Next question: Will the world's top-ranked horse defend his title as Breeders' Cup Classic winner next month at Santa Anita?
"We'll have to see whether Curlin likes the track," owner Jess Jackson said by phone from California, referring to Santa Anita's new artificial surface. "We're not trying to avoid (Big Brown) and there is always the Clark Handicap (Nov. 28 at Churchill Downs) or the Japan Cup (Dec. 7) after that. So, we have to take them one at a time."
Saturday, Curlin went about his business in a workmanlike fashion. With Robby Albarado at the controls, the 4-year-old son of Smart Strike sat patiently off the pace until the field hit Belmont's sweeping turn. Then, without much urging, he picked it up, ranged up alongside the leader and hit the front as he straightened out into the stretch. Wanderin Boy battled on gamely over the sloppy, sealed track but Curlin prevailed by 3/4 length, Albarado still riding comfortably.
The 1 1/4 mile took 2:01.93. Merchant Marine finished third.
Albarado said Curlin "just ran his race again and gave me that big Curlin move on the turn. It was tremendous, and very emotional. The bar is set against him every time, but he exceeds our expectations every time he runs."
Since winning the Classic last fall at Monmouth Park, Curlin has won twice in Dubai, including the World Cup against a tough field, the Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs and the Woodward at Saratoga. His only loss, a second-place finish to Red Rock on the turf in the Man o' War, put an end to talk that he might travel to France to run in the Arc and renewed the potential for a showdown with Big Brown and others in the Classic.
Curlin shipped to California and was stabled at Santa Anita Sunday night.
Other weekend races with potential to impact the $5 million Classic:
-- Saturday's Sony Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot was a "Win and You're In" race for the Breeders' Cup Mile on the turf. Instead, it featured a substantial upset and potentially turned into a prep for the Classic. Raven's Pass, a steadily improving 3-year-old son of Elusive Quality, got past highly regarded Tamayuz in the stretch run and held off equally well fancied Henrythenavigator in the final furlong to win by 1 length. The colt had finished 1 1/2 lengths behind Tamayuz in France and second a head to Henrythenavigator two months ago at Goodwood. "We knew this time we were going to be a little handier. That was the only plan," winning trainer John Gosden told the British Press Association. Gosden said he might consider the Breeders' Cup Mile at a longer track like Belmont Park. "But it is a two-turn mile at Santa Anita and you can get done by the draw, so on that basis we will entertain running in the Classic," the Racing Post reported. Trainer Aidan O'Brien said he was pleased with Henrythenavigator's effort on soft going and remains unsure whether he will place his colt in the Classic or the Mile.
-- Well Armed was well prepared for Saturday's $500,000 Goodwood Stakes at Santa Anita, stalking the pace before gaining the lead on the outside at the top of the stretch, then holding well to win by 1 length. Tiago rushed up from last to take second and Albertus Maximus also ran well late to take the show. Well Armed, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred gelding by Tiznow, ran the 9 furlongs on the new all-weather surface in 1:47.11. Aaron Gryder had the mount for trainer Eoin Harty. "Aaron has done a hellacious job with him," said Harty, who also trains Classic contender Colonel John. "Every time I work him, it's always Aaron and the fact that he's relaxing so much is a credit to Aaron Gryder more than to my training. He was under a ride at the 3/8ths pole. But he just showed me so much heart from the top of stretch home." Well Armed was third in the Dubai World Cup in March, then returned in July to win the San Diego Handicap. He was second by a neck to Go Between in the Pacific Classic last month.
-- Fairbanks sat just off the pace in Saturday's $500,000 Hawthorne Gold Cup at Hawthorne Race Course, moved to the leaders on the turn and won by 2 3/4 lengths over Magna Graduate. Wayzata Bay was third. Trained by Todd Pletcher and ridden by Richard Migliore, Fairbanks, by Giant's Causeway, ran the 1 1/4 miles in 2:04.47. Migliore said he took back with Fairbanks because otherwise he would have been pinned on the inside. "I didn't want to be caught in a position where I was committed to being inside and in a duel," he said. Barry Irwin, head of the owning partnership Team Valor, said he will discuss with Pletcher and Migliore which Breeders' Cup race to target for Fairbanks.
