10/28/2007 11:00PM

Work pays off for Curlin's caretaker

EmailWhile in New Orleans in March, Scott Blasi was tending to his chores one morning at the Fair Grounds barn of his boss, trainer Steve Asmussen, when a visitor came by inquiring about a new acquisition, Curlin.

"Damn, he just left for Oaklawn for the Rebel," Blasi said. "I wish I could have shown him to you. You can't believe this horse."

Everyone can now, by virtue of Curlin's victory in the Breeders' Cup Classic on Saturday at Monmouth Park. Though Asmussen will go down as the trainer of the 2007 Horse of the Year, he is the first to heap praise on Blasi, who went wherever Curlin went this year, both to race and train, such is the trust placed in him by Asmussen.

"He's always been invaluable," Asmussen said Monday of Blasi, who has worked for Asmussen for 12 years. "He's a MasterCard commercial - priceless."

Blasi, 34, is the top assistant in the expansive Asmussen operation. He and lead exercise rider Carlos Rosas go with the first string to Fair Grounds in the winter, to Churchill Downs in the spring, and to Saratoga in the summer. Last year, when Asmussen served a six-month suspension, Blasi seamlessly took over, then returned to his assistant role when Asmussen came back. On Sunday morning, following Curlin's victory, Asmussen was already en route to Kentucky while Blasi got things in order at Monmouth Park. Blasi wore a satisfied smile.

"If you can't enjoy this, you have to find a different occupation," he said.

Blasi is a native of Caney, Kan., "just a mile from the Oklahoma line," he said. He is the third of four children, which includes an older brother, Greg, who is a respected outrider at Churchill Downs. Their father, Joel, and uncle Paul trained Quarter Horses at small tracks.

"People talk about bad racetracks," Blasi said. "There's no comparison to what I've seen. That makes you appreciate the position you're in now, because it's not always like that."

Blasi started exercising horses for his father when he was 13 or 14. He didn't start earlier because his older brothers held those positions.

"I was the stall cleaner for awhile," Blasi said. "But there was no substitute to being exposed to that. My dad sold feed for 25 years, and trained horses on the side, so there was a lot of responsibility for myself and my brothers at an early age. Anything that went wrong, it was our butt. There's no substitute for that kind of exposure. He gave us an opportunity to make mistakes on our own. What better opportunity than to learn from that?"

Blasi went to Oklahoma State University. In his junior year, he applied to veterinary school. Although he was accepted, he dropped out of school and joined the racetrack circus.

"This is what I wanted to do, and I have no regrets, especially today," he said Sunday morning.

When Blasi was hired by Asmussen, it was his first job outside of the cocoon of his family.

"Steve and I have been together for 12 years," Blasi said. "Our opinions on how things should be done, it seems like they've developed together, in terms of what we think is right and what we think is wrong. It's never an issue.

"He relies on myself and Carlos to give him feedback," Blasi said. "This year, the day after the Belmont, Steve said, 'We're going to run in the Haskell. We're going to run in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. And we're going to win the Breeders' Cup Classic.' That was the conversation we had. After that, we just had to bring him along to the races."

Blasi said Curlin made it easy.

"He's so easy to do things with," Blasi said. "That's the biggest thing with him. Carlos and I just try to keep him happy. He'll do the rest.

"When you live and breathe it, you realize what an opportunity it is. I know that sounds like a cliche. But being around him, you know they don't come around every day.

"You want to take advantage of it," he said, smiling, "and not blow it. And a day like today makes it all worth it."