07/21/2008 11:00PM

Curlin looks sharp working in slop

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - The next start for Curlin, the 2007 Horse of the Year, has yet to be decided, but he was kept on edge early Monday morning at Saratoga with an easy half-mile workout that was the highlight of a busy morning of drills for trainer Steve Asmussen and his assistant, Scott Blasi.

Blasi, who oversees Asmussen's local horses, sent 14 horses to the Oklahoma training track for workouts, including such well-known stakes-class runners as Noonmark, Pyro, Student Council, Zanjero, and Z Fortune.

"You all showed up on a good day," Blasi said.

It was Curlin who understandably drew the most attention. Monday's workout, accomplished in 51.47 seconds over a sloppy, sealed track, was the first for Curlin since his second-place finish July 12 in his turf debut in the Man o' War Stakes at Belmont Park.

Back on the dirt Monday, Curlin reached out with enthusiasm. Curlin finished in hand with exercise rider Carlos Rosas, then galloped out powerfully and was not pulled up until well down the backstretch.

"He looked like the Horse of the Year," Blasi said. "That was the kind of work he would have after a race, no matter where he would run next. We wanted to see him come back and be himself. He looked like his old self again.

"He's had so much pressure his whole life. He's taken whatever we've thrown at him. There's no substitute for him."

Asmussen, who was at Churchill Downs on Monday, said he was "glad to see he came out of his race well and that we're not offending him by experimenting.

"He's an incredible animal," Asmussen said.

Jess Jackson, the majority owner of Curlin, has yet to decide where Curlin will race next.

Curlin will train this summer at Saratoga. If he ends up racing here, a tempting option might be the Grade 1, $500,000 Woodward Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on dirt on Aug. 30. The Woodward is a weight-for-age race, not a handicap. He carried 128 pounds, 10 more than runner-up Einstein, when winning the Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs on June 14.

Pyro tunes up for Jim Dandy

Pyro was the first horse on the Oklahoma track Monday at 5:30 a.m, 20 minutes before Curlin. Like Curlin, he worked a half-mile on a sloppy track with Rosas. Unlike Curlin, he will be running this weekend. After traveling a half-mile in 50.56 seconds, Pyro was confirmed as a starter in the Grade 2, $500,000 Jim Dandy Stakes on Sunday.

"He's a lot sharper since his last race," Blasi said.

Pyro was considered one of the elite 3-year-olds in the nation following victories in the Risen Star Stakes and Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds. But he finished 10th of 12 in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, then was eighth of 20 in the Kentucky Derby. In his lone start since then, Pyro won the Northern Dancer Stakes at Churchill Downs on June 14.

"His last race was real good, a little confidence-builder," Blasi said.

"We got a little off track in Lexington," Blasi said, referring to the Blue Grass, run in Lexington, Ky. "He's showing us indications of being the Pyro we saw down at Fair Grounds."

The Jim Dandy, at 1 1/8 miles, is headed by Da' Tara, the Belmont Stakes winner. Nick Zito, Da' Tara's trainer, on Monday said he also would run Anak Nakal in the Jim Dandy. Others expected for the race are Macho Again, Tiz Now Tiz Then, and Tizbig.

My Pal Charlie will await the Grade 3, $750,000 West Virginia Derby on Aug. 2 at Mountaineer Racetrack, trainer Al Stall Jr. said Monday. The West Virginia Derby is also the next stop for the Asmussen-trained Z Fortune, who worked six furlongs in 1:16.70 with jockey Shaun Bridgmohan on Monday here. Z Fortune worked evenly with Zanjero following a renovation break on the Oklahoma track, which by then was listed as muddy.

Student Council on fence for Whitney

Student Council looked terrific working five furlongs in 1:01.38 with Rosas, so much so that Asmussen convinced owner Ro Parra to at least enter the Grade 1, $750,000 Whitney Handicap on Saturday.

Student Council was third in the Hollywood Gold Cup in his last start. He is the defending champion in the Grade 1, $1 million Pacific Classic, which will be run at Del Mar on Aug. 24. That is where Parra originally thought the horse should run next.

"We want to keep him fresh for the Breeders' Cup Classic," Parra said from Park City, Utah, where he is vacationing. "I'm on the fence now. We will enter, then decide. It might not be a bad spot with the horse doing so well."

Others expected to enter the 1 1/8-mile Whitney are A. P. Arrow, Commentator, Giant Gizmo, Notional, Rising Moon, Solar Flare, Timber Reserve, and possibly Tasteyville. The winner earns an automatic berth into the BC Classic through the Win and You're In program.

Mott defends training title

Bill Mott was the leading trainer at Saratoga last summer, in large part because of an outstanding summer with his 2-year-olds. And though Mott on Monday said it is "highly unlikely" he would win 27 races, as he did a year ago, he should be a factor in Wednesday's second race, the first 2-year-old race of the meet. Mott has entered both Pious David and Zensational with Kent Desormeaux named to ride both, meaning one will scratch.

Zensational, a colt by Unbridled's Song, was a $700,000 purchase at a 2-year-olds in training sale in February. He has been training steadily at Saratoga for more than two months.

"I had a nice group last year, and I've got a nice group this year," Mott said. "I've got some that seem like they have some talent and quality, but you've got to run them to find out."

Desormeaux suffering from seconditis

Jockey Kent Desormeaux is having a most frustrating time getting to his 5,000th career victory in North America.

Since winning the $200,000 Dr. James Penny Memorial Handicap aboard Sharp Susan at Philadelphia Park on July 7 - his 4,998th career victory - Desormeaux has gone winless with his last 29 mounts. To make matters worse, he has finished second on 12 of those mounts, including his last six. Desormeaux was a bridesmaid in three stakes at Colonial Downs on Saturday, including a nose loss aboard Court Vision in the Virginia Derby and a nose loss on Hunting Point in the Kitten's Joy Stakes.

Desormeaux, who missed out on the Saratoga riding title by one win to Cornelio Velasquez last year, is named to ride in six races on Wednesday's opening-day card.

* Todd Pletcher, who won the training titles at Saratoga five straight years (2002-06) until being dethroned by Mott, does not have any starters Wednesday.

* Richard Migliore, back from the West Coast to ride regularly at Saratoga, has just one mount on Wednesday, on Golden Man in the 10th and final race.

* Spooky Mulder, 10, a popular gelding who has made 81 starts and earned $928,718, is entered for a $20,000 claiming price, the cheapest tag of his career, in Wednesday's 10th race.

- additional reporting by David Grening