03/23/2008 11:00PM

Curlin puts in final World Cup work

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – As usual, a hot wind blew over the desert around Nad Al Sheba Racecourse on Monday morning. Sand and pollution dirtied the air between the racetrack and Dubai’s burgeoning skyline, but out on the racetrack, 2007 Horse of the Year Curlin was clean, crisp, and smooth as silk in his final workout for Saturday’s $6 million Dubai World Cup.

Curlin, his chestnut coat glowing, was timed in 50.16 seconds for 800 meters (about a half-mile) and was never asked for anything by his regular morning rider, Carlos Rosas, who was intent on simply putting Curlin through his paces only five days before the World Cup.

Curlin’s work left Scott Blasi, assistant to trainer Steve Asmussen, smiling and relaxed, and preparations for his first major race of 2008 have gone perfectly here. Even so, and despite the fact that Curlin figures to be an overwhelming favorite in the World Cup, his presence has done little to scare away competition. Twelve other horses are listed as probable starters after the first phase of the entry process Monday. Provisional fields were released then, with final fields and post positions to be determined at a draw on Wednesday evening.

If all 13 actually start, it will equal the World Cup’s biggest field. Thirteen also ran in 2000, the year Dubai Millennium set a 2,000-meter track record of 1:59.50 in what may rank as the top World Cup performance to date.

Curlin came onto the racetrack at about 7:15 Monday morning, before the sweltering sun had risen too high. Up to his usual antics, he turned his head sideways and jogged with his neck twisted to the side as Rosas brought him toward the 800-meter pole to begin the breeze. Once into a gallop, however, Curlin got down to business, and he made his typical awe-inspiring impression, even going at a moderate tempo.

"His work’s basically done now," Blasi said later.

Curlin will walk in the barn on Tuesday, and return to the track Wednesday for moderate exercise leading to Saturday’s race. Curlin raced under the lights winning a handicap race here Feb. 28 in his 2008 debut, and schooled under the lights during races on the final night of the Dubai Winter Carnival. Blasi said Curlin is scheduled to visit the starting gate Thursday morning.

Curlin is one of four U.S.-based invaders for the World Cup. He was joined in the initial entries by Well Armed (who breezed 800 meters in 48 seconds Monday), A. P. Arrow, and Great Hunter. Also entered were Asiatic Boy, Gloria De Campeao, Happy Boy, Jalil, Kocab, Lucky Find, Premium Tap, Sway Yed, and Vermilion.

The major World Cup undercard news Monday came as no surprise: Godolphin’s Ramonti, among the world’s best milers, was not entered in the nine-furlong Dubai Duty Free. Ramonti had recently battled a leg infection, and was unable to be properly prepared for the race.

His absence caused a shuffling of Godolphin runners, with Literato moved from the Sheema Classic to the Duty Free, and West Wind switched from the Duty Free to the Sheema Classic. Godolphin will have two starters in both turf races, which have drawn spectacularly competitive fields.

Americans, as usual, dominated the entries for the Golden Shaheen, run over six furlongs on dirt. Five U.S.-based horses, led by Idiot Proof and Benny the Bull, were among the 15 entries for that race.

The Godolphin Mile also drew a 15-horse field, with 12 horses entered in the UAE Derby.