Stakes at Belmont Park in his first try on the turf. But he also didn't answer the question he was being asked: Is he good enough to try the best turf horses in the world in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe this fall in Paris?
No horse in the world is better than Curlin on the main track. He proved that by winning the Breeders' Cup Classic last fall and following up with a decisive victory in the Dubai World Cup in March. But his owners wanted to prove he's even better than that by switching surfaces and challenging the world's best grass runners.
A victory in the Man o' War would have been a clear sign. Instead, Curlin ran much of the race far back of a suicidal pace duel and just behind 2006 Breeders' Cup Turf champion Red Rocks. As the leaders started to back up on Belmont's sweeping home turn, first Red Rocks and then Curlin came past them. But Curlin couldn't get by Red Rocks, who went on to win by 2 lengths. Another Breeders' Cup champ, 2004 Turf winner Better Talk Now, got home third, 1/2 length back of Curlin.
Red Rocks, a 5-year-old, Irish-bred gelding by Galileo, ran the 1 3/8 miles over firm turf in 2:12.6 with Javier Castellano up for trainer Brian Meehan.
"We just didn't see that late kick from him today," said Curlin owner Jess Jackson. "I don't know if that was because he is still getting used to the turf or what. These are some of the things I will have to talk to (trainer) Steve (Asmussen) about. My feeling right now is that he needs another turf test. We know what he can do on dirt, and that is always an option.
"I'm disappointed, but this is not a setback. And the horse that beat him is a very good horse, and I congratulate them on a great race."
While the pre-race hype and post-race questions were mostly about Curlin, Meehan said his horse proved something in between.
"He's a 5-year-old horse now and he's proved himself with Group/Grade 1 horses all his life," Meehan said. Everything is always easy with him. He hasn't been given the kudos he deserves since the Breeders' Cup. Today, he confirmed he is one of the best middle distance turf horses in the world and has been for the last two, three years …
"It's about beating the field and Curlin happened to be in there. Everybody loves a champion and today Red Rocks is a champion."
In weekend races with potential implications for the Breeders' Cup World Championships in October at Santa Anita:
Hystericalady pressed the pace set by Lemon Drop Mom in Sunday's $1 million Delaware Handicap at Delaware Park, went to the lead when asked by jockey Garrett Gomez and cruised home with little encouragement, winning by 4 lengths. Lemon Drop Mom held second and the favorite, Unbridled Belle, was 3/4 length farther back in third. Hystericalady, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred mare by Distorted Humor, got the 1 1/4 miles on a fast track in 2:02.37. Jerry Hollendorfer trains her. Noting Hystericalady was stretching out to the 1 1/4-mile distance, Gomez noted: "My main concern was she kicked when I wanted her to kick because the mile and a quarter was a question in some people minds. Her last race, she went a mile and an eighth, and she was getting stronger as the race was going on. You never know until you go a mile and a quarter. So I started kicking her just like I was going a mile and an eighth just like last time and went ahead and went after the horse on the lead. I let her make the lead and when we turned for home, she hit another gear and lengthened her stride some more." She now has 10 wins from 20 starts and has captured three of her last four.
Kentucky Oaks winner Proud Spell came from off the pace to capture Saturday's $500,000 Delaware Oaks at Delaware Park by 3/4 length over African Violet. She's All Eltish was another 2 lengths back in third. Proud Spell, coming back in just two weeks after the Mother Goose, finished the 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.34 under Gabriel Saez. Of the short turnaround, trainer J. Larry Jones said, "When I rode her yesterday morning, I told (owner Brereton Jones), 'If I had not planned on running her before today, I would plan on it today. She trained so well yesterday morning. She just bucked and played all the way home." He said Proud Spell will return in the Alabama at Saratoga. She now has six wins from 10 starts.
Stream Cat rallied past pace-setting favorite Cosmonaut at mid-stretch of Saturday's $200,000 Arlington Handicap and drew off smartly to win by 3 3/4 lengths. Cosmonaut held second, 3/4 length to the good of Corrupt. Tiger Woodman completed the order of finish. Stream Cat, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred gelding by Black Minnaloushe, got the 1 1/4 mile on soft turf in 2:04.83 under James Graham in the local prep for the Arlington Million -- a race in which Stream Cat finished fourth last year, beaten just 1 length. "Class horses get ready easy and make you look good," said winning trainer George "Rusty" Arnold. "It was easy because he's a good horse … We were a little worried about the pace, but James kept him right in the race and everything worked out good." Rene Douglas, aboard Cosmonaut, said, "Only one thing I have to say -- no excuses. The other horse just ran by me. (Cosmonaut) was doing it easily early, but the other horse was better today."
