“He seemed very comfortable this morning, ate up, did all the things you want to see happen,” said Asmussen, who said he and his wife, Julie, celebrated by eating leftovers and watching “Jaws 2” with sons Keith, Darren and Eric.
Curlin will remain in Saratoga for the time being, said Asmussen, who added that there would be no discussion of Curlin’s next start until after he breezes here next Monday. The Grade 1, $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup Invitational at Belmont Park on September 27 is one of the targets mentioned by Jackson. Curlin won the Jockey Club Gold Cup last year as part of his Horse of the Year campaign.
“He’ll train back here right now,” said Asmussen. “I spoke with Mr. Jackson and we really like the circumstances for him right now. We talked last night. We’re very pleased with how he cooled out. We’ll let him go back to the track in a couple of days, kind of enjoy what happened yesterday and admire him for a little bit and then try to make a decision on where he’s at and what’s best for him.”
From the time Jackson announced the son of Smart Strike would be running in the Woodward until race time, said Asmussen, the support given Curlin has been “unbelievable.”
“It felt like it built up, every time we went anywhere, someone would say how they couldn’t wait for the race to happen or thanked Mr. Jackson for running him here,” he said. “Curlin has made everyone who supports him very proud. He puts forth a lot of effort and represents himself very well. The horses that have won the Woodward, what great company!”
Forego won the Woodward four times (1974-’77) and Kelso (1961-’63) was a three-time Woodward winner. Others that have won the Woodward include Sword Dancer, Roman Brother, Damascus, Buckpasser, Key to the Mint, Seattle Slew, Affirmed, Spectacular Bid, Slew o’Gold, Alysheba, Easy Goer, Cigar, Lemon Drop Kid, Lido Palace, Mineshaft and Ghostzapper.
* * *
Trainer Eoin Harty sat in his Greentree Training Center office this morning, still amazed by Darley Stable’s Pass the Point in Saturday’s Woodward. The 4-year-old Indian Charlie colt took the race to Curlin, setting fast fractions and hanging in before eventually surrendering the lead in deep stretch.
Pass the Point came into the Woodward off an allowance win at nine furlongs at Saratoga on August 3. It was his first Grade 1 start; and his first graded stakes start since finishing third behind Going Ballistic and 2007 Travers runner-up Grasshopper in the Grade 2 Super Derby last September.
In the Woodward, not only was Pass the Point facing Curlin, he was competing against other Grade 1 and multiple graded stakes winners that included Divine Park, A.P. Arrow, Wanderin Boy, and Out of Control. He went to post at 40-1.
“Based on how he came into the race, he wasn’t a total surprise to me,” Harty said. “I was concerned about the quality of horses he was running against. He came off a very good race. So, it was time to take a chance.
In the Woodward, Pass the Point set fast fractions under jockey Edgar Prado, going 22.89 , 46.20, 1:09.61 and 1:35.33, before Curlin came on to win in 1:49.34.
“It was quick,” Harty said. “I thought about if he didn’t go that fast, we might have stolen the race; however, if he didn’t go that fast, the field may not have been that strung out. In hindsight, it was probably the best thing to happen.”
One of the things that impressed Harty was how Pass the Point tried to challenge Curlin after setting those fractions.
“It was amazing how he was still hanging in there after three quarters in 1:09 and change,” he said. “I figured that once the field came to the top of the stretch, it was going to get ugly. I took a glance at the field and the only horse coming was Curlin. At the stop of the stretch, I figured we were in for a piece of it. At the eighth pole, I figured we were in for a bigger piece than I had bargained for.
“I think Curlin is a much better horse at a mile and a quarter. I think if we went a mile and a quarter, we may have been beaten 15 lengths. After the race, my horse was still fit, but he was tired. Curlin never took a deep breath.”
* * *
Under jockey John Velazquez, Eclipse champion Indian Blessing breezed six furlongs on the main track in 1:12.17 Sunday morning, the second fastest of five works at the distance.
“She went very well,” said Velazquez of the winner of the Grade 1 Test Stakes, who is nominated to Saturday’s Grade 1, $300,000 Ruffian Handicap at a mile and one-sixteenth at Belmont Park. “I never rode her going long, but if she gets a post position on the outside, and you can sit quietly with her, you can get her to rate in the middle of the track and give her a chance. Once she’s on the inside and you get someone pressing you, she just wants to go.”
Tough Tiz’s Sis, another Ruffian nominee also trained by Bob Baffert, went the same distance in a bullet 1:11.88.
Velazquez headed into the final two days of the meet three wins behind Alan Garcia in the jockey standings, 36-30.
“Alan has done very well for a couple of years and you have a stable behind you that’s hot, it’s a lethal combination,” commented Velazquez. “And he’s riding really well.”
* * *
Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel was still shaking his head in surprise following First Defence’s front-running victory in the Grade 1 Forego Saturday afternoon.
“I was very surprised he ran like that,” said Frankel. “Every trainer you interview will tell you they knew it. I didn’t know it. I didn’t know what to expect. I was a little disappointed in him; I didn’t know why he was backing up in his races. Maybe letting him run out of there was the whole key.”
Frankel said the son of Unbridled’s Song would be pointed toward the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita on October 25, but did not know whether he would run him in the Sprint or the Mile.
“I’m going to get the numbers but I think he ran his best number ever,” said Frankel. “He finally ran to his expectations.”
* * *
Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin would have preferred a better outcome for Shadwell Farm’s Lucky Island in the Grade 1 Forego and James Barry’s Divine Park in the Woodward on Saturday.
