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Theres a Derby out there with trainer Steve Asmussens name on it. Plenty, in fact. Alphabetically, the list already reads: Arkansas, Borderland, Iowa, Loui-siana, Louisiana Breeders, Riley Allison, West Virginia, Woodlands, and Zia Park. The next, and obviously most important, could be Kentucky.
Curlins meteoric ascent to the top of the 3-year-old division has Asmussen, and an all-star collection of owners, on, potential-ly, the ride of their lives.
Next stop, Churchill Downs.Weve had some nice horses, said
Asmussen, nearing 3,600 victories in his ultra-successful career. But nice horses cant do what he can do.
In another jaw-dropping performance, 4-5 favorite Curlin overwhelmed eight challengers in the $1-million Arkansas Derby (gr. II) April 14 at Oaklawn Park to remain unbeaten, and unchallenged, in three lifetime starts.
Curlins whopping 1012-length margin of victory was the largest in the races 71-year history, topping Afleet Alexs eight-length masterpiece in 2005, and stamped the chestnut son of Smart Strike as the possible favorite for the May 5 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). Less than three months ago, Curlin was an unstarted prospect in trainer Helen Pitts barn at Gulfstream Park. Now, hes bidding to become just the seventh unde-feated Kentucky Derby winner in history.
Hes stepped up more than you could ever imagine, said Asmussen, whose best of five Kentucky Derby starters to date, Fifty Stars, ran ninth in 2001. Its Christ-mas every morning.
On a chilly, overcast day more fitting for December, a crowd of 57,937 witnessed a late-season gift that just keeps on giving. With Robby Albarado admitting he was simply a good passenger, Curlin rated beautifully just off the pace, effortlessly collared dangerous-looking front- runner Deadly Dealer with his ears pricked approaching the quarter pole, and wid-ened his lead through the stretch, acceler-ating through a final eighth of a mile in a sparkling :11.91. Hand-ridden to the wire, Curlin completed 118 miles over a fast
Big StepB Y R O B E R T YAT E S
Curlin heads to the Kentucky Derby undefeated after delivering a jaw-dropping performance in the Arkansas Derby
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Curlin turns Hot Springs into a one-horse town while pulling clear of his foes in the stretch of the Arkansas Derby
Arkansas Derby (Curlin) Count Fleet Sprint (Bordonaro)
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track in 1:50.09.The push-button performance, Albara-
do said, was more polished than Curlins 514-length victory in the Rebel Stakes (gr. III) March 17 at Oaklawn.
In his last start, he looked around and drifted a bit, Albarado said. Today was a tremendous leap for him. He was straight (in the stretch). He did things profession-ally. Hes getting serious.
Yet mirroring comments she made the day after the Rebel, Asmussens Oaklawn assistant, Kristin Crawford, said Curlin acted as if he hadnt left his stall.
He cooled out the same way, Crawford said. Hes amazing.
Curlin capped a monster afternoon at Oaklawn for Asmussen, who pocketed four other victories, including the $99,250 Northern Spur Breeders Cup Stakes (with Takedown) and $95,000 Instant Racing Breeders Cup (Cream Only).
Curlin may not have broken a sweat, but his teacher still said he was a bundle of nerves on the eve of what would be his biggest career victory yet.
I was wound tight all day, said Asmus-sen, 41, who finished the meeting with 36 victories to claim his first Oaklawn title. What an opportunity it is training him. You just dont see the scenario in which he can get beat. But the saying is, Theyre so sure of the outcome, theyll let you bet on it. Once the gates opened and he went by in control, that was the easy part. Until they open the gates, youre on edge.
Storm in May earned $200,000 and a trip to Louisville by closing along the rail to finish second, a half-length ahead of the lightly raced Deadly Dealer, among trainer Todd Pletchers army of Kentucky Derby hopefuls.
Delightful Kiss, Going Ballistic, Flying First Class, Officer Rocket, Slew by Slew, and Olympic Chief, a grossly overmatched first-time starter beaten 5514 lengths, com-pleted the order of finish. For You Reppo, trained by Pitts, was scratched the morn-ing of the race with a bruised foot.
Curlin became the fourth consecu-tive favorite to win the Arkansas Derby, following Smarty Jones in 2004, Afleet Alex in 2005, and Lawyer Ron last year. Smarty Jones and Afleet Alex, both home-grown products, seized two-thirds of the Triple Crown.
