Curlin, the reigning Horse of the Year and quite possibly the top Thoroughbred on the planet, is expected to return to trainer Steve Asmussen’s barn at Belmont Park on Thursday and then make his turf debut in Saturday’s 49th running of the Grade 1, $500,000 Man o’War Stakes at 11 furlongs.
Those races, however, were all on dirt and now the 4-year-old Smart Strike colt is using the Man o’War as a springboard to a season on the turf, which includes the Prix Foy on September 14 as a prep to the ultimate goal, the Prix de L’arc de Triomphe on Sunday, October 5. Both races will be run at Longchamps Racecourse in Paris.
The Man o’War does not figure to be a walk in the park for Curlin, who will face seasoned and successful turf stars such as Breeders’ Cup Turf winners Red Rocks and Better Talk Now, as well as Grand Couturier, winner of the Grade 1 Sword Dancer at Saratoga last summer.
“I think that’s the question we want answered this weekend—whether Curlin is of the caliber to be considered for the Arc on the turf,” Asmussen said. “Two previous Breeders’ Cup Turf winners should definitely give us that measure.
“I think the Arc is one of the greatest races in the world, and we’re hoping to prove Curlin is one of the greatest horses in the world. If we can establish a Grade 1 form on him this Saturday at Belmont in the Man o’War, we will make arrangements from there to get him to Chantilly and start our preparations with him to be comfortable going right [clockwise]. Liking the turf is one thing, going right-handed is another.”
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Marc Keller’s Grand Couturier (GB) will be re-united with jockey Calvin Borel Saturday in the Man o’War Stakes.
A narrow third in the overnight Academy Award here on June 19 in his seasonal debut, the 5-year-old Grand Lodge horse was ridden that day by Garrett Gomez. Gomez, however, is committed to ride Colonel John in Saturday’s Swaps Stakes at Hollywood Park.
During the course of an outstanding year in 2007, one that included a Kentucky Derby victory over Curlin while aboard Street Sense, Borel had an especially strong Saratoga meet. He won the Jim Dandy and Travers aboard Street Sense, the Alabama aboard Lady Joanne and the Sword Dancer with Grand Couturier.
“Calvin and his agent called to wish us well when we brought back Grand Couturier last month, and that opened the lines of communication,” said trainer Bobby Ribaudo, who got his first Grade 1 victory in last year’s Sword Dancer. “We’re happy to have Calvin back on this horse. He’s one of the few jockeys that have beaten Curlin.”
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Meanwhile on Wednesday, J. Paul Reddam’s Irish-bred Red Rocks arrived without incident and entered quarantine at Aqueduct.
Winner of the 2006 Breeders’ Cup Turf at Churchill Downs and third in the Turf last October at Monmouth Park, the 5-year-old Red Rocks will be released from quarantine after 24 hours at approximately 12:30 p.m. on Thursday.
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The Man o’War was moved from Belmont Park’s Fall Championship Meet to the spring this year to create better spacing among the Grade 1 turf races in New York through the summer and fall.
Trainer H. Graham Motion, who will saddle Bushwood Stable’s 9-year-old Better Talk Now on Saturday, is a big fan of the move.
“By now, we pretty much know what makes Better Talk Now tick,” Motion said. “So, we map out a schedule and try to stick to it. This year, we felt that the United Nations came up a bit too soon, but the Man o’War was ideal. And, we felt that, if Better Talk Now is up to it, there is proper spacing to races like the Sword Dancer (August 16) and the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (Belmont Park, September 27).
“But we are very excited about this race on Saturday. It is shaping up to be a race for the ages.”
Better Talk Now will ship into Belmont Park from Fair Hill, Md. on Saturday morning, and will again be ridden by jockey Ramon Dominguez. Better Talk Now won the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Lone Star in 2004 and was beaten a half-length in the 2006 Turf by Red Rocks. He won the Man o’War in 2005 and will attempt to become the oldest horse to win this race. Yankee Affair (1989), Val’s Prince (1997) and two-time Man o’War winner With Anticipation (2002) all won the Man o’War as 7-year-olds.