07/14/2008 12:00AM

Right spot to bet against Curlin


PHILADELPHIA - I have been a huge Curlin fan since he won his maiden by so much that millions changed hands before his second start. Since then, I have liked him in every race save two.

I did not like Curlin at all in the Kentucky Derby, assuming he was just too inexperienced to be a factor. Lost in how Street Sense and Hard Spun ran that day was the way Curlin kept coming to finish third. It was, in its own way, as impressive as the winner's run from the back and was the tipoff to his sensational Preakness win.

I also did not like Curlin in the Breeders' Cup Classic. The reasons escape me now, but are irrelevant anyway. I could not have been more wrong. Curlin was great that day and has done nothing since then to suggest he is not among the great horses of recent years.

Curlin has run 12 times. The colt has won nine. So, in a sport of disappointment, Curlin is the exception to the rule. But the big colt is not the exception to all rules.

So, in Saturday's Man o' War, sadly, Curlin is an RIP (yes, the deadly Reputation Induced Phenomenon), a horse that, by rule, I must take a stand against.

Curlin could dominate his first grass start like he dominated the BC Classic and the Dubai World Cup. The operative word is "could.'' The reality is that none of us really knows - not players, not owner Jess Jackson, not trainer Steve Asmussen.

I admire their idea of trying to win the Arc de Triomphe. Really, the Preakness, BC Classic, Dubai World Cup, and Arc. That could never be topped.

Admiration, however, does not overcome practicality. Curlin is going to be odds-on because of his well-deserved reputation. But not a single penny of that $9,396,800 has been earned on grass.

As of this writing, the field had not been drawn for the Man o' War, but I will be involved. Really, it is mandatory in these types of situations. If you are a player, you simply have to gamble here.

RIP horses don't show up every day. Lately, however, they have been showing up just about every Saturday.

Is there a better recent example than Champs Elysees, the beaten favorite four times in his six American races?

This may be the only horse that has gotten a reputation from breeding rather than racing. There was nothing special about the horse's race record in Europe, yet he was being bet in America like he was racing against Europe's most accomplished grass horses.

Champs Elysees is out of Hasili, the mare that throws Grade 1 winners so often it has become expected. One thing we know about this game. Expected never works.

Memo to Bobby Frankel. Champs Elysees's best American race was on Cushion Track at Santa Anita, where he ran a solid third to the very good Heatseeker and Go Between in the Santa Anita Handicap and got a 105 Beyer. The horse won't be favored in the BC Classic at Santa Anita, but he might have a chance.

Champs Elysees was the even-money favorite in last Saturday's United Nations at Monmouth Park. This was a Grade 1 race with a Grade 3 field. Still, Champs Elysees got a 92 Beyer when sixth at 4-5 in the Whittingham. Why was this horse bet so hard? RIP. Every horse but one in the race had better last-out grass Beyers than Champs Elysees.

Champs Elysees ran sixth. The winner was Presious Passion, the anti-RIP. No matter what this horse accomplishes, nobody is going to bet on him. He has eight wins and was favored in none of them. He was 13-1 in the U.N., 20-1 in the Pan American, 67-1 in the McKnight, 10-1 in the Cliff Hanger, 3-1 in an optional claimer, 10-1 in the Jersey Derby, 16-1 in an allowance, and 28-1 when he won his maiden.

Which brings us to the June 21 Colonial Turf Cup, with three RIP's and one really good grass horse. Court Vision and Adriano ran in the Derby, so they took money for no other reason than that. Kentucky Bear ran in the Preakness, so he took money for that reason alone.

On paper, Sailor's Cap should have been 2-1. Instead, because those RIP horses took cash, Sailor's Cap was the 7-2 favorite. The colt ran like 3-5 and came through the gloaming to win by nearly seven lengths.

Curlin likely will be 3-5 Saturday. He might run like it. Or he might not. RIP is searching for the champ this time. It is a big test for RIP, but we have no option but to take that test.