Tizdejavu led from gate to wire in Saturday's $250,000 American Derby at Arlington Park, winning by 2 1/4 lengths over Sr. Henry as the odds-on favorite. Ablaze With Spirit finished third in the field of six 3-year-olds. Tizdejavu, a Kentucky-bred colt by Tiznow, ran the 1 3/16 miles on the "soft" turf in 1:59.88 with Rene Douglas up for trainer Greg Fox. Tizdejavu came into the race off victories in two stakes at Churchill Downs in his last two starts. The American Derby was his fourth win in seven starts this year. "He got a nice, comfortable, relaxed lead," said Fox. "That's something he really enjoys. Rene rated him perfectly, so there was plenty (in the tank) for the whole race. I was surprised. I watched the earlier turf races and the pace was a lot stronger in both of them. Rene was going to make whatever adjustments were necessary." Douglas said he did adjust. "I hate to go to the lead on this track, but sometimes you don't have a choice," he said. "The wet turf today helped me a lot."
Warning Zone came from off the pace to win Sunday's $150,000 Sunset Handicap at Hollywood Park by 1 length over the favorite, Cedar Mountain. Porfido was third. Warning Zone, a 4-year-old, Virginia-bred colt by Chester House, ran the 1 1/2 miles on firm turf in 2:26.95. Mike Smith rode for trainer John Sadler. "The course had a little more give in it today and it really suited him well," Smith said. "Of course the distance always helps. And I had a dream trip."
Wheels Up At Noon stalked the pace in Sunday's $200,000 Caesar Rodney Stakes at Delaware Park, got to the front entering the stretch and held off the closers to win by 2 1/4 lengths. Silver Tree finished second and Ruff and Ready was third. Wheels Up At Noon, dispatched at 11-1 odds, ran the 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:49.43 with Javier Castellano up for trainer Paul Rout. The 4-year-old, Florida-bred colt is by Outflanker.
Archipenko stalked the pace in Saturday's Group 2 Plymouth Gin Summer Mile Stakes at Ascot, got to the lead at the quarter pole and held off the late run of Barshiba to win by 3/4 length. The favorite, Cesare, finished third. Archipenko was making his first start since winning the Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup in Hong Kong in April and was one of several international Group I winners in the tough race. Trainer Mike de Kock said he now is considering shipping the 4-year-old Kingmambo colt internationally again for a try in next month's Arlington Million.
Lucarno, bouncing back from disappointing efforts in his first two starts as a 4-year-old, Thursday posted a front-running victory in the Group 2 Princess of Wales's Wbx.com Stakes at Ascot. At the wire, the son of Dynaformer was 1 1/4 lengths ahead of Papal Bull, finishing the 1 1/2 miles on turf rated "good to soft" in 2:33.37 under Jimmy Fortune. Trainer John Gosden said he now will eye King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes later this month and the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in October at Longchamp.
Filly & Mare Turf
Palmilla stalked the pace early in Saturday's $300,000 Robert J. Dick Memorial Handicap at Delaware Park, moved to the inside to challenge, then came out for room and went past the leader and won by 3 1/2 lengths. Herboriste was second and the heavy, odds-on favorite, Rosinka, faded from the lead to finish third. Palmilla, a 5-year-old, Pennsylvania-bred daughter of Crowd Pleaser, went to the post at odds of 20-1 and ran the 1 3/8 miles on firm going in 2:17.28. Rosemary Homesister Jr. had the ride for trainer Jonathan Sheppard. Palmilla now has four wins from 13 starts.
Communique rated along the inside through most of Saturday's $150,000 Modesty Handicap at Arlington Park, swung out after entering the stretch and kicked strongly down the lane to win by 3 3/4 lengths. Kiss With a Twist also rallied late to take second and Ciao ran well to snatch third from the favorite, Lemon Chiffon, by a neck. Communique, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Smart Strike filly, got the 1 3/8 miles on the soft turf in 1:58.89. Rene Douglas rode for trainer George Arnold. The race is the local prep for the Beverly D, on Arlington Million day. "Rene saved ground on the first turn and did us a great job because he knows she wants to go a little farther," Arnold said. "When he got her free, she made a great kick." Douglas, meanwhile, made sure his mount got free. "Once she got going today, I didn't want to get her stuck," he said. "I went on with her. She got going around the last turn she didn't stop. She loves this track, and she loves this distance."
