02/13/2008 12:00AM

Curlin in tip-top shape for Dubai trip


With his trip to Dubai set to begin Friday, and his 2008 comeback race on Feb. 28 at Nad Al Sheba scheduled for a demanding 1 1/4 miles, Curlin needed to do more than fool around in a Tuesday workout at Fair Grounds.

So, how did Curlin do? Well, to use one of trainer Steve Asmussen's regular lines, "He worked like Curlin."

Curlin's seven-furlong drill was timed in an eye-popping 1:23.60. Curlin was the only horse to work the distance, and neither were there any six-furlong breezes during the morning, but for some perspective, the fastest half-mile work of the day went in 49.20 seconds, so the track was by no means fast. Assistant trainer Scott Blasi said he timed Curlin galloping out one mile in 1:37.40, and 1 1/8 miles in 1:51 and change.

"Only an extraordinary horse could do what he did, but we needed a solid work in him before we shipped over," Blasi said. "He's in great physical condition."

Curlin will fly from New Orleans to Miami on Friday morning. He then will spend the night in Asmussen's barn at Gulfstream Park before leaving Saturday for Dubai, where he will land mid-morning on Sunday.

The Asmussen team is taking no chances with the horse many believe ranks as the best in the world right now. Blasi, Asmussen's top assistant, will accompany Curlin on his flight, and will personally oversee all of his preparations for the Feb. 28 Dubai World Cup prep race.

New Orleans Cap next for Grasshopper

Grasshopper looked like a serious force to be reckoned with in the national handicap division based on his performance in last Saturday's Mineshaft Handicap at Fair Grounds, and his trainer, Neil Howard, had spoken about working toward Grasshopper's 2008 debut with an eye toward a long and potentially fruitful campaign. But the focus for Grasshopper is much more immediate than distant.

Grasshopper came out of his basically perfect comeback win in the Mineshaft in good order, Howard said Monday, and his ambitions for the time being are confined to the New Orleans Handicap on March 8.

"We knew that if everything went well, and the four weeks between races was going to be okay, then [the New Orleans Handicap] looked like a nice race to come back to," Howard said. "What better than to make the Mineshaft, and then extend to the mile and an eighth on same track? We used that as an excuse not to get too far ahead of ourselves."

Nine furlongs appear to be well within Grasshopper's scope, given his lethal kick in the 1 1/16-mile Mineshaft, the 4-year-old colt's first start since September, and his first graded stakes win. Howard said before the race he was walking a fine line, trying to have Grasshopper ready to win, without training him so hard that he would come to a quick peak in his first start back.

"In a word, it went uncharacteristically perfectly," said Howard. "Obviously you want to win - that goes without saying - but you're looking at September, October, November. It looked like a race where he wouldn't bounce next time. He had to run, but he wasn't life and death to do it. It looked like a race he could move forward off, not regress off."

Howard said he considered sending Grasshopper back to the racetrack to train Tuesday morning, but elected to give the colt one more morning in the barn.

"I decided he has a lot in front of him, so I gave him a third day off today," Howard said.

Howard also was pleased with the performance of Highest Class, who turned in a career-best race finishing third, 2 1/4 lengths behind Indian Blessing, in last Saturday's Silverbulletday Stakes. There's a decent chance that Highest Class will come back for the Fair Grounds Oaks, also on March 8.

Several options for Daytona

Hip No. 495 in Monday's session of the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky winter mixed sale was listed as "out," which means that Daytona will continue to race for trainer Dan Hendricks and the partnership that bought him last spring in Ireland.

Daytona still was at Fair Grounds as of Tuesday morning, and was scheduled to return to Hendricks's California base on Wednesday, the trainer said. He was withdrawn from the Kentucky sale after posting a highly impressive victory last Saturday in the Fair Grounds Handicap, his first turf race outside Southern California.

It's uncertain whether Daytona will be back for the $500,000 Mervin Muniz Handicap on March 8 at Fair Grounds. Hendricks said that the Muniz, along with the Kilroe Mile at Santa Anita and the Dubai Duty Free on the Dubai World Cup undercard are the three options for Daytona's next race.

Several horses made stronger visual impressions in the paddock before the Fair Grounds Handicap than did Daytona, who is a plain-looking chestnut of average height. Out on the track, nobody could touch him.

"He's not a big flashy horse," Hendricks said. "He's just a very, very well-made, well conformed horse."

Will history repeat for Hughes, Stall?

On Feb. 16, 2007, a B. Wayne Hughes-owned, Al Stall-trained 3-year-old named Ketchikan won a one-mile entry-level allowance race, and then came back with a strong second-place finish in the Louisiana Derby on March 10. On Thursday - almost exactly one year later - the ninth-race feature is a one-mile, entry-level allowance race for 3-year-olds, and the favorite is likely to be a promising Hughes-owned, Stall-trained colt named Iron Works Pike.

Iron Works Pike hasn't yet shown the flash Ketchikan did in his Fair Grounds maiden win, but he did score at first asking in a Dec. 28 sprint race, and appeared to gain valuable experience finishing second in an entry-level allowance sprint on Jan. 21.

His main rival among five on Thursday appears to be Manager Boire, who makes his first start for trainer David Carroll since winning his career debut, also on Dec. 28, here in a maiden sprint.