If there were any lingering doubts about Curlin's status as the world's top Thoroughbred before the Dubai World Cup, there can be none afterwards.
On a night when the American and South African forces swept up all the top prizes on the world's richest racecard, it was Curlin who stole the show, running away in the stretch to win the $6 million World Cup, sponsored by Emirates Airlines, by a decisive 7 3/4 lengths.
Asiatic Boy, last year's UAE Triple Crown winner, caught Well Armed in the late going to take second. A.P. Arrow finished third, giving the United States three of the top four placings in the Cup.
Following his victories in last fall's Breeders' Cup Classic and Jockey Club Gold Cup and an easy prep race in Dubai, the Kentucky-bred son of Smart Strike now is riding a four-race winning streak against the best available competition.
"The best is yet to come," Albarado said after the marquee race at Nad al-Sheba race track. "It's a shame for the rest of them.
"Of all the races this year, I haven't got him tired yet," the rider added. "He haven't got him in a fight yet, so we just don't know" how good he can be.
"It's a pleasure to ride such an amazing creature," he added.
Asmussen said Curlin benefited from a brief rest between the Breeders' Cup in October and his first race in Dubai last month.
"He's a faster horse," Asmussen said. "He's done things faster. Tonight he took the race to them."
Saturday, Albarado let Curlin race just off the pace set by Asiatic Boy and Well Armed, keeping him on the outside to avoid any trouble.
When the field turned into the stretch, Albarado asked his horse to run and the race essentially was over when no one could go with him. He finished the 2,400 meters in 2:00.15 without much encouragement in the late going.
The trainer said the outcome, against a top-rated field from around the world, justified the decision to keep Curlin in training and bring him to Dubai. "International racing at this level is meant to prove who is great," he said.
Asmussen said once Curlin clears quarantine late this week, he will return to Keeneland for assessment and planning.
In the supporting races on the Dubai World Cup card, South African-trained Sun Classique won the $5 million Sheema Classic by 2 3/4 lengths over Hong Kong's star, Viva Pataca; South Africa representative Jay Peg and jockey Anton Marcus survived a slipped saddle to capture the $5 million Dubai Duty Free; and Honour Devil and Royal Vintage, South African-trained but Dubai-owned, ran 1-2 in the UAE Derby.
Benny the Bull carried the U.S. colors to victory in the $2 million Golden Shaheen sprint, beating a fellow American, Idiot Proof; and Diamond Stripes took the Godolphin Mile for the Stars and Stripes.
While Curlin was the story of the night, the South African successes were a strong subplot.
Lyle Cohen, co-owner of Sheema Classic winner Sun Classique, said the night's string of successes for South African racing is a triumph for that country's breeding industry. "South Africa is one of the great breeding countries in the world," he said, "and a place where the horses can outgrow their genetics."
The supporting races on the Dubai World Cup card:
-- Sun Classique, from the powerful barn of South African trainer Mike De Kock, stormed to the lead with apparent ease in the final yards of Saturday's $5 million Dubai Sheema Classic and went on to win by a comfortable 2 3/4 lengths over Hong Kong's star, Viva Pataca. French globetrotting superstar Doctor Dino finished third. Sun Classique, a 4-year-old, Australian-bred filly by the Japanese-bred stallion Fuji Kiseki, finished the 2,400 meters -- about 12 furlongs -- in 2:27.45, just missing the stakes record by a few hundredths of a second. Since arriving in Dubai from South Africa, she had won two straight listed races but was stepping way up in class for Saturday's event against the world's top grass distance runners. "We knew," said co-owner Lyle Cohen, "that there was a lot more to come from the way she won that last race." And he said De Kock had put the filly in great shape while in Dubai, using a training treadmill. Co-owner Walt Rippon added, "We'd love to come to England with this filly" for the summer campaign.