The Niagara Queen pressed the pace early in Saturday's $300,000 (Canadian) Dance Smartly Stakes at Woodbine, got to the front midway down the backstretch, fought off a challenge from Sprung in the stretch and won by 1 1/2 lengths. Sprung held on for second and the favorite, Quiet Jungle, ran third. The Niagara Queen, a 5-year-old, Ontario-bred daughter of Langfuhr, ran the 1 1/8 miles on "good" turf in 1:50.01 with James McAleney up for trainer Steve Asmussen. "Around the bottom of the turn, I had a ton of horse" McAleney said. "I thought it was going to take a real horse to outsprint us."
Closeout came from the middle of the pack to win Saturday's $50,000 Audubon Oaks at Ellis Park in Kentucky, defeating Magic Tune by 3 1/4 lengths with Magical Theater third. Closeout, a Florida-bred Repriced filly, finished the 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:42.09. John McKee rode for trainer Tom Proctor.
Kip Deville, the defending Breeders' Cup Mile champ, dueled with Sensational Humor for the lead through the early furlongs of Sunday's $100,000 Poker Handicap at Belmont Park, then drew off in the stretch to win by 2 3/4 lengths. Tam Lin came from a stalking position to take second and Operation Red Dawn ran well late to capture third. Kip Deville, a 5-year-old, Oklahoma-bred son of Kipling, finished the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:32.94 under Cornelio Velasquez. Richard Dutrow Jr. trains Kip Deville. He is eyeing the Woodbine Mile as a prep for a try at a Breeders' Cup repeat. "'Kip' likes to set off. That's his game," said Dutrow.
"He found himself on the lead, and then Cornelio was able to keep him right in striking distance. His next race will be in Canada and it looks like what we have to do is keep him where he is at."
Smart and Fancy came from last of six to win Sunday's $100,000 Light Hearted Stakes for fillies and mares at Delaware Park, putting a neck in front of Weeks at the wire. Akronism finished third. Smart and Fancy, a 5-year-old, Maryland-bred mare by Not For Love, ran the 5 furlongs on firm turf in 56.37 seconds. Ramon Dominguez rode for trainer Anthony Dutrow.
Marchand d'Or rallied from the back of a 13-horse field to win Friday's Group I Darley July Cup at Newmarket by a head over Us Ranger. War Artist was third. Marchand d'Or, a 5-year-old gelding by Marchand de Sable, ran the 6 furlongs on "good" turf in 1:11.01 under Davy Bonilla. Trainer Freddie Head said Marchand d'Or will return to France to the Prix Maurice de Gheest next month at Deauville.
Truth Rules rallied from last to upset Saturday's $150,000 Long Branch Stakes for 3-year-olds at Monmouth Park, defeated a handful of one-time Kentucky Derby hopefuls. The favorite, Atoned, got to the lead in the stretch but couldn't hold off the winner. Z Humor ran evenly to finish third. Truth Rules, a Kentucky-bred Vindication colt out of the Dynaformer mare Film Critic, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:45.23. Stewart Elliott had the mount for trainer Nick Zito. Elliott said he expected to be at the back early but on the backstretch, "he was picking it up a little and then I just tapped him a couple of times and he started moving a little quicker. At the quarter-pole the other horses were all together and I thought I had a shot at it. Atoned kicked away from me a little bit in the stretch, but my horse just kept digging and got up when it mattered." It was the third straight victory at Monmouth for Truth Rules, who broke his maiden there in May and won an allowance last month.
Tres Borrachos saved ground all the way in upsetting Saturday's $350,000 Swaps Stakes for 3-year-olds at Hollywood Park, drawing off in the lane to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Two Step Salsa. One-time Kentucky Derby hopeful Colonel John went to the post as the favorite and ran well but finished another head back in third. Madeo completed the order of finish. Tres Borrachos, a Kentucky-bred Ecton Park gelding, ran 9 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:49.29. Tyler Baze rode for trainer Beau Greely. Tres Borrachos finished third in the Arkansas Derby in April and then ninth in the Preakness in May. He returned west to finish second behind Two Step Salsa in the Affirmed Handicap on June 15. "He never gets any respect," Greely said. "He was 30-some-odd-to-one in the Arkansas Derby and ran a great race. We threw out the Preakness when he went down to his knees but he still fought on. He's a horse that clearly has got more heart than anything.
Magical Forest led most of the way in Sunday's $300,000 Barbaro Stakes for 3-year-olds at Delaware Park, was headed by Cherokee Artist while bumping in the final furlong, but came again to win by 1/2 length over that rival. Ready Set finished third. Magical Forest, a Kentucky-bred colt by Forest Camp, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.02. Jorge Chavez was in the irons for trainer Joseph DeMola.
