09/01/2008 12:00AM

Curlin notches Woodward win

Barbara D. Livingston
Curlin, with Robby Albarado up, wins the Woodward by 1 1/4 lengths after getting brushed by horses on both sides of him early.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - It wasn't as easy as many expected it to be, but Curlin made a successful Saratoga debut Saturday, running past a stubborn Past the Point outside the sixteenth pole for a 1 1/4-length victory in Saturday's Grade 1, $500,000 Woodward Stakes.

Past the Point, who set rapid early fractions, held second, 1 1/2 lengths ahead of Wanderin Boy. He was followed in the order of finish by A.P. Arrow, Loose Leaf, Divine Park, and Out of Control. Dr. D.F.C. scratched.

The victory - Curlin’s 10th from 14 career starts - was worth $300,000 and pushed his career earnings to $9,796,800 which puts him second all-time. Cigar is the all-time leading money earner in Thoroughbred racing with $9,999,815.

Curlin, owned by Jess Jackson's Stonestreet Stable, was making his first start since he finished second to Red Rocks in the Man o' War on the turf at Belmont Park on July 12. Jackson chose the Woodward for Curlin's next start because it was on a dirt surface at a historic venue.

The New York Racing Association was hopeful that Curlin's presence - he was the first reigning Horse of the Year to run at Saratoga since Favorite Trick a decade ago - would be a boon for business. The announced crowd of 22,572 was 13 percent higher than last year's crowd of 19,973. Ontrack handle was basically even while total handle was down nearly $2 million.

The crowd didn't see a vintage Curlin performance, but they saw an effective one.

Curlin, under Robby Albarado, did not have the easiest of trips in the Woodward. Entering the clubhouse turn he was caught in between Divine Park, under Alan Garcia, and Out of Control, under John Velazquez, and Curlin was bumped by one or the other at different times.

Straightening away down the backside, Curlin found himself just outside of Divine Park, who kept him in the five-path. Meanwhile, Past the Point, under Edgar Prado was winging it on the lead through fractions of 22.80 seconds, 46.20, and 1:09.61.

"I don't know what Alan was doing, I guess he was trying to park me out there," Albarado said. "I was trying to save ground, I wanted to get to the fence."

Entering the far turn, Curlin left Divine Park and set sail for the front-running duo. Turning into the stretch, Curlin collared Wanderin Boy and then he went after Past the Point, who had run a mile in 1:35.33. Curlin finally got past Past the Point and then appeared to slow down. His final eighth was a pokey 14.01 seconds and his final time was 1:49.34 for the 1 1/8 miles. Curlin returned $2.70 to win.

"When I finally got in front of him he let himself up, but he ran so hard for so long," Albarado said. "I had to make a longer run than needed to because [Past the Point] was so far in front of me at the quarter pole. But he ran great though, I'm proud of him."

Curlin added the Woodward to victories in the Dubai World Cup and Stephen Foster Handicap earlier in the year.

"To win the Stephen Foster and the Woodward in the same year that you won the Dubai World Cup . . . a lot of horses have not reestablished themselves like he had," trainer Steve Asmussen said.

Now the question is where does Curlin run next and will he ever run against Big Brown, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner. Big Brown is scheduled to run next in the Monmouth Stakes on turf on Sept. 13 and then the Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita on Oct. 25. Curlin could run in the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont on Sept. 27. Though Jackson said the Breeders’ Cup is "not prominently" on his list because it's run on a synthetic surface, he didn't completely rule it out.

"We have to look at the training or possible running on that track, we have to look at the Japan Cup - they've offered more money than the Breeders' Cup," Jackson said. "We have a lot of options. I want to make sure we decide what's right for the horse."