-- South Africa's Jay Peg didn't quite need a photo to win the $5 million Dubai Duty Free at about 9 furlongs on the grass. But the 4-year-old son of Camden Park did need a big second effort and some fancy riding by jockey Anton Marcus to get home first. After leading most of the way, Jay Peg's saddle slipped near the end of the race. Suddenly, the French filly Darjina was in front. Marcus regrouped, regained control and Jay Peg rebounded to the lead, winning by 1/2 length in stakes-record time of 1:46.2. Darjina barely held second over Archipenko. Asked about the adventure with his tack, Marcus said, "I was getting pretty concerned inside the last furlong" and admitted he steered his mount to the outside after the wire, hoping to avoid the hooves of the rest of the field should he have lost the mount. In fact, he managed to hang on as he pulled the horse up. But he said Jay Peg's comeback was not surprising. "He's run all his races this way," the jockey said. "It's never been by a wide margin." Trainer Herman Brown said the colt, who had improved steadily but not won since being shipped to Dubai in January, may be headed to the Singapore Cup next. Darjina's rider, Christophe Soumillon, said his filly "gave me a perfect ride. But in the end, she's really just 85 percent today and we'll see her at 100 percent soon."
-- Jockey Edgar Prado said Benny the Bull was a little "confused" by the straight run of the $2 million Dubai Golden Shaheen -- approximately 6 furlongs with no turn on the Nad al-Sheba dirt track. "But he handled it well," Prado said in a masterpiece of understatement after his mount blew by pace-setting Idiot Proof in the late going and went on to win by 1 3/4 lengths. Star Crowned finished third. Benny the Bull, a 5-year-old son of Lucky Lionel, broke in the middle of the pack and raced there until Prado kicked him into gear about halfway through the race. "I knew I had Idiot Proof within striking distance," Prado said, "and I really hadn't asked my horse yet. I was really proud of him. He ran really well. "Today he had to prove he could run against the best horses in the world and he did it." It was the third straight win for the U.S.-based horse, following a fourth-place finish in last October's Breeder's Cup Sprint. Prado and trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. picked up a rare jockey/trainer "double" with the victory, reprising their first-place finish earlier in the Godolphin Mile.
-- Honour Devil easily drew off in the final sixteenth to win the $2 million UAE Derby by 4 1/4 lengths over Royal Vintage, his stablemate in the barn of South African trainer Mike De Kock. The only filly in the 12-horse field, Cocoa Beach, finished third, another 3 3/4 lengths back. Both Honour Devil, an Argentine-bred colt by Honour and Glory, and Royal Vintage, a South African-bred colt by Rich Man's Gold, are owned by Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa al-Maktoum. Cocoa Beach, a Chilean-bred filly by Doneraile Court, is owned by Godolphin Racing. In their last race on Super Thursday at Nad al-Sheba, Royal Vintage beat his stablemate. In the Derby, said winning rider John Murtagh, "he didn't like the kickback (of dirt from the early leaders). But when he gets out in the clear, he's a great horse."
-- American invader Diamond Stripes, winless in his three previous starts, saved ground all the way in the $1 million Godolphin Mile, surged to the front with less than a furlong to run and went on to win with relative ease. Elusive Warning, the main hope of the race's sponsor, Godolphin Racing, put in a late run on the outside to take second, 1 1/4 lengths back, and Don Renato finished third. Jockey Edgar Prado said Diamond Stripes "is the kind of horse who doesn't run well on the turn. But once we got him straightened out, he found another gear." Prado also noted he got a clean break and into the flow of the race early. Kerrin McEvoy, aboard Elusive Warning, had no such luck, getting squeezed back at the break. "He tried hard," said McEvoy, "but that early check might have lost him the race." Prado and the owners of Diamond Stripes, a 5-year-old Notebook gelding, agreed his performance at Nad al-Sheba indicates Diamond Stripes is best at the mile and on fast, natural dirt tracks -- a combination that bodes ill for his participation in this fall's Breeders' Cup, on the troubled Santa Anita artificial surface.
-- Threes were wild in the $250,000 Dubai Kahayla Classic, for purebred Arabians. Mizzna, sporting saddle cloth No. 3, ranged up on the outside in the final furlong and won going away over Madjani, snapping the latter's three-year winning streak in this feature. Mizzna, a 6-year-old, French-bred mare is out of Unchained Melody, who also won the Kahayla Classic three times. Mizzna shadowed the early pace, allowed Madjani to take the lead at mid-stretch and then came to take the victory by 2 lengths when asked by jockey Tadhg O'Shea. Al Moutawakel made a late run to take third.
