Under regular exercise rider Carlos Rosas, the 4-year-old Stonestreet colt covered a half-mile in an easy 51.85 on the Oklahoma training track at Saratoga Race Course. Curlin went in fractions of 13 and 25.70 while galloping out five furlongs in 1:06.15 over the fast training track.
“Perfect,” said Scott Blasi, assistant to trainer Steve Asmussen. “It was his normal work before he runs. He got over the ground really well and we are all excited about Saturday.”
Along with Asmussen’s stable pony, Pancho, and stablemate J Be K, who is running in Saturday’s Grade 1, $400,000 Vosburgh – J Be K worked a half mile in 49.88, breezing, on Monday morning -- Curlin is scheduled to depart Saratoga Race Course on Tuesday morning at 10 a.m. and arrive at Belmont Park between 1:30 and 2 p.m. According to Blasi, Curlin will gallop Wednesday morning over the main track, school in the paddock during the second race on Thursday afternoon and gallop again on Friday.
Expected to challenge Curlin as he goes for a repeat victory in the Jockey Club Gold Cup are Mambo in Seattle, who suffered the narrowest of losses in the Grade 1 Travers Stakes presented by Shadwell Farm on August 23, Grade 1 Suburban Handicap presented by Shadwell Farm winner Frost Giant, Timber Reserve, Angliana, either A. P. Arrow or Ravel, and Wanderin Boy, who was third behind Curlin in the Grade 1 Woodward at Saratoga on August 30.
Also on Saturday, which features a free Belmont Park stadium seat with each paid admission and a guaranteed $500,000 all-stakes Pick 4, are the $600,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational, the $600,000 Flower Bowl for fillies and mares on the turf and the $600,000 Beldame, also for fillies and mares.
Mrs. William S. Kilroy’s Mambo in Seattle, the tough-luck runner-up to Colonel John in the Travers, worked a half-mile in 49.64, breezing at Belmont Park on Monday morning in his preparation for the Jockey Club Gold Cup. As a three-year-old, the Kingmambo colt will carry 122 pounds on Saturday and get a four-pound break in the weights from the older horses under the weight-for-age conditions of the Jockey Club Gold Cup.
With jockey Robby Albarado committed to ride Curlin, Howard will go with Hall of Fame jockey Edgar Prado aboard Mambo in Seattle.
“We understand what a tall order it is to go against a champion like Curlin,” said trainer Neil Howard, who won the Jockey Club Gold Cup in 2003 with Mineshaft. “And it is always a big step up when a three-year-old goes up against older horses. We had the Super Derby in Louisiana as an option, but we had a feeling that Mambo in Seattle would love Belmont Park and would love to train here. Plus, it gave us another week after a tough race like the Travers.”
The Grade 2, nine-furlong Super Derby for three-year-olds, run last Saturday at Louisiana Downs, was won by My Pal Charlie who defeated favored Macho Again, winner of Saratoga’s Jim Dandy Stakes.
“After the Travers, we brought Mambo in Seattle to Belmont Park and he proved us right,” Howard said. “He loves it here. We felt that by running in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, we took shipping out of the equation; we get a mile and a quarter, which is a distance we know he can negotiate, and on top of that, we get a break in the weights. Curlin is a great champion, but this is the perfect spot to take a shot.”
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Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith’s Ravel breezed a half-mile in 49.92 on Monday morning for the Jockey Club Gold Cup. The 4-year-old son of Fusaichi Pegasus is 0-for-2 this year and winless in three starts since last October.
Trainer Todd Pletcher has another invitee to the Jockey Club Gold Cup in A.P. Arrow.
Pletcher also sent out James T. Scatuorchio and John Iracane’s Bittel Road on Monday morning, and he worked a half-mile in 50.02, breezing. The undefeated Stormy Atlantic colt, winner of Saratoga’s With Anticipation Stakes on August 29, will run in Sunday’s Grade 3, $150,000-added Pilgrim for two-year-olds at a mile and a sixteenth on the turf. The winner of the Pilgrim automatically qualifies for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Santa Anita on October 25.
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Marc Keller’s Grand Couturier (GB), who won his second consecutive Grade 1 Sword Dancer Invitational at Saratoga Race Course on August 16, breezed a half-mile in 49.11 on the firm inner turf course at Belmont Park on Monday for trainer Bobby Ribaudo. He is expected for the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational.
On the main track, Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott sent out John A. Chandler’s Dynaforce for a five-furlong work of 1:03.24, breezing. Runner-up to Forever Together in Saratoga’s Grade 1 Diana, the 4-year-old Dynaformer filly will go in Saturday’s Flower Bowl Invitational.
The last horse to beat Curlin was J. P. Reddam’s Red Rocks (IRE), the 2006 Breeders’ Cup Turf winner, who scored a two-length victory over the champ in the Grade 1, 11-furlong Man o’War here on July 12. The Man o’War, a former staple of Belmont Park’s Fall Championship meet, was moved to the spring this year and attracted Curlin, whose connections hoped that a win on the turf would set Curlin up for the Prix de l’Arc de’ Triomphe.
Although Curlin hardly embarrassed himself in his grass debut – 2004 Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Better Talk Now was third -- his connections thought that a return to the dirt was a better way to pursue another Horse of the Year title.
Red Rocks, a 5-year-old Galileo horse, suffered an infection in his hock in Saratoga while training for the Grade 1 Sword Dancer Invitational and missed the race. This morning, he breezed a half-mile in 52.02 on Belmont Park’s firm inner turf course.
“Today was his first work back and he went beautifully,” said trainer Mark Hennig. “He’s not going in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic this weekend. We’ll train him up to the Breeders’ Cup ($3 million Breeders’ Cup Turf on Saturday, October 25 at Santa Anita).”
Hennig took over the horse’s training from Brian Meehan after the Man o’War.