07/06/2008 11:00PM

Curlin works for turf debut


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Curlin had the final breeze leading up to what his connections are hoping will be the first turf race of his career when he cruised through an easy half-mile in 50.80 seconds early Monday over a fast main track at Churchill Downs.

Just where that turf race will be was still undetermined Monday. Trainer Steve Asmussen would prefer to run Curlin on Saturday in the $500,000 Man o' War Stakes at Belmont Park, with the $200,000 Arlington Handicap the same afternoon serving as an alternate spot. However, licensing issues in either jurisdiction must first be resolved concerning Midnight Cry Stables, minority owners in the colt.

Asmussen had hoped to hear from attorneys looking into the licensing situation Monday afternoon but said he had not heard anything definitive.

"We're obviously very anxious about it," Asmussen said.

The Midnight Cry partners, jailed attorneys William Gallion and Shirley Cunningham, have had their 20 percent interest in Curlin placed in receivership as a result of their highly publicized legal troubles.

If Curlin is cleared to race, he will ship Thursday from Churchill, Asmussen said.

Jess Jackson's Stonestreet Stables owns an 80 percent interest in Curlin. Curlin, the 2007 Horse of the Year and the winner of his last five races, is set to embark on an ambitious turf campaign that Jackson and Asmussen are hoping will culminate in the prestigious Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in France in October. Another small step toward that end came Monday at about 6:30 a.m. Eastern, when Equibase clockers caught Curlin - with regular exercise rider Carlos Rosas aboard and without company - going in splits of 13.20 seconds, 26.20, 38.80, and 50.80, with a five-furlong gallop-out in 1:05.

The Monday work came six days after Curlin was put through his first turf work, a seven-furlong breeze over the Churchill course.

Asmussen assistant Scott Blasi said many of the top Asmussen horses would ship Thursday from Churchill to Saratoga, where the stable figures prominently at a meet that starts July 23.

Albarado wins first Churchill riding title

Robby Albarado, the regular rider of Curlin, is the seventh-leading rider all time at Churchill with 753 wins. But until the 52-day spring meet that ended Sunday, he had never been the leading rider at a Churchill meet.

Albarado finally topped the standings with 73 wins, eight more than Miguel Mena.

"It means a lot," said Albarado, 34. "I know I'm at a point in my career where leading-rider titles probably won't make a difference in the business that I've established, but this was one of my own personal goals."

Amoss tops trainer standings

Tom Amoss started hot at the meet - and stayed that way. With 35 wins from 87 starters - a remarkable 40 percent rate - Amoss won an outright title at Churchill for the first time. He tied for leading trainer with Dale Romans at the 2002 spring meet.

Asmussen was second in the trainers' race with 30 wins, followed by Ken McPeek with 26 and Mike Maker with 21.

"This is a special feeling," said Amoss, who missed the last few days to be on a long-planned family vacation in Mississippi. "This is a prestigious meet."

Ken and Sarah Ramsey won 20 races to take the owners' crown, while Maggi Moss was second with 15. The Ramseys have won or tied for 13 meet titles at Churchill, extending their own record.

Field-size slide continues

Churchill no longer releases attendance or handle figures, either on a daily basis or at the end of a meet, although John Veitch, chief steward for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, said comprehensive meet totals might be available soon through the state.

With account wagering unavailable the entire meet on such major networks as Twinspires and Xpressbet, Churchill officials already have acknowledged that all-sources handle was down from the corresponding meet in 2007. And perhaps one of the more revealing statistics to emerge from the meet was this: with average field size hovering right around 8.0 horses per race, the 2008 spring meet was going to be the first at Churchill in at least 13 years with such a low total. In 1995, field size at the spring meet averaged 9.54 horses per race, according to figures from the Churchill racing office. Since then, field size has mostly declined. The 2006 spring meet averaged 8.16 horses, and the 2007 spring meet averaged 8.14.

Churchill fall meets, with greater access to 2-year-olds, have averaged at least 9.17 horses (1999) and as many as 10.2 horses (2005) since 1995, the earliest year that such figures were readily available.

O'Connor enjoys exceptional meet

Besides Amoss and McPeek, who won with 30 percent of his starters, several other trainers enjoyed exceptional meets, including Rob O'Connor, who was being called "Rocco-Matic" as he was compiling a gaudy 10-for-24 record (40 percent). O'Connor, 49, won two races over the long holiday weekend, with He Rules on Friday and General Jake on Saturday.

Other trainers with high-percentage meets (minimum 9 wins) were Nick Zito (41 percent), Bret Calhoun (38), Maker (29), and Ian Wilkes (27).

Nicks heading to Delaware Park

While most Churchill trainers will now turn their attention to Saratoga, Arlington, or Ellis, trainer Ralph Nicks is headed to Delaware Park with about 18 horses.

"I'm the only guy from here headed that way, at least that I know of," Nicks said.

Nicks, the former longtime assistant to Bill Mott, said he is particularly excited about a 2-year-old colt named Flying Pegasus, who won his career debut July 2.

Acoma drills for CCA Oaks

Acoma, winner of the Dogwood Stakes at Churchill in her last start, had a serious work toward the July 19 Coaching Club American Oaks when drilling six furlongs Monday in 1:13 at Churchill.

Trainer David Carroll said Acoma will ship July 15 to Belmont for the Grade 1 CCA Oaks, then move to Saratoga for the Aug. 16 Alabama.

* Maker and Ken Ramsey, who were particularly active both racing and claiming horses during the last few weeks of the Churchill meet, said they will be sending a string to Saratoga while also leaving horses behind at the Trackside training center.

"We'll run some of our Trackside horses at Ellis, but we also plan on shipping to run at Presque Isle quite a bit," Ramsey said.