02/04/2008 1:00AM

Curlin's 2008 debut will come in Dubai


NEW ORLEANS - Horse of the Year Curlin was not entered Monday in Saturday's Mineshaft Handicap here at Fair Grounds, and instead will make his first start of 2008 on Feb. 28 in Dubai, trainer Steve Asmussen confirmed Monday morning.

Jess Jackson, Curlin's majority owner, also released a statement outlining plans for Curlin.

Jackson had announced at the Jan. 21 Eclipse Awards that Curlin, as expected, would race this year rather than be retired to stud, but Curlin's connections still had to decide between two potential early-season routes. Curlin could have made a start in the Mineshaft as a prep for the $500,000 New Orleans Handicap, but instead will ship to Dubai, with the $6 million Dubai World Cup as Curlin's main early-season objective.

While six U.S.-based horses have won the Dubai World Cup, including Invasor last year, Curlin will be breaking new ground with his early move from New Orleans to Dubai. Asmussen said Curlin would ship overseas on Feb. 15, giving him about two weeks to acclimate in advance of his first start since winning the Breeders' Cup Classic on Oct. 27. Curlin's comeback will come at Nad Al Sheba in a $175,000 handicap race contested at the Dubai World Cup distance of 2,000 meters, or about 1 1/4 miles.

Curlin is eligible to start in the Feb. 28 handicap because the Dubai Racing Club altered restrictions on several handicap races this winter in order to try and attract a star horse, such as Curlin, prepping for the World Cup. Usually the Nad Al Sheba handicap series is open to horses with international ratings between 100 and 115, and Curlin is rated at 129, the highest rating of any horse currently in training.

Asmussen said he decided to prep for the World Cup in Dubai rather than in the U.S. because Curlin has historically excelled under such circumstances.

"The second time he ran at Oaklawn, the second time he ran at Belmont, the second time he ran at Monmouth - the second time he's done things he's always done them better," Asmussen said. "It's what we think is best for him. I like the month turnaround, ala the Jockey Club to the [Breeders' Cup] Classic. We get the trip out of his system before the prep, and we go from there."

Asmussen said Curlin's regular rider, Robby Albarado, would fly to Dubai to pilot Curlin on Feb. 28.

Asmussen has sent two horses to Dubai, but neither Gaff, who ran in the Golden Shaheen, nor Easyfromthegitgo, who ran in the Godolphin Mile, won.