-- Delightful Kiss rallied from last of seven to win Saturday's $200,000 All American Stakes at Golden Gate Fields by 1 length over the odds-on favorite, Awesome Gem. Saratoga's Magic finished third. Delightful Kiss, ridden by Calvin Borel and trained by Pete Anderson, ran the 9 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:49.54.
$2 million Ladies' Classic
Since finishing third behind Zenyatta in the Apple Blossom at Oaklawn this spring, Ginger Punch had posted four straight graded stakes wins. Saturday, she ran into a "new shooter" from the Godolphin stable, Cocoa Beach, and it was Cocoa Beach who came out on top. After letting Ginger Punch set the pace, Ramon Dominguez set Cocoa Beach down for the drive turning for home and prevailed by an exciting 1/2 length. Lemon Drop Mom had a box seat for the stretch run and finished third, 13 1/2 lengths farther back. Leah's Secret completed the order of finish. Cocoa Beach, a Chilean-bred filly by Doneraile Court, ran the 1 1/8 miles on a sloppy track in 1:49.50. "She's grown up a lot since she ran earlier in the year in Dubai," said winning trainer Saeed bin Suroor. "She looked stronger than ever and she has learned a lot from her last race at Saratoga. She was really happy. The target now is the Breeders' Cup." Ginger Punch's trainer, Bobby Frankel, said the inside post position and the wet track doomed his charge. "It was the 1-hole. She had no choice but to do what she did," Frankel said. "I don't think that is her favorite way of running. I don't think the inside was the best part. I would have loved to have been on the outside."
Zenyatta remained undefeated and ended Hystericalady's three-race winning streak with an off-the-pace, 3 1/2-lengths victory in Saturday's $250,000 Lady's Secret Stakes at Santa Anita. After racing last in a field of just four, jockey Mike Smith sent Zenyatta three-wide into the stretch and easily ran by the pace-setting Hystericalady, who held second, 1 length to the good of Santa Teresita. Super Freaky completed the order of finish. Zenyatta, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred filly by Street Cry, finished the 1 1/16 mile on the all-weather track in 1:40.30. Her eight straight wins include six graded stakes. "I just can't describe her," said winning rider Mike Smith. "She leaves me speechless. She just seems to be sent from heaven, man. She does things horses aren't supposed to do. Those other mares picked it up. Not only did she pick it up, but she did it like, 'OK, let's go.' She pulled up and gathered herself up real quick." Added winning trainer John Sherreffs, "I was hoping I wouldn't have to beat Hystericalady to the Breeders' Cup. She's an awfully tough filly. But my filly is awfully talented, and talent overcomes a lot of stuff." Garrett Gomez, who rode Hystericalady, said she "ran really good. She's been running on dirt lately. This was her first race back on synthetic in a while. The trip over the racetrack should set her up for the Breeders' Cup."
Bear Now stuck close to the lead in Saturday's $100,000 Kentucky Cup Distaff at Turfway Park, got to the front at the top of the stretch and was unchallenged thereafter, winning by 4 lengths over Unforgotten. Devil House was third. Bear Now, a 4-year-old Tiznow filly, ran the 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:43.37 with Eurico Da Silva up for trainer Reade Baker. "I'm thrilled with the race," said Baker. "She rated easily. It was the first time she's done that in her life, which should bode well for California. Last year all she could do was go to the lead." Bear Now has won nine of her 19 career starts. Perhaps more important for Santa Anita, she is eight for 12 over all-weather surfaces.
