03/31/2008 12:00AM

Curlin romps by record margin

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Dubai Jockey Club
Curlin and Robby Albarado romp to a record 7 3/4-length win in the $6 million Dubai World Cup.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - For Robby Albarado, the stretch run of the Dubai World Cup unfolded in "a blur." His words. Sure, there was no doubt he had won. And it's not like the final quarter-mile of the world's richest horse race provided release for frayed nerves. Albarado came into Saturday's night's racing all smiles, and he never turned a hair. It was just that with the roar of a huge crowd on a desert night, the feeling of sitting astride the best horse this year, last year, and perhaps in many a year - it was hard to separate specific occurrences.

"How did he look?" Albarado wanted to know, moments after weighing out.

He looked good. Curlin looked very good.

Curlin was supposed to win the $6 million World Cup, and he won it the right way, like a champion, and like something exceedingly special. His margin of victory, 7 3/4 lengths, was the largest in the 13-year history of the World Cup. And Curlin looked like a winner before the gates even opened. Of the 12 horses in the walking ring before the race, Curlin was the most composed. The night was warm, and many were sweating, but Curlin did not have a trace of froth on him going to the post parade.

And while Curlin at least worked up a sweat running 2,000 meters in 2:00.15, the third-fastest World Cup, he was far from spent.

"I couldn't even get him tired doing this," said Albarado.

With the scratch of Happy Boy, Curlin broke from post 11 in a 12-horse field, and he was among the first out of the gate. The early pace appeared to be dawdling, as Well Armed, the speed of the race, was slowly eased to the front by jockey Aaron Gryder. Asiatic Boy came up between horses to join the early fray, and there was Curlin, three wide, almost lapped on the leaders, and traveling in his usual fashion - head turned slightly, and loaded like a powerful spring.

Albarado said he had foreseen being close to the early pace, and the race basically unfolded as he had imagined.

"I knew when I was going to ask him," Albarado said. "As soon as he got into the stretch, straightened up, and switched leads, that's when I let him go."

This happened about 400 meters from the finish, after the horses had turned into the long Nad Al Sheba stretch. There was no one closing, and the race already was down to the top three. Those first few strides after Albarado told Curlin to go - that was the breathtaking part of his performance. In moments, he opened up a clear lead, and Curlin was long gone - the questions were how fast, and how far.

Curlin's chance at Dubai Millennium's 1:59.50 course record probably was undone by Well Armed's moderate early tempo. The slow trip down the backstretch helped Well Armed, who stayed on well but was edged for second by Asiatic Boy, who improved greatly after a disappointing World Cup prep. Two more Americans followed, A. P. Arrow and Great Hunter. Jalil capped a thoroughly disappointing night for Godolphin, finishing seventh.

Curlin was the heavy favorite in the international commingled betting pool for the World Cup, administered through a hub in South Africa, and paid $2.80 to win.

For trainer Steve Asmussen, Curlin's victory marked his first win in Dubai. Asmussen, joined here by his wife, three boys, and his parents, led Curlin from the receiving barn into the walking ring, and out onto the track himself. He was on one side of the horse, and assistant Scott Blasi, who has spent the last six weeks here in Dubai along with exercise rider Carlos Rosas, was on the other. Asmussen used to lead more of his own, when not many years ago he was struggling to get a foothold as a young trainer. Now, his massive stable houses Pyro, the leading Kentucky Derby contender, and Curlin, racing's third-leading career earner at $8.8 million after banking $3.6 million Saturday. He now trails only Cigar ($9.9 million) and Skip Away ($9.6 million).

"To be around this so long, to grow up in a racing family, and to have the best horse in the world - unbelievable," said Asmussen.

Eighty percent of Curlin is owned by Jess Jackson's Stonestreet Stable, the other 20 percent still in the hands of the Midnight Cry Stable, whose ownership of Curlin is in doubt because of legal issues. Jackson's decision to buy out two other partners on the horse and keep him in training this year is looking better and better. Curlin gets out of quarantine here April 4, and will fly to Keeneland on April 6, Asmussen said. Where he goes from there has not yet been determined.

But after this, the racing world will be waiting to find out.