The Kentucky Derby trail:
Big Brown made it worthwhile for trainer Richard Dutrow to pass up a trip to Dubai as the colt led all the way to a 5-lengths victory over Smooth Air in Saturday's $1 million Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park, despite breaking from the outside post position. Tomcito got home third but the race was to the undefeated and, so far, largely untested Big Brown. The Boundary colt ran the 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:48.16 under Kent Desormeaux. "We've got a Kentucky Derby contender," Dutrow said. "It's a long way off, and a lot of things have to happen right, but I expected him to run just like what we saw … I loved being on the outside. It eliminated our chance of getting in trouble. Going into the race, the only way we could get beat was if we got in trouble. In the first turn I knew it was over. I knew the horses in here couldn't catch him. All I have to do is stay out of his way. I let him do what he wants." Desormeaux, noting the fast fractions set by Big Brown, added, "He's a major talent; possibly the best horse I've ridden. I thought that after the first time I rode him. I'd have to say that he's my (Kentucky) Derby horse."
The Road to the Kentucky Oaks:
Shes All Eltish ran away in the stretch to win Saturday's $150,000 Bonnie Miss at Gulfstream Park by 6 3/4 lengths over Robbie's Gal. The favorite, Highest Class, settled for third. Shes All Eltish is a Florida-bred daughter of Eltish, out of the Hesabull mare Shesabullwinkle. Shes All Eltish ran the 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:51.8 under Eddie Castro. Marty Wolfson trains the filly.
In other weekend racing:
Sugar Swirl was an easy winner in Saturday's $200,000 Shirley Jones Handicap, stalking the pace before drawing off to win by 5 1/2 lengths over Baroness Thatcher. Shaggy Mane finished third. Sugar Swirl, a 5-year-old, Ontario-bred daughter of Touch Gold, ran the 7 furlongs in
1:22.57 with Javier Castellano up.
Sporting Art won a sprint to the wire in Saturday's $150,000 Bulleit Bourbon Palm Beach Stakes for 3-year-olds at 9 furlongs on the turf, scoring by a neck over Flying Dismount with Moral Compass third. Coming four-wide under Javier Castellano, Sporting Art finished in 1:45.98 on firm going.
Wow Me Free rallied through the stretch to win Saturday's $100,000 Next Move Handicap by 3 1/2 lengths over Runaway Rosie with Wild Hoots third. Wow Me Free, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred daughter of Menifee, ran the 9 furlongs on the fast inner track in 1:50.86 under Alan Garcia.
Niagara Causeway got to the lead with a half mile to run in Saturday's $100,000 Tokyo City Handicap and held on to post the upset, finishing a nose to the good of runner-up Church Service. Big Booster was third and the favorite, Zappa, finished fourth. Niagara Causeway, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Giant's Causeway, ran the 1 1/2 miles on the all-weather track with Jon Court aboard in 2:29.
Salute the Sarge, dropped back to a sprint distance in Saturday's $75,000 San Miguel Stakes for 3-year-olds, responded with a 1 3/4-lengths, off-the-pace victory over Leonides. Sea of Pleasure ran third. Salute the Sarge, a Kentucky-bred son of Forest Wildcat, finished the 6 furlongs in 1:09.07 on the all-weather track with Michael Baze riding.
Unspoken Word stalked the early pace in Saturday's $55,000 Hillsboro Handicap, got the lead on the backstretch and held on at the end to win by a head over the favorite, Wild Promises. Andover the Cash finished third.
Arcata rallied from last of five starters to win Saturday's $60,000 Harrison E. Johnson Memorial Handicap by a nose over the favorite, Eddie C. Forty Crowns was third. Arcata, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred colt by Wagon Limit, got the 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:53.
Graeme Six stalked the pace in Saturday's $50,000 Carousel Stakes for fillies and mares, took over turning for home and won off by 1 1/2 lengths over Sutra. Classify finished third. With Eusebio Razo Jr. up for trainer Tom Amoss, Graeme Six ran the 6 furlongs in 1:09.9. She is a 4-year-old, Florida-bred daughter of Graeme Hall.
Princess Composer led all the way to a 1 1/2-lengths victory over Delicate Dynamite in Saturday's $50,000 Fairway Fun Stakes for fillies and mares. Try to Remember was third while the favorite, Sweetdownthelane, finished sixth of nine. Princess Composer, a 6-year-old, Indiana-bred daughter of Composer, completed the 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:45.51 under jockey Jose Camejo.