10/01/2008 11:00PM

Curlin's journey leads to California


ARCADIA, Calif. - There was a red horse munching hay in the quiet of his stall in Santa Anita's Barn 27 on Thursday morning who has effectively upstaged the 102 Thoroughbreds entered for Sunday's presentation of 10 California Cup events worth $1,325,000. And he wasn't even trying.

Such is the star power of Curlin, the $10 million beast, who has settled into his Los Angeles digs just as comfortably as he has in Dubai, Long Island, Louisville, Oceanport, Baltimore, and the Springs - both Saratoga and Hot - during his two-year odyssey at the top of the racing game.

This time around, Curlin was greeted by a freshly painted shed row, a racing surface still under heavy scrutiny, and one of those refreshing Santa Ana wind conditions that tends to fry eyelashes and melt tires. Curlin, a colt without fluster, merely dreamed of Dubai.

Curlin is in California with the intention of winning his second straight Breeders' Cup Classic - his first in dry weather - when the racing world convenes at Santa Anita on Oct. 24 and 25. If nothing else, he's in the right neighborhood. His stall is located only a few steps around the corner from the former home of Tiznow, the only other two-time Classic winner.

"I'm so glad you told me that," beamed Amy Kearn, one of the select crew attending to Curlin's needs. "That's what I call good mojo."

Not that Curlin needs any. As the top older horse in North America, with a nearly seamless portfolio stretching back to the early days of 2007, Curlin comes across as Rocky Marciano crossed with Emmitt Smith. He grinds away, always a presence, gaining ground with relentless commitment until - bang! - a knockout.

Stretching back through the years, there have been any number of Great Arrivals at Santa Anita. The formidable Discovery stepped off the train car at the depot across the street from the track to a press frenzy, with the 1936 Santa Anita Handicap in his sights. The arrival of the Calumet Farm horses in the winter of 1949 caused a stir, since their number included Citation and Two Lea. Kelso hit the California scene in 1964 and was on display each morning in the Santa Anita paddock. Later on, Buckpasser and then Damascus came West, wearing a Horse of the Year sash, and don't ever forget the entrance of Spectacular Bid with the Buddy Delp entourage for the 1980 winter meet.

"How many horses did you bring?" Delp was asked.

"Just one," Delp replied. "The other 29 followed."

Curlin was accompanied by only two pals - the accomplished Student Council and the white pony Pancho. On Thursday morning, assistant trainer Scott Blasi could be found in Student Council's stall, multitasking with a set of clippers in one hand and a cellphone in the other.

"What is so amazing to me," said Blasi, as he left Student Council to admire Curlin across the shed row, "is how well he looks after all he's done. I mean, just look at him - his weight, his coat. Could he look any better?"

Probably not. But then, Blasi is the wrong guy to ask for real critical comment. As Steve Asmussen's top assistant and confidante, Blasi has followed Curlin halfway around the world and back. Curlin, obviously, has held up well. How about Blasi? He probably could do a Zagat's Guide for traveling assistant trainers by now.

"Let's see," he began. "The best hotel? I'd probably have to give that to Dubai, the Crowne Plaza, five stars. The worst? God love it, but if you've ever been to the Floral Park Motor Lodge near Belmont . . . I mean, it's clean. But for me, convenience is everything. They've got a rat problem on the backstretch at Belmont, so if Curlin can put up with that, I can stay at the Floral Park."

Blasi still glows with memories of Dubai, and not just because Curlin romped in the World Cup and then returned to win three of four starts back home. After Blasi and exercise rider Carlos Rosas were satisfied with Curlin's World Cup prep race, they allowed themselves a sampling of the many tourist attractions in the desert paradise, except for the most famous - the indoor ski slopes.

"I could not imagine calling the boss to tell him one of us had just broken a leg or an arm snow-skiing at the Emirates Mall," he said.

Blasi, 35, is a native of Independence, in southeastern Kansas, and comes by his horsemanship honestly. His father ran a feed business and trained both Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds. The three Blasi brothers worked for their dad - at the family rate - and loved every minute.

"He just turned us loose," Blasi said. "That's how you learn."

Blasi started working for Asmussen 13 years ago and rose to a position of sufficient trust that he took control of the stable halfway through 2006 when Asmussen served six months' worth of medication suspensions. Blasi's reward, apparently, has been the constant companionship of Curlin.

"I had offers along the way to go to work for other stables - the kind that have classic horses all the time," Blasi said. "But I really believed that we'd be in the same place someday, with that kind of horse. I didn't necessarily think it would be the best horse in the world, but here we are."