06/06/2007 11:00PM

Well-traveled Curlin still fresh

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Joseph DiOrio/Horsephotos
Curlin arrived at Belmont from Kentucky on Tuesday and galloped a mile Wednesday morning.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Since his dazzling debut win at Gulfstream Park four months ago, Curlin not only has developed into a co-leader among the nation's 3-year-olds, but has shown an uncommon ability to adapt to just about everything thrown his way.

Following that first win, he went to Fair Grounds to train, traveled to Oaklawn Park and won the Rebel Stakes, went to Keeneland to train, returned to Oaklawn and captured the Arkansas Derby, went back to Keeneland and Churchill Downs to train in preparation for his third-place finish in the Kentucky Derby, went to Pimlico and won the Preakness Stakes, then went back to Churchill to continue training for the Belmont Stakes.

On Tuesday afternoon, he arrived at Belmont Park for Saturday's 139th Belmont, then went right out to the track to train early Wednesday morning, galloping one mile on the main track.

The itinerary does not look like it has taken much out of him. As Curlin stood in his stall later Wednesday morning, aggressively munching at his hay rack and looking around with a bright, inquisitive eye, assistant trainer Scott Blasi admired what he was seeing.

"He's his own best friend because he takes care of himself," said Blasi at trainer Steve Asmussen's Belmont Park barn. "It's him. He can take it. Not all of them can. He acts like a rock star. He's held up well through this. He's a little more chiseled in the right places. He's definitely not ribby."

No, the only thing that's thin about this Belmont Stakes is the field size. Only seven were entered on Wednesday for the 1 1/2-mile race, but - with the exception of Derby winner Street Sense, who is passing the race - it's the right seven.

Hard Spun, second in the Derby and third in the Preakness, like Curlin will be completing the Triple Crown trilogy. Tiago, the Santa Anita Derby winner who was seventh in the Derby, and Imawildandcrazyguy, who was fourth in the Derby, are coming into the race off five-week layoffs, strategy that has worked with three of the last four Belmont winners.

Slew's Tizzy has won two straight since blinkers were removed. C P West is seeking to improve upon a fourth-place finish in the Preakness, in which he finished just 1 1/2 lengths behind Hard Spun.

And the presence of the filly Rags to Riches, the Kentucky Oaks winner, gives the race an intriguing new face.

Curlin wound up in post 3, with Hard Spun in post 6 and Rags to Riches on the outside in post 7 when post positions were drawn after entries were submitted Wednesday morning. The draw was lacking in any drama, because - with such a small field and a run of more than 300 yards to the first turn - posts should be meaningless.

Eric Donovan, the linemaker at Belmont Park, and Mike Watchmaker, Daily Racing Form's national handicapper, both made Curlin the 6-5 favorite on their respective morning lines. But they disagreed over the second choice. Donovan has Hard Spun at 5-2, with Rags to Riches at 3-1. Watchmaker made Rags to Riches the second choice at 3-1, with Hard Spun 7-2.

Because she is a filly facing boys, Rags to Riches gets a weight break of five pounds. She carries 121 pounds, with the six males assigned 126 pounds.

There were no late surprises after Tuesday's developments, which saw C P West and Rags to Riches added to the field. Digger, a rank outsider who had been considered for the race for the past week, was not entered Wednesday.

The field of seven would be the smallest Belmont field since six raced in 2003, when Empire Maker prevailed in a race in which Funny Cide was seeking to sweep the Triple Crown series. The last time the Belmont field was this small without a Triple Crown on the line was 1994, when Preakness winner Tabasco Cat defeated Kentucky Derby winner Go for Gin.

The Belmont is the 11th race on a 13-race card that begins at noon Eastern. Post time for the Belmont is scheduled for 6:25 p.m. It is the final leg of a pick six that has a guaranteed pool of $1 million, and a pick four that has a $1 million guarantee. The pick six comprises graded stakes races - the True North, Just a Game, Woody Stephens, Acorn, Manhattan, and Belmont.

The Belmont itself has a purse of $1 million, with $600,000 going to the winner.

ESPN will televise the Belmont card from noon until 5, with ABC then taking over for a two-hour Belmont telecast.

The weather forecast is encouraging. After a mild, 72-degree day on Wednesday, it was expected to heat up over the next few days, but the chance of rain, according to the National Weather Service, is minimal. Saturday's high temperature is expected to be 81 degrees, following an 89-degree day Friday.

John Shirreffs, the trainer of Tiago, arrived in New York on Wednesday morning, the third trip he had made from California in the past eight days. He said he brought Tiago to New York last week so he could get used to the wide, sandy track. Shirreffs's only previous Belmont starter was 2005 Derby winner Giacomo, who finished seventh .

"We learned a couple of things," Shirreffs said. "Giacomo, we would take him out late in the morning and let him rest early in the morning, but we found it's better to get Tiago out early and then let him rest the whole day.

"I also didn't realize that there are no backs to most of the saddling stalls here. You could have someone yelling and screaming behind your horse. You just need to be aware of that. Not having known that last time, this time I'll try to get Tiago into an enclosed stall. Giacomo got a little upset in the paddock."