05/24/2007 11:00PM

Curlin stood out even as a yearling


"He can do anything you want him to do. So, the mile and a half distance of the Belmont Stakes should not bother him."

The person speaking these words was Dominic Brennan, the head trainer and co-manager of Ocala's Another Episode Farm, the training center where Preakness Stakes winner Curlin learned what's expected of a racehorse.

Curlin arrived at Another Episode Farm as one of a herd of some 100 yearlings in autumn of 2005.

"There was a lot to like about the horse," said Brennan, "but you could say that about most of those who are sent to us for breaking and training."

Reviewing his notes and his memories, Brennan elaborated on his early impression of Curlin by saying he was among the better five or six yearling colts in terms of attitude, presence, and overall conformation. Among these perceived leaders of the class was the eventual graded stakes winner Birdbirdistheword.

Brennan, like so many of the Irish-born members of the local horse community, knew someone or was related to someone who knew someone in Ocala. In Brennan's case it was Eddie Woods and Tony Everard, who was co-founder of Another Episode Farm and now the owner of New Episode Training Center.

"I am originally from County Meath and met Tony Everard there while working for Eddie Woods's brother learning the horse business," Brennan said.

When asked if his family had a history of owning horses or working in the Irish horse industry, Brennan said that everyone in Ireland owns a horse, part of a horse, or has family that owns all or part of a horse.

Brennan, at Everard's invitation, emigrated from Ireland in 1984 and went to work at Another Episode as Everard's assistant. Another Episode Farm's clientele mostly operate racing stables. There are, however, some who patronize the 2-year-old markets and it was at the Keeneland

2-year-olds in training sale a dozen years ago that Brennan met trainer Ken McPeek.

"We brought 10 yearlings to the sale and Ken came to us afterwards and commented that he was impressed with the manner of our sales horses," Brennan said. "He liked how they looked and how they performed under tack. That fall he sent us 15 yearlings to break, and since that time we've done business with him."

When McPeek decided to cut down on his own training activities, he recommended to his one-time assistant Helen Pitts that she send her yearlings to Brennan at Another Episode Farm. Curlin, owned at the time by Midnight Cry Stables, was in the group.

Curlin showed his stuff during that winter, and Brennan thought of him as his valedictorian of the Another Episode graduate class of 2006. Nature, however, stepped in and blocked his 2-year-old campaign with sore shins.

"He bucked [shins] good," said Brennan, "and then he began to go through growth spurts."

Curlin is a big horse, and it was decided by his team to let him mature and bring him out as a 3-year-old.

"You know," Brennan said, "as a yearling and then as a 2 year-old, nothing seemed to bother him. He has a great attitude. When I went to the Derby, here he was surrounded by people and all the noise, and he handled it like a professional."

Brennan thought Curlin had the ability to improve off his third in the Derby.

"When Street Sense went by him in the Preakness, I thought to myself, well, second is better than third," he said. "It took him a few strides to change leads, but once he did, I knew it was going to be a horse race."

When asked to refine his thoughts about Curlin's chances in the Belmont, Brennan did not hesitate: "I think he can handle any surface, any distance, and he's a real class act."

* Florida's final sale of 2-year-olds in training is scheduled for June 19-20. The Ocala Breeders' Sales catalog comprises 635 2-year-olds along with 18 older horses of racing age. The under-tack shows are June 16-17 with an 8 a.m. start time. Catalogs are in the process of being delivered. The catalog contents are up on the OBS website and may be accessed via www.obssales.com.