lawsuit concerning the diet drug phen-fen. The plaintiffs in the case now may have an ownership claim on a part of Curlin.

Also, Curlin would be worth millions of dollars more as a stallion than he could earn as a racehorse. Other top 3-year-olds of 2007 - Street Sense, Hard Spun, and Any Given Saturday - already have been retired to stud.

Curlin, who would have been on holiday right now even if his future weren't clouded, is merely walking the shed row at the moment.

"He's let down [from racing] very nicely," Asmussen said. "He's been very relaxed, very content. He looks the picture of health."

Asmussen said he was proceeding with Curlin's care with the mindset that the horse would race again next season.

"Because he's here, I'm moving forward with him with the idea that he's staying in training," Asmussen said.

Curlin is far from the only stakes horse stabled in Asmussen's Fair Grounds barn. Pyro, among the winter favorites for the Kentucky Derby, is "doing the exact same thing" as Curlin right now, Asmussen said. Another prominent 2-year-old, Kodiak Kowboy, is due to arrive at Fair Grounds early next week, but could wind up in Florida for early-season races, Asmussen said.

Two grass horses, Inca King and Storm Treasure, are working here toward upcoming stakes appearances, Inca King in the Woodchopper, and Storm Treasure in the Buddy Diliberto. And finally, the ace starter-allowance horse Golden Hare is in New Orleans, but may have to ship to Sam Houston in search of his 13th win of 2007.

Carroll brings in two nice prospects

Trainer David Carroll's meet at Churchill Downs started with difficulty, but ended with promise.

Carroll's barn was quarantined in early November because of an outbreak of equine herpevirus, but by closing day, Carroll-trained horses were making plenty of noise in the general population. Blackberry Road came within a half-length of winning the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club, the closing-day feature at Churchill. And earlier on the Nov. 24 card, Carroll sent out another youngster who looked every bit as good as Blackberry Road, a Harlan's Holiday first-time starter named Denis of Cork.

Away from the gates ninth, and 11th early in a 12-horse field, Denis of Cork rolled into contention with a big move on the far turn, and sustained it through the stretch, winning a seven-furlong maiden race by three-quarters of a length, in a quick time of 1:22.40.

"I thought it was a very, very good performance," Carroll said. "He's got a nice pedigree. He's out of an Unbridled mare, and he looks more like Unbridled [than Harlan's Holiday] - tall, narrow, leggy. We just took our time with him, getting him ready."

Denis of Cork, owned by Mr. and Mrs. William Warren, will get some time before he starts again, with Carroll targeting a two-turn allowance race. There have been inquiries, of course, about Denis of Cork's availability for purchase, but Carroll said that William Warren - who campaigned Saint Liam - was more interested in trying to find a Kentucky Derby horse than selling a young prospect.

Blackberry Road, meanwhile, came out of his strong effort in good order, and also has taken up residence at Fair Grounds. A troubled third in the Kentucky Cup Juvenile in his race before the KJC, Blackberry Road will be pointed for the one-mile Lecomte Stakes here next month, Carroll said.

Mena starts fast - and waits

What does an excellent opening week at your first Fair Grounds meet get you? In the case of Miguel Mena, not much.

Mena, the 21-year-old rider spending his first winter in New Orleans, won the opening-day Thanksgiving Handicap, and wound up Week 1 with a meet-leading seven wins. But Mena had minimal action Thursday and Friday, and was named on just one horse Saturday - a sign of the depth in this year's jockey colony.

"I told Miguel right away that he could get real lucky and have a huge meet and be third [in the standings]," said Steve Elzey, Mena's agent. "But this is a tough place. Even if we're fifth, sixth, seventh leading rider here, we're on the map with a lot more people."