$2 million Sentient Flight Group Sprint
Black Seventeen hit an upset in Saturday's $400,000 Vosburgh Stakes at Belmont Park, rallying from behind a hot pace duel to win by a head at odds of nearly 24-1. Fabulous Strike led most of the way and just missed hanging on. Kodiak Kowboy was third. Black Seventeen, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred colt by Is It True, got the 6 furlongs on a sloppy, sealed track in 1:09.77 with Clinton Potts up for trainer Brian Koriner. The tactics were a reversal for Black Seventeen, who had routinely been making all the fractions in his previous races. The win was his fourth in 10 starts. "He always tried hard for me," said Potts. "I knew he would like the slop because he ran well on it last year at Calder. I certainly didn't look up at the odds board. He was a longshot, but I was not disappointed at that." Kornier, saddling his first starter at Belmont, said he decided to ship to New York "because they have a new synthetic surface and I didn't want to have to guess what it would be like."
Cost of Freedom, claimed for $50,000 two races back, rallied to the lead on the turn in Saturday's $250,000 Ancient Title Stakes at Santa Anita and held on at the end to win by 1/2 length over the favorite, Street Boss. In Summation finished third. Idiot Proof, who won the Ancient Title last year before finishing second in the Breeders' Cup behind Midnight Lute, dueled among the leaders early on Saturday, then faded to finish next-last of six starters. Cost of Freedom, a 5-year-old Cee's Tizzy gelding, won for the sixth time in 10 starts and has three straight wins, dating to the July 25 Del Mar event when trainer John Sadler claimed him from Carla Gaines. In his only other stakes try, Cost of Freedom was second in the restricted Tiznow last spring at Hollywood Park. "It was a gutsy claim," Sadler said, adding that owner Gary Barber "liked his race record. I was a little concerned that he hadn't run that many times, but he was always very good. He was always right there. If you give him that spacing back -- we had a lot of time between races -- that helps your chances (for the Breeders' Cup). I was worried about him bouncing. Obviously, we held him up." He said the one month to the Breeders' Cup "looks a little close at this point, but he should be fine."
Fatal Bullet shot away from a pace battle entering the turn in Saturday's $100,000 Kentucky Cup Sprint for 3-year-olds at Turfway Park and drew clear in the stretch run, winning by 7 3/4 lengths over Silver Sword. No Advantage rallied from the back of the pack to take third. Fatal Bullet, a Florida-bred Red Bullet gelding, ran the 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:08.03 with Eurico Da Silva up for trainer Reade Baker. In his last previous race, Fatal Bullet won the Tom Ridge Labor Day Stakes over the artificial surface at Presque Isle Downs. Saturday's victory gives him seven wins from 10 starts and seven wins for eight tries over the all-weather surfaces. "I thought the competition at Presque Isle Downs may have been a little stiffer last time, but he sure ran fast today," Baker said. "When you're a little unsure of the circumstances that you're in, I guess the best place to be is on the lead so you can't get in any trouble. We'll be at Breeders' Cup next, God willing."
Rollers stalked the pace in Saturday's $250,000 Galant Bob Handicap for 3-year-olds at Philadelphia Park, went to the front with a furlong to run and held on to win by 3/4 length over Desert Key. Lantana Mob was just a nose farther back in third. Rollers, a New York-bred colt by Stormy Atlantic, ran the 6 furlongs on a muddy, sealed track in 1:09.48 with Mike Luzzi riding.
$1 million Sentient Flight Group Turf Sprint
Sheets took back after the break in Saturday's $200,000 Turf Amazon Handicap at Philadelphia Park, then rallied wide into the stretch and went on to win by 2 lengths over the favorite, Smart and Fancy. Beau Dare finished third. Sheets, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred filly by Scatmandu, got the 5 furlongs on "good" turf in 57.56 seconds. Roberto Alvarado Jr. had the mount for trainer Alan Goldberg.
