Tuesday, October 07, 2008
Los Angeles, October 7, 2008--There was a hilarious scene in the movie "Broadway Danny Rose" in which the title character, the talent-agent schlemiel played by Woody Allen, is working with a husband-wife act that folds balloons for a living.
"If you take my advice, you'll become one of the great balloon-folding acts of all-time!" Rose says. "I don't see you folding balloons in joints--you're gonna be doing this in colleges and universities!"
Then the man in the act asks Rose if he ought to start off with a balloon likeness of a giraffe. "No, no, I wouldn't do that," Rose says. "I'd start with the dachshund and build to the giraffe."
This is what Curlin may do. He started off with the little-dog act at Santa Anita on October 6, running nearly the slowest half-mile on the clockers' workout tab. Then if the Breeders' Cup officials get their wish, Curlin will be running over the same track on October 25, in the giraffe part of the routine.
Tickets, I'm told, have not been mistaken for hotcakes. Maybe in these times $200 for the wrong end of the grandstand doesn't sound like much of a deal. Oak Tree, the Santa Anita tenant and Breeders' Cup host, still had some of its tickets left when the Breeders' Cup sent over part of its allotment. The Dodgers playing in a World Series over Breeders' Cup weekend is a pleasant thought for local baseball fans, but not something the Breeders' Cup would savor.
For Curlin's first workout at Santa Anita, Ron Charles of Santa Anita and Sherwood Chillingworth of Oak Tree were up well before 7 a.m. The defending Horse of the Year and Classic winner could have been timed by hourglass--four furlongs in 52 4/5 seconds. Thirty other horses worked that distance, and only one was slower and the average time was :49 1/5. This is neither here nor there. Curlin had run just eight days before, and he's famous for his leisurely half-mile workouts. Shortly after the Man o' War, his only try on grass, he worked in :51 2/5, and not long after the Woodward he went in :51 1/5.
"Visually, he seemed to handle the track well," said Chillingworth, but there were no tell-tale clues from Steve Asmussen, Curlin's peripatetic trainer, about the colt's Classic prospects. Jess Jackson, Curlin's principal owner and the man who'll finally make the decision, was hundreds of miles away. His wife, Barbara Banke, watched the workout.
Asmussen will play it close to the vest until Curlin has two more workouts, on October 13 and 20. The next drill will be in company with another horse. Jackson must make a pre-entry payment of $50,000 on October 14, but that means nothing. The one that matters is a $75,000 entry fee, which is due the morning after the October 20 workout. The winner of the $5-million race earns $2.7 million.
Jackson isn't the only horseman who's not sold on the Pro-Ride surface. "I'm not crazy about running on rubber, something that comes out of your attic, or anything artificial," Nick Zito said in The Blood-Horse magazine after Commentator won the Massachusetts Handicap. "(Suffolk Downs' track superintendent, Steve Pini) has done a great job with this natural dirt surface. There was so much bounce in it when I took my four horses over it this morning. It had such a nice cushion. There's nothing wrong with dirt if you can fix it right. Plus, it's less expensive." According to the Daily Racing Form, Commentator won't be running in the Classic, leaving Zito without a Breeders' Cup contender for the first time since 2003.
Asmussen also has been known to vote the dirt ticket. At Santa Anita for Curlin's workout, he flirted with heresy when he said: "For those people who like synthetic surfaces, that's great. I don't care. I care what Curlin thinks of the surface."
Maybe the trainer will find out on October 13, maybe he'll know on October 20. If Jackson green-lights Curlin, I don't think Asmussen will really know until October 25, about two minutes after the gates open for the start of the Classic.