Lucky Island, who carried a four-race winning streak that included the Grade 2 Tom Fool Handicap and Grade 2 Bold Ruler Handicap into the Forego, had a horrendous start where he stumbled leaving the gate and immediately had to be taken up by leading jockey Alan Garcia after being pinched back by surrounding horses.
Garcia rallied Lucky Island through a second quarter that went in 22.08 seconds before the four-year-old tired for a sixth-place finish behind runaway winner First Defence.
“He absolutely got eliminated at the start,” McLaughlin said. “After he stumbled, both horses on each side of him squeezed him back and he spotted the field 10 lengths. You can’t win a race after spotting the field that much. Still, First Defence was very impressive; I cannot take anything away from him. He ran a huge race.”
With Lucky Island’s loss in the Forego, McLaughlin will discuss options with Shadwell that could lead them to the Grade 1, $1 million Sentient Breeders’ Cup Sprint for three-year-olds and up at six furlongs at Santa Anita on October 25. If Lucky Island opts for the Breeders’ Cup, Shadwell will need to pay a supplemental fee.
Shadwell and McLaughlin also have Abraaj, winner of the Grade 2 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap at Saratoga on July 26. Abraaj, who is Breeders’ Cup eligible, is being pointed for the Grade 1, $400,000 Vosburgh for three-year-olds and up at six furlongs at Belmont Park on September 27.
McLaughlin said he would consider running both Shadwell runners in the Vosburgh.
“We’ll regroup and figure out where we are going next for Lucky Island,” McLaughlin said. “We might run him back for the Vosburgh because of the situation in the Forego. We could enter them both in the Vosburgh. It’s a Grade 1 race; it’s an important race. If we have to run both of them in the Vosburgh, we won’t mind that.”
McLaughlin had no explanation for Divine Park’s sixth-place finish in the Woodward.
Divine Park, who had not run since winning the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park on May 26, was about five lengths off the pace before fading.
“He had a bad day; he threw in a real clunker,” McLaughlin said. “Curlin went by him at the half-mile pole and he was done. We thought he was ready to go. Even though he was off for three months, he had been training well. We’ll have to go over him and see what happened. Lucky Island had an excuse; Divine Park had no real excuse.”
* * *
Today’s first race, a 5 ½-furlong claiming event on the Mellon Turf Course at Saratoga Race Course was, well, a race of “firsts.”
Ya Think won the day’s opener to give trainer Seth Benzel his first victory. Benzel, a former assistant to Todd Pletcher, got an efficient ride from jockey Eibar Coa as Ya Think, a three-year-old Broken Vow colt, returned $8.30 to win.
“It feels like a lot of weight off our shoulders,” Benzel said. “I am thankful for David Moore (of Edgewood Farm) and everyone else who has given us the opportunity. I am enjoying every minute of it. On a beautiful day at Saratoga, this is a dream come true for me. There is no doubt that this is a special place for me. Growing up as a kid, this was a place of inspiration. This is always what I wanted to do. It has been a long journey and we had to battle for it, but I wouldn’t want it any other way. At the end of the day when you saddled a winner, you have done something.”
In that same race, Jackie Davis made her first start as a jockey aboard owner/trainer John Candlin’s Eastern Guardian. Listed officially in the Post Parade program as “Jacqueline A. Davis,” she brought her own fan club with her, one that included her father, retired jockey Robbie Davis.
“I may need to go to first aid—my heart in jumping out of my chest,” said Robbie Davis, who was a popular and accomplished jockey. “I’m more nervous than I was riding in the Kentucky Derby.”
Jackie Davis, 21, was among the first graduates from retired Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron’s North American Racing Academy in Lexington, Ky. She worked an internship for Hall of Fame trainer H. Allen Jerkens during her final semester, and began working for Jerkens full time upon her graduation on May 18.
In 1998, Robbie Davis guided the Jerkens-trained 34-1 Wagon Limit to victory in Belmont Park’s Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup against a field that included Skip Away and Gentlemen.
Jackie Davis was to have made her debut race for Jerkens, but her mount, Shifty Guy, was scratched from Friday’s fifth race.
Easter Guardian, sent off at 43-1, showed brief speed but tired to finish 11th.
Robbie Davis handed his daughter a cup of water after she hoped off the scales near the winners’ circle area, saying, “Not as easy as it looks, is it?”
To which Jackie replied, “I knew it wouldn’t be easy—but I didn’t think it would be this hard!”
A reporter asked, “Are you glad to get this over with?”
“Yes, so I can go do it again!,” a beaming Davis replied. “It was awesome! No words can describe the feeling. I crossed the finish line at Saratoga. Not many people can say that.”
She will head to Belmont Park, which opens its 38-day Fall Championship Meet on Friday, and likely will stay at Aqueduct later in the fall.
“I’ll need to get an agent,” she said, “Maybe my Dad will do it.”
* * *
Monday is the final day of racing at Saratoga Race Course for 2008, and the New York Racing Association is offering free grandstand and clubhouse admission to show its appreciation to the Spa’s loyal fans.
Reserved seat prices are unchanged.
In to an 11-race card topped by the 104th running of the Grade 1 Three Chimneys Hopeful, there will be the traditional Labor Day Barbeque and the kid-friendly attractions of Family Fun Fest.
Fans can start at 7 a.m. for the season’s final “Breakfast at Saratoga;” however, there will be no tram tours. Gates open for racing at 11 a.m., with the first race post at 1 p.m.
Racing will resume downstate at Belmont Park on Friday, September 5.