$3 million Turf
Grand Couturier made it two straight Grade I victories with a dominating, 10 1/4-lengths thrashing of seven rivals in Sunday's $600,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational at Belmont Park. After racing in mid-pack, jockey Alan Garcia sent the 5-year-old, British-bred son of Grand Lodge around some traffic at the top of the stretch and he accelerated quickly and decisively. Interpatation also rallied to finish best of the rest and Summer Patriot was third. Grand Couturier ran the 1 1/2 miles on yielding turf in 2:34.84. In his last start at the same distance on "good" going, he won Saratoga's Sword Dancer for his first victory since the same race a year earlier. He finished sixth in last year's Breeders' Cup Turf. "It was just incredible, the acceleration. He just exploded," said winning trainer Robert Ribaudo. Garcia said Grand Couturier "really loved the soft course. I just asked him for run on the far turn and then he just took off. He's gotten really good." Kent Desormeaux, aboard Interpatation, claimed foul, saying Garcia cut him off. The stewards let the result stand.
Red Giant caught pace-setting Out of Control in the final yards to win Saturday's $250,000 Clement L. Hirsch Memorial at Santa Anita by a head. Transduction Gold finished third and the favorite, Spring House, checked in fourth. Red Giant, a 4-year-old Giant's Causeway colt, ran the 1 1/4 miles on firm turf in 1:57.16 with John Velazquez. Todd Pletcher is the trainer. Red Giant won last year's Virginia Derby and was second in the Secretariat at Arlington. Since then, he had started only twice, the last being a victory in the Fourstardave at Saratoga on Aug. 3. Pletcher assistant Mike McCarthy said he "wasn't concerned (about being that far back early), not with those kind of fast fractions. He was the class of the race. I imagine he'll go on (to the Breeders' Cup Turf) if he comes out of this race all right. I imagine that's the plan ... He's a very easy horse to be around and a very easy horse to train. He almost trains himself."
$2 million Emirates Airline Filly & Mare Turf
Dynaforce led all the way to a 4-lengths victory over odds-on favorite Mauralakana in Saturday's $600,000 Flower Bowl Invitational over the Belmont Park inner turf course. Communique was third, another neck back, with Jade Queen and Palmilla completing the order of finish. Dynaforce, a 5-year-old Dynaformer mare, had been racing in France for Andre Fabre until June. With Bill Mott in the United States, she had two seconds from three starts. "It was an easy trip. She broke well and let me take the lead," said winning rider Alan Garcia. "In the last strides, Dynaforce showed her stuff." Mauralakana's jockey, Kent Desormeaux, blamed the yielding surface for ending his mare's four-race winning streak. "The lack of pace and the soft going probably compromised my chances," said Desormeaux. "I got past her (Dynaforce) and I was faster than the winner but I couldn't sustain the run. The ground caused that." The two likely will meet again at Santa Anita.
Wait a While did just that in Saturday's $400,000 Yellow Ribbon Stakes at Santa Anita, tracking the pace until the second turn, then coming around the leaders into the stretch and taking charge. At the wire, the 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred daughter of Maria's Mon won by 3/4 length over Vacare with Black Mamba third. Wait a While, with John Velazquez up for trainer Todd Pletcher, ran the 1 1/4 miles on firm turf in 1:59.16. She came into the race off a similar win in the Balston Spa Handicap at Saratoga in August. Two years ago, she won the Yellow Ribbon and followed that with a fourth-place finish at the Breeders' Cup behind Ouija Board. "I kept on looking for Black Mamba and, by the time I saw her, it was too late, said Pletcher assistant Mike McCarthy. "I thought it set up just like I thought it would. The filly just inside of us would show the way, and we were able to follow her around there. She was able to pick it up and march on about her business." He said much of the credit goes to Velazquez' ability to get Wait a While to relax coming from the outside post position.
$2 million Mile
Tam Lin stalked the pace set by Forefathers in Sunday's $250,000 Kelso Breeders' Cup at Belmont Park, went to the lead inside the furlong marker and got home first by 4 1/4 lengths. Stalingrad raced evenly to finish second and Operation Red Dawn was third. Tam Lin, a 5-year-old, British-bred gelding by Selkirk, ran the 1 mile on "soft" turf in 1:39.13. Javier Castellano took the mount for trainer Saeed bin Suroor and Godolphin Stable.