Top-rated sprinter Benny the Bull performed as expected in Saturday's $400,000 Smile Sprint Handicap at Calder Race Course, rallying from well back under Edgar Prado to win by 2 lengths. How's Your Halo was a surprise second and Rockerfeller finished third. Benny the Bull, a 5-year-old, Florida-bred son of Lucky Lionel, completed the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.41, scoring his fifth consecutive win. "He made his one big run," said trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. "That's what he was supposed to do. It looked like he got along over the track all right and ran like we thought he would, even spotting the others a lot of weight. He'll get on a plane tomorrow morning and come back to New York and we'll see how he is … As long as everything goes okay, of course we're looking forward to the Breeders' Cup (Sprint), but that's a long way away. We're just really happy with 'Benny' right now." The victory earned Benny the Bull an automatic berth in the $2 million Sprint as part of the Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" stakes program.
Golden Spikes stalked the pace in Saturday's $250,000 Carry Back Stakes for 3-year-olds at Calder Race Course, came to the leaders on the outside entering the stretch and won a tight battle to the wire by 3/4 length over Gentleman James. Lantana Mob finished third. Golden Spikes, a Kentucky-bred Seeking the Gold colt, finished 6 furlongs in 1:11.2 with Elvis Trujillo up for trainer Marty Wolfson. "We kept him going two turns earlier this year and he ran good to finish second in the Illinois Derby," said winning owner Rob Murphy. "But after he finished fourth in the Peter Pan, we pretty much knew it was time to go back to sprinting. We knew it would be difficult for him to turn back from 9 furlongs to 6, but he's come through. A logical spot to think about for him next would be the King's Bishop (7 furlongs on Aug. 23 at Saratoga)."
Filly & Mare Sprint
Mistical Plan pressed the pace in Saturday's $400,000 Princess Rooney Handicap for fillies and mares at Calder Race Course, got to the front entering the stretch and blasted loose to win by 5 3/4 lengths. Miraculous Miss came from last of seven to finish second and the even-money favorite, Dream Rush, faded from setting a brisk pace to finish third. Mistical Plan, a 4-year-old, California-bred filly by Game Plan, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:10.76. Trainer Doug O'Neill had Corey Nakatani in the irons. O'Neill said he and the owner "have always been real high on this filly, but I think she exceeded our expectations today. She has displayed enough talent, winning the Fair Grounds Oaks as a 3-year-old, and has shown excellence in routes and sprints. I think the game plan will be to stay with the sprints now." He said Mistical Plan may run in the Ballerina at Saratoga on Aug. 24 before going back west. Saturday's victory earned her an automatic berth in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint thanks to the "Win and You're In" program.
Indyanne had no problem with six rivals in Saturday's $250,000 Azalea Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Calder Race Course, drawing off smartly in the stretch to win by 9 1/2 lengths. Dubai Majesty finished second and Dancing Alllstar was third. Indyanne, a Kentucky-bred Indian Charlie filly, ran 6 furlongs in 1:10.82 with Russell Baze in the irons for trainer Greg Gilchrist. "Our filly didn't break as sharp as she usually does," Gilchrist said. "But Russell looked very comfortable with where they were. Then, nearing the stretch, when he looked under his left arm to see if anybody was coming, I felt pretty confident. This was the logical spot for her to step up and I think she needed it. Now, if all goes well, we'll look at the Test (Aug. 2 at Saratoga). She'll have to take another step up there."
Red Nation was quickly on the lead in Saturday's $55,000 Frank Gomez Memorial at Calder Race Course and held well to win by 2 1/4 lengths over For All Who Conga. Sabi Sabi finished third and the favorite, Bee Cee Cee, got home fourth. Red Nation, a Florida-bred colt by Concorde's Tune, got the 6 furlongs in 1:13.61 under Raymundo Fuentes and trainer John Shaw.
Early Final stalked the pace with a wide trip in Saturday's $125,000 Texas Stallion Stakes colt and gelding division at Lone Star Park, came to the leaders at the top of the stretch and got clear to win by 2 1/4 lengths over Supreme Secret. He's Boy Wonder was third and the favorite, a Steve Asmussen entry of Belton and Justwill, finished fourth and fifth. Early Final, a son of Early Flyer, ran the 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:05.06.
Tin Cup Chalice, the odds-on choice, led from gate to wire in Saturday's $150,000 New York Derby for state-breds at Finger Lakes, winning by 1 1/2 lengths. Almighty Silver was second and That'srightofficer finished third. Tin Cup Chalice, a Crusader Sword gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:45.97. Pedro Rodriguez rode for trainer Michael Lecesse.
