06/11/2008 11:00PM

Time for Curlin to strut his stuff

Barbara D. Livingston
Pyro, seventh in the Kentucky Derby, returns in the Northern Dancer on the Foster card, facing Derby foes Recapturetheglory and Visionaire.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Big Brown wore No. 1 as the 3-10 favorite in the Belmont Stakes last weekend. Curlin will wear No. 1 when he is bet down to similarly heavy favoritism Saturday in the Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs.

Trainer Steve Asmussen hopes the comparisons stop right there. Curlin, making his first start since winning the $6 million Dubai World Cup on March 29, “needs to show us he’s the same horse we’ve known all along,” said Asmussen. “He needs to run, and I believe I’ve got him ready. Now he needs to go out and show us.”

With Robby Albarado to ride, Curlin will break from the rail slot in the 1 1/8-mile Foster, which drew nine other older horses for its 27th running when entries were drawn Wednesday. Curlin will spot those opponents 10 to 15 pounds when he carries high weight of 128 in the Foster, a Grade 1 race that will have a $1 million purse for the first time.

The original purse of $750,000 is being supplemented with a $250,000 bonus if a Grade 1 winner starts. Besides Curlin, an earner of more than $8.8 million, the other Grade 1 winners entered are Einstein and Brass Hat.

Kent Desormeaux, who was aboard Big Brown when the colt’s Triple Crown bid was foiled last Saturday in the Belmont, has a Foster mount in Sam P., a Todd Pletcher-trained colt coming off an allowance win at Churchill. Desormeaux, the leading rider at the Keeneland spring meet in April, will be in from New York to ride extensively here Friday and Saturday. His other mounts on the Foster card include Zee Zee in the Regret, Halo Najib in the Jefferson Cup, and Danzon in the Mint Julep.

From the rail, and with weights and jockeys, this is the Foster lineup:

Curlin, 128 pounds, Albarado; Delightful Kiss, 114, Miguel Mena; Sam P., 113, Desormeaux; Einstein, 118, Julien Leparoux; Grasshopper, 117, Garrett Gomez; High Blues, 113, Corey Lanerie; Red Rock Creek, 113, Shaun Bridgmohan; Jonesboro, 114, Jamie Theriot; Barcola, 113, Jesus Castanon; and Brass Hat, 116, Calvin Borel.

Unlike in some prior years, there is no television coverage of Foster Day aside from what will be provided by HorseRacing TV. The 24-hour racing network has assigned Peter Lurie and Caton Bredar to handle the on-site reporting and commentary.

The Foster is carded as the 10th of 11 Saturday races and will be the second-to-last leg of an all-stakes pick six. In those other races:

* Grade 2, $300,000 Fleur de Lis Handicap (race 6): Hystericalady, winner of the Grade 1 Humana Distaff at Churchill and the Breeders’ Cup Distaff runner-up in 2007, will carry top weight of 121 pounds when she faces five other fillies and mares in the 1 1/8-mile race. Gomez takes over the mount from Rafael Bejarano on Hystericalady, who most recently was third, beaten just a head, in the 2008 Humana Distaff.

Cowgirls Don’t Cry, with Mike Luzzi in to ride, figures as the second choice after winning the Grade 2 Shuvee Handicap at Belmont in her last start.

* Grade 3, $200,000 Regret Stakes (race 7): Pure Clan, third behind Proud Spell and Little Belle in the May 2 Kentucky Oaks in her last start, will be favored among a field of seven 3-year-old fillies in the Regret, a 1 1/8-mile turf race. Zee Zee, winner of the Edgewood on the Oaks undercard, will be one of the secondary choices.

* Grade 3, $175,000 Northern Dancer Stakes (race 8): In perhaps the most interesting sidebar to the Foster, three also-rans behind Big Brown in the May 3 Kentucky Derby – Recapturetheglory (fifth), Pyro (eighth), and Visionaire (12th) – are among the seven 3-year-olds entered in the 1 1/16-mile Northern Dancer. Gomez has picked up the mount on Visionaire.

* Grade 2, $200,000 Jefferson Cup (race 9): Gomez rode Tizdejavu to a 21-1 upset of the Crown Royal American Turf on the Oaks undercard, and they will try to prove that race was no fluke when they reunite in the Jefferson Cup, a 1 1/8-mile turf race. Old Man Buck, a three-time winner on turf last year, gets Albarado for his seasonal debut. A field of eight 3-year-olds was entered.

* Grade 3, $150,000 Early Times Mint Julep Handicap (race 11): Saving the biggest field for last, Churchill ends both the pick six and the pick four with the Mint Julep, a 1 1/16-mile turf race that drew 11 fillies and mares. Dreaming of Anna, second as the favorite in the Distaff Turf Mile on the Derby undercard, will be back from Chicago as the filly to beat with Gomez riding.