Hyperbaric won a charge to the wire in Sunday's $200,000 Oak Tree Mile at Santa Anita, besting Tybait by a neck. Tropic Storm was third, another 3/4 length back and just 1/2 length in front of Global Hunter. Hyperbaric, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Sky Classic, completed the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:33.62. Garrett Gomez rode for trainer Julio Canani and picked up his 3,000th win. Asked if Hyperbaric will go on to the Breeders' Cup, Canani said, "We'll play it by ear. We'll decide later."
Wise River jumped right to the front in Saturday's $150,000 Robert F. Carey Memorial Handicap at Hawthorne Race Course and ran well through the stretch to win by 1 length over Galantas, who then was disqualified to third for stretch interference. Jungle Fighter was promoted from third to second. Wise River, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred horse by Belong to Me, ran the 1 miles on firm turf in 1:35.04 under Francisco Torres. "This horse is a versatile animal. He's kind to ride," Torres said. "I let him dictate his race. All I did was nurse him around."
$1 million TVG Dirt Mile
Zanjero stalked the pace while saving ground through much of Saturday's $350,000 Kentucky Cup Classic at Turfway Park, then split horses entering the stretch, drew clear and won by 1 1/2 lengths over Extreme Supreme. Canela was third and the favorite, Honest Man, faded from the pace to finish fourth. Zanjero, a 4-year-old Cherokee Run colt, finished the 9 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:49.27 with Shaun Bridgmohan up for trainer Steve Asmussen. "The race went just as I hoped it would," said winning owner Ron Winchell. "He broke clean and was close to the pace. It looked like that's where you wanted to be all day. He has a good late kick as long as he doesn't use it too early. We'll talk things over with Steve (about the Breeders' Cup)." Asmussen, from Belmont Park where he saddled Curlin, said of Zanjero, "That horse ran great. I did get to see it. Yes, this horse is going to the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile."
$2 million Bessemer Trust Juvenile
Street Hero hit the front in the shadow of the wire in Sunday's $250,000 Norfolk Breeders' Cup Stakes at Santa Anita, winning by 3/4 length over Midshipman. After that, a pair of noses separated Believe in Hope and Del Conte. Street Hero, a Kentucky-bred Street Cry colt, ran the 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:42.12 with Alex Solis up for trainer Myung Cho. Cho said, "Actually, I have five horses in training right now. Yesterday, Palacio de Amor was second in the Oak Leaf Stakes. But this one is a Grade I WINNER. I think I have to go (to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile with Street Hero). If I don't go, the rider's going to kill me."
West Side Bernie easily bested a half-dozen rivals in Saturday's $100,000 Kentucky Cup Juvenile at Turfway Park and jumped right into Breeders' Cup consideration for trainer Kelly Breen and owners Lori and George Hall. Coming off a maiden win at Monmouth, the Kentucky-bred son of Bernstein tracked the pace into the stretch and then drew off in the stretch to win by 3 lengths over Retap. Gresham finished third. West Side Bernie got the 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:44.22 under Stewart Elliott.
"When I told George that we were going to bring him here, I think he thought I was crazy," Breen said. "But I told him I think the horse has a lot of talent. He likes the distance and he likes the surface, so I think we're going to go to the show."
King Puma, the odds-on favorite, got through between rivals at the top of the stretch in Saturday's $100,000 Fitz Dixon Jr. Memorial Juvenile Stakes at Presque Isle Downs and turned back all challengers in the stretch, winning by 1/2 length over Prowl On. Gallatin Forest finished third. King Puma, a Kentucky-bred colt by Forest Wildcat, ran the 6 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:17.20 under Stewart Elliott. Kelly Breen trains. He came into the race off a 7-length victory in his debut at Monmouth Park.