Raise the Reward swung out to the center of the track for the stretch run of Sunday's $50,000 Hoover Stakes for Ohio-breds at River Downs, then ran down the leaders to win by 1 length over Astronaut. High Pin was far back in third. Raise the Reward, a Parents' Reward colt trained by Timothy Hamm, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:08 under Azael De Leon.
Additional Prayer needed no divine intervention in Saturday's $55,000 J j'sdream Stakes at Calder Race Course. The Florida-bred daughter of Songandaprayer opened a big lead under Russell Baze and coasted home first, 4 3/4 lengths to the good of La Chica Sensual. Jungle Jill finished third. Additional Prayer, trained by Terry Oliver, completed the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:12.73. The filly now has won both her starts.
Sweetacious led into the stretch in Saturday's $125,000 filly division of the Texas Stallion Stakes at Lone Star Park, gave up the lead briefly and came again to win by a head over Bridesmaid. Tiffany Royal finished third. Sweetacious, a daughter of Gen Stormin'norman, got the 5 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:04.88.
Cawaja Beach took the lead five-wide on the turn in Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian) Shady Well Stakes at Woodbine and went on to win by 2 1/4 lengths over Sans Souci. Sans Souci then was disqualified to fourth for interference on the turn, promoting Van Lear Rose and Koonunga Hill to place and show. The favorite, Poppin, checked in fifth. Cawaja Beach, an Ontario-bred daughter of Where's the Ring, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:04.25 for Daniel David.
In other weekend racing:
There will be no Canadian Triple Crown this year, either, as Queen's Plate winner Not Bourbon ran a fading sixth in Sunday's $500,000 (Canadian) Prince of Wales Stakes. Far ahead, the winner, Harlem Rocker, rallied three-wide on the turn from a stalking trip and went on to finish 1 1/4 length to the good of runner-up East End Tap. Pronger finished third. Harlem Rocker, a son of Macho Uno, ran the 1 3/16 miles on a fast track in 1:56.46 under Eibar Coa. The colt is trained by Todd Pletcher for Stronach Stables.
Five Steps led every step of Saturday's $100,000 R.R.M. Carpenter Jr. Memorial Handicap, feeling no pressure and winning by 5 1/4 lengths. Won Awesome Dude finished second and Celtic Innis was third. Five Steps, a 7-year-old, Maryland-bred son of Yarrow Brae, ran the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.44. Christopher Grove is the trainer.
Fagedaboudit Sal led from gate to wire in winning Saturday's $70,000 Bob Harding Stakes by 1 1/2 lengths over Kiss the Kid. Classic Campaign finished third. Fagedaboudit Sal, a 5-year-old, Jersey-bred son of Yarrow Brae, ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:34.73 under Pablo Fragoso.
Dance Hall Days rallied from a pace-stalking position to win Sunday's $70,000 Serena's Song Stakes for 3-year-old fillies by a neck over Hartigan, with Awesome I Am another neck back in third. Dance Hall Days, a Virginia-bred filly by Seeking Daylight, ran the 1 mile and 70 yards on a fast track in 1:44.27 under Jose Lezcano.
Rouse the Cat stalked the pace in Sunday's $60,000 John McSorley Stakes, dueled to the lead between rivals on the turn and edged clear to win by 3/4 length over Our Friend Harvey. Lord Robyn was third. Rouse the Cat, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred gelding by Sir Cat, ran the "about" 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:01.75 with Christopher VanHassel in the irons.
Lone Star Park
Crook's Adventure set a pressured early pace in Saturday's $100,000 Assault Stakes for Texas-breds, was headed in a three-way stretch battle and then won by 1/2 length. Sandburr was second and Crook's Stinger was just a nose farther back in third. Crook's Adventure, a 5-year-old Cold Hearted Man gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:45.55.
What R the Odds had the odds on her side in Saturday's $50,000 (Canadian) Timber Music Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, starting as the favorite in a field of 10. She made the punters look wise, leading all the way to win by 5 1/2 lengths over Dancefourseven, with P.S. Good N Ready third under the wire. What R the Odds, a Florida-bred Lightnin N Thunder filly, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:12.73.
El Sinaloense led from gate to wire in winning Sunday's $50,000 (Canadian) Ladnesian Stakes for 2-year-olds by 5 1/4 lengths over Almost Time. For N Krnc was third. El Sinaloense, a British Columbia-bred gelding by Mud Route, ran the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.58.