08/03/2008 11:00PM

Curlin work draws Asmussen's praise


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - While the mystery of where and when Curlin will start next was scheduled to be cleared up by majority owner Jess Jackson on a national conference call Tuesday afternoon, there is little mystery about how the reigning Horse of the Year is training.

In what has become a weekly ritual every Monday since his arrival here last month, Curlin came out on the Oklahoma training track shortly before 6 a.m. to work under exercise rider Carmen Rosas. With a large throng of railbirds looking on and fog shrouding much of the run down the backstretch, Curlin broke off at the five-furlong pole and settled into a nice, easy stride. After going his opening quarter mile in 25.76 seconds and three-eighths in 38.06, he picked up the pace on cue upon entering the stretch and completed the five-furlong work in 1:02.69. He went his final quarter mile in 24.63 without any urging from Rosas before galloping out six furlongs in 1:16.29 and seven-eighths in 1:30.54.

"He's in a beautiful rhythm right now," said trainer Steve Asmussen. "He's in beautiful shape and ready for wherever Jess wants to run him."

Jackson was on hand to watch Curlin work for the second straight week, and like Asmussen said he would continue to ponder his options.

Options for Curlin include Saratoga's Sword Dancer Invitational on the grass on Aug. 16, the Woodward over the main track here two weeks later, or Del Mar's Pacific Classic on Aug. 24. As expected, Curlin has been tendered an invitation to the Sword Dancer.

"Watching a horse like Curlin is a great feeling," said Asmussen. "I understand why people come out so early to see him train. If you like horses, you've got to like him."

Student Council works, too

Asmussen also worked his multiple Grade 1 winner Student Council, who went an easy half-mile in 51.88 at Oklahoma on Monday. Student Council is coming off a second-place finish behind Commentator in the Grade 1 Whitney.

"I thought he ran tremendous the other day," said Asmussen. "The winner ran a great race to beat him."

Asmussen said Student Council's next start would come either in defense of his title in the Pacific Classic or here, six days later, in the Woodward.

"The Pacific Classic is probably the more attractive to him since he won the race last year," said Asmussen.

Indian Blessing to Gazelle?

Trainer Bob Baffert said he might have gotten a little "caught up in the moment" when suggesting Indian Blessing could make her next start in the 1 1/8-mile Gazelle next month at Belmont Park, shortly after her explosive victory in Saturday's Grade 1 Test Stakes.

"I was just throwing that out," Baffert said Sunday morning while continuing to revel in Indian Blessing's performance the previous day. "I'm just going to love on her, brag on her, and wait until deciding what approach to take next."

Indian Blessing again showed the ability to harness her early speed before demolishing her opposition once cut loose turning for home in the seven-furlong Test.

"She's got a lot of fans now, and when you do something like that at Saratoga in a race as prestigious as the Test, it makes it all the more impressive," said Baffert. "She's really stamped herself one of the top fillies around now. Sometimes 2-year-old champions never get to the next level. She's gotten to that level now."

Baffert was also pleased with the performance on Saturday of Indian Blessing's baby brother Spaniard, who finished second in a maiden special weight dash.

"He ran a good race," said Baffert. "He's still immature, still a teenager, and he hasn't gotten it all together yet. He's a different horse than her, he'll run farther than she will, but they all can't be like Indian Blessing. Right now we call him Half Blessing because he's half as good as she is."

Matz high on Ready Set

Trainer Michael Matz was equally pleased by the performance Saturday of his up-and-coming 3-year-old Ready Set, who outfinished Web Gem to win Mountaineer Park's $750,000 West Virginia Derby.

"We always thought a lot of him as a young horse, but he just wasn't mentally mature enough," said Matz. "Little things would distract him during a race. I tried blinkers to get him more focused earlier this year but they only served to make him more headstrong, so I took them off and now he relaxes better during the first part of his race. The mile and one-eighth fit him perfectly Saturday. Distance should never be a problem since he's by Touch Gold out of an Alleged mare. And I still think he's got plenty of room to improve as he gets older."

Matz ruled out the Travers as a possible option for Ready Set and instead plans to point him to the Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby at Philadelphia Park on Sept. 1.

"The Travers comes back too quick," Matz explained. "The Pennsylvania Derby gives us more time and is a lot closer to home."

No one outshined Elope

Perhaps the most impressive performance at Saratoga this weekend came from the undefeated 4-year-old filly Elope, who drew off to an 11 3/4-length triumph in an entry-level allowance race on Sunday. Elope, a daughter of Gone West, earned a 105 Beyer Speed Figure for her second victory in as many starts. Elope, who is owned by Peter Blum, won her only previous start for trainer Eddie Kenneally at Turfway Park last September.

"Her previous trainer told me she came back lame after her first race," trainer Bruce Levine said on Monday. "Those issues are behind her now, and I think she could be a very special filly. The way she won yesterday, I even feel she'll go long - but I don't know if I have enough time to experiment. Right now I'd like to get one more start under her belt, a stakes sometime in September, and try to make the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint."

Dream Rush gets back to work

Multiple Grade 1 winner Dream Rush worked four furlongs in 47.50 over the main track Monday. It was her first breeze since finishing a tiring third in Calder's Grade 1 Princess Rooney Handicap on July 12.

"We did a myectomy on her after the Princess Rooney," said Violette, referring to throat surgery that helps improve a horse's breathing by preventing her from displacing her palate during the running of a race.

"I had a feeling she just wasn't getting all her air the way she got to the 70-yard pole and went into a jog in each of her last two starts. There's no downside to doing the procedure, although we won't know if it helps until she runs again."

Violette said Dream Rush could return in the Grade 1 Ballerina on Aug. 24

* Three Chimneys Farm has become the title sponsor of the Gradeo1 Hopeful Stakes for 2-year-olds. The most important juvenile stakes at Saratoga, the seven-furlong Hopeful will be run for the 104th time on Sept. 11.