06/04/2007 12:00AM

Curlin stays dry in final drill

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Michael J. Marten/Horsephotos
While New York was drenched with rain, Curlin worked with Carmen Rosas up at Churchill Downs on Monday, going a half-mile in 50.60.

ELMONT, N.Y. - It was raining so hard at Belmont Park on Monday morning that trainer Steve Asmussen said he could hear it over the phone when calling from Churchill Downs.

"I canceled the works I had scheduled up there," Asmussen said. "Then I went outside and let out a deep sigh of relief that I was still here."

Asmussen had remained at Churchill Downs in order to give Curlin, the Preakness Stakes winner, his final workout before he starts as the heavy favorite in Saturday's 139th Belmont Stakes. Curlin dutifully polished off an easy half-mile in 50.60 seconds with exercise rider Carmen Rosas, his second and final work in the three weeks between the Preakness and the Belmont.

"He went nice and smooth," Asmussen said. "For a horse who's going to be going a mile and a half, we want to keep him relaxed and fluid, and that's what he's showing us."

The 1 1/2-mile Belmont, the final leg of the Triple Crown, is expected to have at least seven and perhaps eight runners when entries are taken and post positions drawn on Wednesday morning. Those certain to face Curlin are Hard Spun, Imawildandcrazyguy, Slew's Tizzy, Tiago, and the longshots Digger and Time Squared.

The wild card is trainer Todd Pletcher, who said he would announce on Tuesday whether he will run the filly Rags to Riches, the Kentucky Oaks winner, against the boys.

Rags to Riches and Circular Quay, both owned wholly or in part by Michael Tabor, worked at Belmont Park on Sunday. Rags to Riches went five furlongs in 1:03.88 and Circular Quay covered the same distance in 1:03.21, according to Daily Racing Form.

"They both worked well, and they're okay this morning," Pletcher said Monday at his Belmont Park barn. "That track was slow. I didn't want Rags to Riches to go quite that slow, but we made up for what she had to get with a little gallop-out. She got what she needed if she is going to run."

But is she? Pletcher has said he would not run both Circular Quay and Rags to Riches, and on Monday he pretty much said Circular Quay was unlikely to run. Rags to Riches, by Belmont winner A.P. Indy, is a half-sister to last year's Belmont winner, Jazil, so the temptation is there, though Pletcher has for weeks - even before the Kentucky Derby - extolled the virtues of Curlin.

"Mr. Tabor has left it up to me," Pletcher said. "He said 'I'm happy with whatever you do, but you make the call.' "

Three other Belmont runners worked on Sunday at Belmont Park. According to Daily Racing Form, Hard Spun worked five furlongs in 1:03.15 with jockey Garrett Gomez, Tiago drilled six furlongs in 1:14.76 with jockey Mike Smith, and Imawildandcrazyguy blew out three furlongs in 37 seconds with jockey Javier Castellano, though Mark Guidry has the mount Saturday.

Hard Spun, who was second in the Derby and third in the Preakness, arrived here Saturday from Delaware Park, where he is based with trainer Larry Jones. He originally was scheduled to work Monday, but when Jones saw the ominous forecast for Monday, he moved the work up a day.

"Larry made one right decision!" Jones said Monday morning - jokingly referring to the second-guessing he has endured this spring - as heavy rain pelted Belmont Park. "Thank goodness Garrett was here."

Sunday was the first time Hard Spun was on the Belmont track. Gomez said Hard Spun was very curious about the new surroundings.

"He was looking around," Gomez said. "He went to the pole like a true professional, and then when I started working him, he was just looking, just checking stuff out. Larry didn't want him to go real fast; he didn't want something like he had before the Derby anyway. He just wanted him go to get across the ground. He did that, got a nice little blow out of it, and all's good."

Trainer Bill Kaplan had planned to work Imawildandcrazyguy when the track opened at 5:30 a.m Sunday. But the exercise rider he has been using in New York overslept, so Kaplan got Castellano to work the gelding.

Imawildandcrazyguy, who was fourth in the Derby, broke into a strong gallop, or two-minute lick, at the six-furlong pole before getting into his workout at the three-furlong marker. Castellano tapped him on the shoulder at that point, and he went his first eighth in 11.98 seconds before slowing down a bit and getting his final quarter in 24.61 seconds. He galloped out an additional furlong in 12.90 seconds, and Kaplan clocked him another furlong in "13 and change."

"Believe it or not, this 37 work is an endurance work because of what we did before and after," Kaplan said. "Javier loved him. He said, 'Is there any way I can ride this horse?' I told Javier if Guidry oversleeps, you're up."

Smith and John Shirreffs, the trainer of Tiago, arrived after a red-eye flight from California for Tiago's workout.

With Smith maintaining a long hold of the reins, Tiago, the Santa Anita Derby winner, went in fractions of 12.65 seconds, 24.76, 37.21, and 49.61. He galloped out seven furlongs in 1:29.05.

Both Smith and Shirreffs were happy with the work considering that Tiago, who was seventh in the Derby, went by himself. In California, Tiago usually works in company.

"There's been times he gets bored, gets to laying in," Smith said Sunday. "He was actually great today, which is good to see. He really likes the big, sweeping turns."

With Derby winner Street Sense bypassing the Belmont, that has emboldened the connections of a couple of longshots to enter the race. On Sunday, the latest to join the party was Time Squared, who was sixth in the Blue Grass Stakes before winning an allowance at Arlington Park on May 18.

His trainer, Patrick Biancone, said he believed Time Squared ran well in the Blue Grass, in which he finished just three lengths behind the victorious Dominican.

"It was a very good race in a funny race," Biancone said of the Blue Grass, which had a slow pace and a furious finish.

"Why not take a shot?" he said.

Biancone said Time Squared was to work at Keeneland on Tuesday and then fly to New York on Friday. Julien Leparoux has the mount.

Curlin and Slew's Tizzy were scheduled to fly to New York from Kentucky on Tuesday. Digger is training at Aqueduct and is scheduled to travel by van to Belmont on Friday afternoon.

* Although it rained long and hard at Belmont Sunday night and until midday Monday, the forecast is encouraging for the rest of the week. The National Weather Service is forecasting a partly cloudy day Saturday, with a high of 84 degrees.

- additional reporting by David Grening