Reigning Horse of the Year Curlin passed his initial test on turf in pleasing fashion Tuesday morning at Churchill Downs, moving one step closer to a possible appearance in Chicago’s Grade III Arlington Handicap July 12.
The Arlington Handicap, at a mile and a quarter over Arlington’s world-famous grass course, is the northwestern Chicago oval’s final major local prep for the centerpiece event of Chicago’s Thoroughbred racing season – the 25th renewal of Grade I Arlington Million Aug. 9.
Curlin, the 4-year-old colt owned by Stonestreet Stables and Midnight Cry Stable, breezed seven furlongs over Churchill’s firm Matt Winn turf course in 1:31.20 with the “dogs” up, and then galloped out one mile in 1:45.60.
“I thought it was a great work,” said Robby Albarado, Curlin’s regular jockey who was aboard for Tuesday’s move. “I was more nervous this morning than I was before the Stephen Foster because of the question about the turf. He handled it fine. The turns on the turf course are a little sharper, but he handled those well. He did everything right, he hit all his cues and he’s not tired at all coming back. But with him, you expect that. Curlin is Curlin and he feels great on anything. He feels great on dirt and he felt the same today on grass.”
Tuesday’s turf test, successful as it appeared to be, could lead to a long-range goal of an appearance by Curlin in France’s Group I Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe Oct. 5, with this month’s Arlington Handicap and next month’s Arlington Million both on the table as intermediate steps.
“We were very pleased with how he looked,” said Curlin’s conditioner Steve Asmussen, North America’s winningest trainer last year. “The main thing is that Robby (jockey Albarado, winner of last summer’s Million on Kingfield Farms’ Jambalaya) loved how he felt.”
Curlin worked in company with Stonestreet’s Hawaii Calls, a 4-year-old son of Fusaichi Pegasus who is a two-time winner from eight career starts.
The Arlington Million, however, is only one of three Grade I races that make up Arlington’s one-day International Festival of Racing on the second Saturday in August, and all three events annually attract horses from throughout the world.
Still heading the foreign invaders likely for the Arlington Million is Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa al Maktoum and Dr. A. H. Parker’s Archipenko, winner of Hong Kong’s Group I Audemars Piquet Queen Elizabeth II Cup at Sha Tin Racecourse in his last start April 27. Also likely for a return engagement in the Million is Gary Tanaka’s Pressing, beaten less than four lengths last year and most recently fourth in Royal Ascot’s Group I Prince of Wales’s Stakes June 18.
However, the $750,000 Beverly D., known as the Arlington Million’s sister race; and the $400,000 Secretariat Stakes, for 3-year-olds of international caliber; have both picked up interesting new European possibilities over the past week.
Mr. Erik Penser’s Baharah, a disappointment in Royal Ascot’s Group II Windsor Forest Stakes on June 18 but beaten less than a length in Epsom’s Group III Princess Elizabeth Stakes June 7, is now under consideration for the Beverly D. The daughter of Elusive Quality is trained by Gerard Butler, who saddled Penser’s Compton Bolter to run fifth in the 2000 Secretariat.
Now expressing interest in the upcoming Secretariat Stakes is European trainer Brian Meehan on behalf of the Irish-bred City Leader, owned by the Sangster Family and Mr. A. K. Collins. City Leader finished sixth in Royal Ascot’s Group II King Edward VII Stakes June 20 but won Goodwood’s Cocked Hat Stakes by a length and a half before that on May 21. As a 2-year-old last fall, City Leader won Ascot’s Group II Juddmonte Royal Lodge Stakes.
Meehan is a veteran of previous International Festivals and saddled Mrs. Susan McCarthy’s Kaieteur to an adjudged dead-heat for second in the 2003 Arlington Million.
Arlington Park – the Chicago area’s premier Thoroughbred racetrack located in Arlington Heights, Ill. – will run a 96-day meet in 2008 from Friday, May 2 through Sunday, Sept. 21. Arlington Park, whose parent company is Churchill Downs Incorporated (Nasdaq: CHDN), also operates 11 off-track, simulcast-wagering facilities – Trackside Arlington Park (Arlington Heights), Trackside Chicago, Trackside Quad City Downs (East Moline), Trackside Rockford, Trackside Waukegan, Fat Sam’s Bar & Grill featuring Trackside OTB in Lockport, Lucky’s featuring Trackside OTB in South Elgin, Nicolino’s featuring Trackside OTB in McHenry, The Inferno featuring Trackside OTB in South Beloit, Rookies featuring Trackside OTB in Homewood and Salerno-Pincente Ristorante featuring Trackside OTB in Hodgkins. Information on Arlington Park can be found online at http://www.arlingtonpark.com.