05/05/2008 11:00PM

Prospect of Curlin proves daunting


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Churchill Downs racing officials have more than five weeks to hustle horses for the Stephen Foster Handicap, but all that time still might not be enough to get a field of much size.

That's because Curlin, the reigning Horse of the Year, is tentatively being pointed to the June 14 Foster, and who wants to run against him?

"Having a horse like Curlin is great, but it sure does make it tough to get anybody else," said Donnie Richardson, senior vice president of racing at Churchill.

Trainer Steve Asmussen said Tuesday at Churchill that he is "possibly, hopefully" intending to run Curlin in the Grade 1, $750,000 Foster, which would mark the colt's first start since his smashing victory in the $6 million Dubai World Cup on March 29. Curlin had his first timed workout since the World Cup when he breezed an easy half-mile in 52.20 seconds here Monday.

"He'll go another slow five-eighths next Monday," said Asmussen. "He's been galloping great. We're going to keep him on a regular schedule. I just want to take it easy and make sure I avoid doing anything too much too soon with the old boy."

Curlin, owned primarily by the Stonestreet Stables of Jess Jackson, has earned more than $8.8 million, a little more than $1.1 million shy of Cigar's all-time record of nearly $10 million. Asmussen said nothing beyond the Foster is set, and it is possible the colt may not run in October in the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic, which he won last fall. Asmussen said the Arc de Triomphe and/or the Japan Cup are being kicked around as alternative races so as to showcase Curlin in other parts of the world.

Pyro, Z Fortune on usual schedules

Pyro and Z Fortune, the Asmussen 3-year-olds who ran eighth and 10th last weekend in the Kentucky Derby, both will have easy breezes Monday.

"Unless I'm turning them out or giving them more time off than normal, I breeze everything back nine days after they run," said Asmussen. "It doesn't mean I have any race in particular for them. I'm not just going to retire them."

Pyro, the Derby third choice at 5-1, seems a particularly vexing project for Asmussen at the moment.

"I'm going to get the ship righted with him," he said.

Einstein looking like Million

Einstein, winner of the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic as the 2-1 favorite, came out of the race in good order, said trainer Helen Pitts. The Aug. 9 Arlington Million is the next primary target, "so whether it's going to take one more race or two more races to get him there, that's what we'll have to figure out," said Pitts.

Pitts said the Manhattan Handicap on the June 7 Belmont Stakes undercard might be part of a logical progression.

Romans gets local win at last

Veteran trainer Dale Romans won two races on Derby Day, breaking a winless streak at Kentucky tracks that stretched all the way from the start of the Keeneland meet through opening week here. Bayou's Lassie broke the drought by upsetting the Distaff Turf Mile at 12-1, and then Pious Ashley won the last race, a maiden-special sprint.

Pious Ashley, a 3-year-old filly by Include, capped a huge weekend for her breeder, former Kentucky governor Brereton C. Jones, and her jockey, Kent Desormeaux. Jones bred and owns Proud Spell, and Desormeaux rode Big Brown to win the Derby.

Pure Clan to take quick break

Pure Clan, third behind Proud Spell and Little Belle in the Kentucky Oaks on Friday, will have a brief rest before returning to action in either the June 14 Regret Stakes at Churchill or the June 28 Mother Goose at Belmont, said trainer Bob Holthus.

"She'll just take it easy, maybe jog around there for maybe a couple weeks," said Holthus.

The Regret is run on the grass, a surface over which Pure Clan won her first two starts.

* Dallas Stewart is mulling the possibilities for two impressive winners during opening week. Macho Again, the Derby Trial winner, could run next in the Ohio Derby at Thistledown, while Honest Pursuit, winner of a Friday allowance, might go next in the Dogwood Stakes at Churchill, said Stewart.

* Churchill continues to display its over-under bet prominently despite the reluctance of horseplayers to embrace it. Over-under odds are being shown at frequent intervals on the outgoing Churchill simulcast signal, surely heightening customer awareness, and yet the pool on the Derby was only $13,980. In some other races, the pools have totaled just a few hundred dollars.

The over-under requires bettors to determine whether the combined saddlecloth numbers of the top three horses in a race will be over, under, or equal to a pre-set number, which is calculated in advance and differs for each race.