Breeders' Cup bid uncertain despite Curlin victory
REPORT: USA, Saturday
Saratoga: Woodward Stakes(G1)1m1f dirt
CURLIN'S participation in the Breeders' Cup Classic is still very much open to question despite his return to winning form at Saratoga on Saturday.
Despite a decisive victory in the Grade 1 Woodward Stakes, not everyone was impressedwith the four-year-old's triumph at odds of 2-7 over outsider Past The Point, who set a blistering pace before being grabbed in the stretch.
The Dubai World Cup winner is a now a best-priced 9-2 in ante-post lists for the Classic with British-based bookmakers, some of whom prefer Henrythenavigator as their market leader.
The American racing community is longing for the reigning Horse of the Year to defend his Classic title at Santa Anita in October, which would set up a titanic clash of US dirt superstars with Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown.
However, the Breeders' Cup will be run on an all-weather surface this year for the first time, and Curlin's trainer Steve Asmussen has been less than enthusiastic about that prospect for the world's number one dirt performer.
After Curlin had regained the winning thread in the Woodward, following his defeat by Red Rocks on the turf, majority owner Jess Jackson shed a bit of light on future plans.
"The perfect scenario would be to run in the best races, the Jockey Club Gold Cup and the Breeders' Cup, and then go overseas to the Japan Cup (Dirt)," said Jackson.
"But that will be hard to press into a four-week schedule. We'll wait and see. He loves Belmont and now I think he loves Saratoga."
Looking at a possible clash with Big Brown, Jackson added: "It would be great for racing, racing fans and great for the industry. But it is my understanding that Big Brown is going to the breeding shed after this year, so time is running out.
"And that may betrue for Curlin. Curlin has genes that the industry needs: distance and stamina. He has no genetic shortcomings."
Curlin scored by a length over 40-1 shot Past The Point in the $500,000 Woodward, in which 9-2 second favourite Divine Park was a major flop.
Past The Point set stern fractions in front of Wanderin Boy, some five lengths clear of Curlin, who was sent up to grab the leaders after turning for home.
Curlin was rolling coming to the top of the straight and always looked the winner, but he did not really power away from Past The Point, seemingly only just warming up to his task as he hit the line.
Jackson said: "Aside from the Dubai race and the Breeders' Cup, this is the most important race we've won because of the historic nature ofthis race and its premier contribution to Curlin's legacy.
"With all the superstition and the ‘Graveyard of Champions', I was glad the horse showed what he is and we won.
The victory took Curlin's earnings to $9,796,650, just $203,015 short of Cigar's North American record mark, which he will probably surpass in the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park.
Albarado, for one, did not crib Curlin's display. "He was great!" said the rider. "He is the consummate professional now. It was great for people to see Curlin in New York.
"The pace was very, very rapid, but Curlin got away in good order. I was a little wider than I wanted to be around the first turn, but he gave me an indication on the backside that he would be there for me. We were between two horses and getting bounced around a little, but he is a big horse and he handled it.
"I don't like it, but today I had to hit him a couple of times to get him going. He's getting older, a little lackadaisical. I just spanked him a couple of times. He got by that horse and eased up the last couple of strides.
"He knows when they cheer for him. He gets swollen up with confidence. Racing needs a star like Curlin, and today he showed what he could do. Today he showed his versatility, running down some very nice horses."
Also on Saturday:
Saratoga: Forego Handicap (G1) 7f dirt 3yo+
FIRST DEFENCE (Bobby Frankel/Channing Hill) is 12-1 for the Breeders' Cup Sprint with William Hill after a crushing victory by nearly seven lengths.
The Juddmonte home-bred, sent off 7.8-1, took the lead at halfway and never looked back.
"He ran like we always thought he could run," said Frankel. "I was shocked that he ran as good as he did - he has been stopping in hislast two races.
"I was waiting for him to start slowing down, but he kept on going. Obviously, he likes this track. As fast as he is today, he'll probably go right to the Breeders' Cup."
Odds-on favourite Lucky Island got sandwiched between horses at the break and never got closer than fifth.
Del Mar: Palomar Handicap (G2) 1m½f turf 3yo+ f/m
THE 8-5 favourite Vacare (Christophe Clement/Corey Nakatani) ralliedin the final 100 yards to score by half a length.