04/13/2007 11:00PM

Curlin wins Arkansas Derby by record margin


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Curlin established himself as the possible favorite for the Kentucky Derby with a record-margin 10 1/2-length rout of the Grade 2, $1 million Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park on Saturday.

"He took a leap from his last start," said Robby Albarado, who rode Curlin for trainer Steve Asmussen.

Curlin, who is undefeated in three starts, won the Grade 3, $300,000 Rebel Stakes by 5 1/4 lengths here in March, one start after a 12 3/4-length maiden romp at Gulfstream Park in February. But he trumped both of those performances Saturday.

Curlin ($3.60) broke well in the mile and an eighth Arkansas Derby, and raced about a length and a half off of pacesetter Deadly Dealer through an opening quarter in 23.56 seconds. Curlin continued to track that one from along the inside, with Deadly Dealer maintaining his lead through a half-mile in 47.89 and six furlongs in 1:12.64. Curlin kicked into gear going into the far turn, and was well in command of the race through a mile in 1:38.18. He went on to cover the distance over a fast track in 1:50.09.

"He’s stepped up more than you could ever imagine," said Asmussen, who won five races on the card, as well as the Oaklawn training title. "It’s Christmas every morning."

The Arkansas Derby was a different kind of race for Curlin, who had led throughout in his maiden win and stalked the pace outside of horses in the Rebel.

"Steve told me teach him something today, make him do it the right way," said Albarado. "And that was our plan, just to try to get him tucked in, just do what we can to show him what he’s going to head into next time.

"A horse went on by him down the backside, [and] he was content being there. I just wanted to be as patient as possible, and let him do it as easy as possible."

Storm in May rallied for second. It was another half-length back in third to Deadly Dealer. The remaining order of finish was Delightful Kiss in fourth, Going Ballistic, Flying First Class, Officer Rocket, Slew by Slew, and first-time starter Olympic Chief.

Curlin will attempt to buck some trends as he heads into the Kentucky Derby. He did not race at 2, and the last horse unraced at 2 to win the Kentucky Derby was Apollo in 1882. Curlin will also head into the race with just three career starts, and Regret is the lone horse since 1900 to win the Kentucky Derby with three starts prior to the race. She won in 1915.

Curlin opened his career on Feb. 3 with a seven-furlong maiden win for trainer Helen Pitts. Following the race, owner Midnight Cry Stable sold majority interest in the horse to a partnership that includes Stonestreet Stables, Padua Stables, and George Bolton. Curlin was then transferred to trainer Steve Asmussen, and in his first start for the barn he won the Rebel.

Curlin earned $600,000 for his win in the Arkansas Derby, which improved his career earnings to $802,800. He is a son of Smart Strike and the Deputy Minister mare Sherriff’s Deputy.

The win was the second in the Arkansas Derby for Asmussen, who won the race in 2002 with Private Emblem.

For You Reppo was scratched from the Arkansas Derby on Saturday morning, making for a field of nine. He bruised his foot, said his trainer, Helen Pitts.

The Arkansas Derby closed out the meet, and attendance here Saturday was 57,937. Handle on the 12-race card from all sources was $11,183,161.