03/16/2007 11:00PM

Curlin romps in Rebel

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Curlin showed maturity beyond his experience Saturday at Oaklawn Park, when he took command of the Grade 3, $300,000 Rebel Stakes in his second career start and went on to a 5 1/4-length win over Officer Rocket. It was another 2 1/2 lengths back in third to Teuflesberg, while favorite Flying First Class finished eighth. The Rebel was a prep for the Grade 2, $1 million Arkansas Derby here April 14, which is the next goal for Curlin, said his trainer, Steve Asmussen.

Curlin ($7.40) broke out a step at the start of the mile and a sixteenth Rebel, and settled into fourth behind Xchanger, who moved to the lead through an opening quarter in 23.48 seconds. Curlin continued to race about four lengths off the pace down the backside, with Xchanger in front by two lengths through a half-mile in 47.63. Curlin advanced four wide on the final turn, moved to the leaders at the quarter pole, and won going away, covering the distance over a fast track in 1:44.70.

"He was impressive," said Robby Albarado, who rode Curlin. "He went up to the leaders easy and went by without any trouble. He waited once he got in front like he was looking for a challenge. When Officer Rocket got close, he just rebroke like a fresh horse."

Curlin was making his first start for Asmussen, who said he was impressed with how Curlin handled all the new variables that came with the Rebel assignment, from running over a new track, to moving to two turns, to moving into stakes company, and handling the meet-high crowd of 35,244.

Curlin, a son of Smart Strike, came into the Rebel off a debut maiden win at Gulfstream Park for trainer Helen Pitts. He earned a Beyer Figure of 101 for his victory in the seven-furlong race. His owner, Midnight Cry Stable, then sold majority interest in the horse to a partnership that includes Stonestreet Stables, Padua Stables, and George Bolton.

Flying First Class came into the Rebel off a maiden win for which he earned a Beyer of 107, the highest number for a 3-year-old so far this year. He raced in second early, moved to the lead on the final turn, and faltered in the drive.

"He broke well and was sitting right where I wanted him in the early stages, but at the quarter pole he had nothing left," said Edgar Prado, who rode Flying First Class.

The remaining order of finish was Going Ballistic in fourth; U D Ghetto; Wannabeinclued; Xchanger; Flying First Class; and Sumac.

Handle on the 11-race card was a meet-high $6,573,577.