After a years hiatus, Hot Springs, un-expectedly, looks like it has harvested an-other national player.
Shortly after Curlin won his career debut by 1234 lengths Feb. 3 at Gulfstream Park, Midnight Cry Stables (retired Ken-tucky attorneys William Gallion and Shir-ley Cunningham Jr.) sold a majority inter-est in the colt to California wine mogul Jess Jacksons Stonestreet Stables, Satish and Anne Sanans Padua Stables, and San
Francisco businessman George Bolton for approximately $3 million.
On the advice of trainer Kenny McPeek, Midnight Cry had originally purchased Curlin for $57,000 at the Keeneland Sep-tember yearling sale. Out of the Deputy Minister mare Sherriffs Deputy, Curlin was bred in Kentucky by Fares Farm.
Cunningham named the Kentucky-bred colt after his great-grandfather, Charlie Curlin, a slave who fought for the Confed-eracy in the Civil War.
The blockbuster seven-figure deal bro-kered by John Moynihan, a Lexington bloodstock agent and Jacksons adviser, was finalized Feb. 4. We got lucky, said Moynihan, who received a rousing cheer from Curlins many supporters in the post-race press conference.
Transferred to Asmussen, whose win-ter roots are planted deeply in Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, and New Mexico, Curlin was placed on a two-race crash course to try and reach the Kentucky Derby. Mission accomplished.
Its a lifetime dream, Jackson said. I saw Seabiscuit run in 1939, and this horse runs like Ghostzapper, Dr. Fager, Secretar-iat. He just takes off. Hes got extra gears and when he kicks in, it looks like hes sprinting at the finish.
All the way to Churchill Downs.As it turned out for the colt whose victo-
ries have been by a combined 2812 lengths, wardrobe may have been his biggest ob-stacle. Curlin wore Jacksons gold and bur-gundy colors in the Rebel, but carried the dark green and gold of Padua in the Arkan-sas Derby. A coin flip between Midnight Cry and Bolton will determine which silks Curlin wears in the Kentucky Derby.
Thats the importance of keeping him around, Asmussen jokingly said of Cur-lin. Weve got to keep everybody happy with the rotation.
Fleet and FastHow fast is Bordonaro? Fast enough to
be entered in a stakes race in California, yet resting comfortably in a stall in Arkan-
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Million-dollar lineup: Connections of Arkansas Derby winner Curlin are all smiles
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Howard Scarberrys Silent Pleasure captures the Fifth Season
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united frontFive comprise ownership group; Jess Jackson the majority partner
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curlin (no. 4) catches street sense to win the Preakness by a head
Crafty Curlinb y s t e v e h a s k i n
A furious late rally by Curlin catches the Derby winner at the wire
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Thoroughbred racing is a sport of contrasting emotions, ranging from euphoria to despair and laced with a heavy dose of what might have beens. It often takes a special horse to bring all those emotions to the surface, and after watching the 132nd Preakness Stakes (gr. I), there is no doubt
that Curlin is that kind of horse.
Never before has a Thoroughbred crammed so much into the first three-and-a-half months of his racing life, while affecting the lives of so many people. This whirlwind introduction to racing reached a glorious, yet bittersweet, climax when Curlin ended the Triple Crown dreams of Street Sense and his popular connections by dealing the winner of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) an agonizing head defeat in the Preakness before a record crowd of 121,263.
Many in attendance and watching on TV were crushed when Street Senses apparent victory was snuffed out at the wire by a resurging Curlin, who had been pretty much given up for dead after stumbling at the start, and then feeling the mighty force of Street Sense blow by him at the head of the stretch. But from the wreckage of another shattered
barbara d. livingston
Several of Curlins owners, from left, Satish and Anne Sanan, Barbara Banke, Shirley Cunningham, William Gallion, and Jess Jackson
The Derby winner was dealt an agonizing head defeat before 121,263
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Triple Crown attempt came what many be-lieve to be racings next superstar.
The son of Smart Strike, out of the Dep-uty Minister mare Sherriffs Deputy, came to Baltimore with his own built-in fan club, consisting of a new team of owners assem-bled by bloodstock agent John Moynihan, who purchased the colt on the