12/18/2007 1:00AM

Decision on Curlin near

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Reed Palmer Photography
Although it remains uncertain if Curlin will race in 2008, his trainer, Steve Asmussen, is stepping up the colt's training schedule.
There were rumblings Tuesday that something concrete might have been decided concerning the future of Curlin, the odds-on favorite to be named Horse of the Year for 2007. Curlin's future has been in limbo, as lawyers and owners sort through a tangle of issues revolving around the colt's original owner, the Midnight Cry Stable. But in the end, a person within the Curlin camp, who asked to remain anonymous, would only say that there may be a major announcement about Curlin "in the near future," but could not confirm that Curlin was even being pointed to a 2008 campaign.

Still, every day that passes makes Curlin a longer and longer shot to become a stallion in 2008. The breeding season is nearly upon Kentucky, and Curlin is nowhere near a stallion barn. Instead he is in steady training at Fair Grounds with Steve Asmussen, who, for lack of any other directive, continues to train Curlin with an eye toward an early-season 2008 campaign.

"Right now, I think he's the best horse in the country, and we're going forward from there," Asmussen said Tuesday morning. "I definitely have ideas in my head."

Asmussen said that Curlin was scheduled to have his first two-minute lick this coming Monday, with a similar piece of exercise less than a week later. A two-minute lick is faster than a gallop and slower than a breeze, and after a couple of them, a horse coming back from a layoff is generally ready for his first published workout.

Jess Jackson and George Bolton own 80 percent of Curlin, having bought out the share in the horse owned by Satish Sanan, but it is the other 20 percent that clouds the horse's future. Before Jackson, Bolton, and Sanan bought in, Curlin was owned by Tandy LLC, doing business as Midnight Cry Stable, which retains the 20 percent interest in Curlin.

The Midnight Cry principals, William Gallion and Shirley Cunningham Jr., are at the moment jailed in Kentucky pending trial on charges of conspiracy, fraud, and forfeiture. They are alleged to have misappropriated $64 million of a settlement awarded to 418 plaintiffs who filed suit over the diet drug fen-phen.

The fen-phen plaintiffs have filed a motion to foreclose on the assets of Tandy LLC, which, if granted, would give them control of the 20 percent ownership stake in Curlin. A Kentucky court ruling in November did not give the plaintiffs control of the stake, but rather dictated how money earned by Tandy will be distributed to the plaintiffs.

Asmussen, meanwhile, has horses to think about, not legal battles. Pyro, the Breeders' Cup Juvenile runner-up, has been on the same schedule as Curlin since the Breeders' Cup, Asmussen said, and also is not far from a breeze. His first 2008 target remains the Risen Star Stakes in early February.

Zanjero had a longer break than Curlin and Pyro, and will not be ready for a February start, Asmussen said.

"I would hope he'd be up in time for the Oaklawn Handicap," he said.

Rated Fiesty, the undefeated 2-year-old filly who has not raced since the July 7 Debutante at Churchill, had her first breeze Dec. 13, and was scheduled to work again Wednesday.

"She's doing well, but I don't have anything in mind for her at all right now," Asmussen said.

Sterwins sound after win

The trainer Malcolm Pierce was having a busy Tuesday.

"We're catching trout on every cast," Pierce said, reached on his cell phone. "Whoops! There's another one."

While landing his fish, Pierce multi-tasked and conveyed the fact that Sterwins had exited his win in Saturday's Buddy Diliberto Handicap in good physical condition.

"He already went back to the track, had a jog, and he's fine," Pierce said.

Sterwins, who landed Pierce his second straight win in the Diliberto, will be pointed to the Colonel E.R. Bradley Handicap on Jan. 12, Pierce said.

Carroll pair on different schedules

Trainer David Carroll sent his two best 2-year-olds, Blackberry Road and Denis of Cork, through half-mile works on Saturday, both breezing for the first time since arriving at Fair Grounds. Neither colt was asked to do much, and both are on different tracks: Blackberry Road will get more serious with an in-company work this weekend, and is on target for the Lecomte Stakes on Jan. 12.

Denis of Cork, Carroll said, will keep to a regular breeze schedule, but will not be pushed in his works, as he targets a two-turn race sometime later in January.

Blackberry Road, who got an early start to his career, closed strongly along the fence to finish a close second last out in the Kentucky Jockey Club on Nov. 24 at Churchill. Denis of Cork made his career debut the same day, impressively winning a seven-furlong maiden race with a sweeping move from the back of a 12-horse field.

"He's just doing a lot of growing and changing right now," Carroll said of Denis of Cork. "He's not back to where he was before he ran, and you don't want to stress him out right now."

* Carroll's 2-year-olds were not exactly the only horses on the work tab this weekend. On Saturday, 193 horses posted timed workouts, including 118 half-mile works alone. And the pace barely slowed on Sunday, with 175 workers on the tab.