06/14/2008 12:00AM

Curlin puts on a show

Reed Palmer Photography
Reigning Horse of the Year Curlin puts some sizzle back in the game by winning the Stephen Foster Handicap, for his ninth win in 12 career starts.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - A week later, here came the cheers. Curlin romped to a popular 4 1/4-length victory Saturday in the Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs, at least partly lifting the spirits of racing fans bitterly disappointed a week beforehand by Big Brown's foiled Triple Crown bid in the Belmont Stakes.

Under Robby Albarado, Curlin had to overcome a few tight spots when racing nearest the rail until the top of the stretch. He angled out for an open lane, then soon powered off to win the 27th running of the Grade 1, $1 million Foster as the 2-5 favorite. Hundreds, if not thousands, of ontrack fans gave Curlin their heartfelt cheers as the colt was led into the Churchill winner's circle.

"What a special horse he is," said trainer Steve Asmussen.

"He's so manageable now," said Albarado. "He made the lead turning for home, as he's accustomed to, and went on and proved he's the best horse in the world."

Einstein was up in the final jump to nab second from Barcola, the pacesetter who tried vainly to match strides with Curlin approaching the eighth pole before weakening late.

Carrying high weight of 128 pounds while spotting his rivals 10 to 15 pounds, Curlin returned $2.80 after finishing the 1 1/8-mile Foster in 1:49.68 over a fast track.

The Stonestreet Stables of Jess Jackson is the majority owner of Curlin, who earned $589,000 to lift his career earnings to $9,396,800, bringing him closer to Cigar's all-time record of $9,999,185. The 4-year-old Curlin has won 9 of 12 starts and has a five-race win streak that also includes the 2007 Breeders' Cup Classic and 2008 Dubai World Cup.

After Barcola, the Foster order was Grasshopper, Brass Hat, Jonesboro, Delightful Kiss, Sam P., High Blues, and Red Rock Creek.

Bill Troilo substituted for Calvin Borel aboard Brass Hat. Borel was injured in a training mishap Friday morning and was expected to be out about a week with a swollen ligament in his knee, according to agent Jerry Hissam.

The Foster was part of a chalk parade during a Saturday program that offered with five other graded stakes. The other winners were Hystericalady ($3) in the Fleur de Lis, Pure Clan ($4) in the Regret, Pyro ($5.60) in the Northern Dancer, Tizdejavu ($8) in the Jefferson Cup, and Dreaming of Anna ($3) in the Mint Julep. A winning $2 pick six on the six stakes returned a mere $48.