Stately Character rallied three-wide to upset Saturday's $90,000 Foolish Pleasure Stakes at Calder Race Course, winning by 1 1/2 lengths over the favorite, This Ones for Phil. March Twelfth was third. Stately Character, a Kentucky-bred colt, ran 1 mile and 70 yards on a fast track in 1:47.41. Herb McCauley had the mount for trainer Gerald Procino. "He's by Pleasant Tap and they come around later going a distance," Proscino said. "Down the road, I think he is going to be a very nice colt that will get better with experience."
$1 million Grey Goose Juvenile Turf
Jurybox came from the back of the field to score by 3/4 length over favorite Cityscape in Saturday's Juddmonte Royal Lodge Stakes at Ascot in England. The son of Montju, trained by Mark Johnson, won for the second time in four starts while moving up in class in the "Win and You're In" event for the Breeders' Cup. Johnson said his team will consider shipping Jurybox to California.
$2 million Bessemer Trust Juvenile Fillies
Stardom Bound is starting to make her name look like a good bet. After breaking her maiden last time out in the Del Mar Debutante, the Kentucky-bred Tapit miss followed with a typical, from-the-clouds victory in Saturday's $250,000 Oak Leaf Stakes at Santa Anita. Running from next-last of 11, Stardom Bound rallied five-wide into the stretch and passed them all under a hand ride by Mike Smith. She won by 3 1/2 lengths over Palacio de Amor, with Oro Blanco third. The Christopher Paasch trainee ran the 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:42.44 despite being kicked by an outrider pony while on the track Friday morning.
"What a difference 32, 33 hours make, from 8:30 yesterday morning and the incident that happened here in front of everyone, to winning this race," Paasch said. "What a feeling. She was kicked on the inside of her right hind leg by an outrider's pony after she galloped … We're very happy now. She did everything well."
Sugar Mom came five-wide into the stretch in Saturday's $100,000 Kentucky Cup Juvenile Filles at Turfway Park, then got up in the final sixteenth to win by 1 length over Complicity. Saxxy Rose Lee, at odds of 88-1, led briefly at the top of the lane and held on for third. Sugar Mom, a Kentucky-bred Monarchos filly, got the 1 mile on the all-weather track in 1:37.86 with Manuel Aguilar up for trainer Wayne Catalano and owner Frank Calabrese. "Any time you have a horse good enough to be considered for the Breeders' Cup, you have to think about it," said Catalano. "We'll talk it over with Mr. Calabrese and see what the filly tells us."
Sky Haven took charge in the stretch run in Saturday's $100,000 Presque Isle Downs Debutante Stakes, clearing 10 rivals for a 2 3/4-lengths victory. Seven Seventythree was second and Campfire Girl finished third. Sky Haven, a Pennsylvania-bred Sky Mesa filly, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:10.03 for jockey Stewart Elliott and trainer Steve Asmussen.
Renda stalked the pace set by Sweet Repent in Saturday's $90,000 Brave Raj Stakes at Calder Race Course, went by the leader on the turn and drew clear to win by 5 1/4 lengths. Sweet Repent held second and Hopeful Image finished third. Renda, with Sebastian Madrid in the irons, ran the 1 mile and 70 yards in 1:45.88. Se is a Kentucky-bred daughter of Medaglia d'Oro, out of the Capote mare Ten Carats. "We're going to the Breeders' Cup with her," said winning trainer Juan Arias. "But I couldn't say yet whether it will be the main track race or turf. She's worked great on the turf here going 1:11 and change (6 furlongs on Sept. 15) getting ready for this race."
$1 million Grey Goose Juvenile Fillies Turf
Rainbow View, a Dynaformer filly, rallied to the lead with a furlong to go in Saturday's Meon Valley Stud Fillies's Mile at Ascot and went on to win by 2 1/2 lengths, earning an automatic berth in Santa Anita. The filly, owned by George Strawbridge and trained by John Gosden, is perfect after four starts. "I think we have just seen an unusually good filly," Strawbridge told England's Press Association. He said he will weigh sending Rainbow View to the Breeders' Cup.