Curlin ran Saturday's Stephen Foster Handicap the way Big Brown was supposed to run last week's Belmont Stakes but didn't. In fact, Curlin ran even better than Big Brown's unfulfilled expectations.
Curlin, the reigning Horse of the Year, was giving away at least 10 pounds to each of his opponents as the 128-pound highweight in Saturday's $750,000 Churchill Downs feature. He was shrugging off the jet lag of his victorious trip to the Dubai World Cup. And after he broke from the inside post position, his rivals had him boxed in for a good part of the Foster's 9 furlongs.
No matter to the 4-year-old Smart Strike colt or to his jockey, Robby Albarado. When an opening appeared at the top of the stretch, Albarado steered Curlin through it and the race was over. Curlin won in a hand ride, finishing 4 1/4 lengths ahead of turf specialist Einstein. The pace-setter, Barcola, finished third. Curlin was clocked in 1:49.68.
Curlin's resume now shows four straight wins, including last year's Breeders' Cup Classic and two triumphs this spring in Dubai. His bankroll edged over $9.4 million, putting him within easy striking distance of Cigar's record -- just shy of $10 million.
"What he stands for is a classic champion," said co-owner Jess Jackson, whose syndicate made the unusual decision to keep Curlin in training. "We'll see how great he is because he is not fully defined."
Asked about his next race, trainer Steve Asmussen said, "We'll be looking for a 'non-winners' of $10 million, age-for-weight."
Einstein's trainer, Helen Pitts, said her steed is going back to the grass despite his excellent performance on the Churchill Downs main. "The Arlington Million is still the ultimate goal," she said. "We did this today to do what we had to do because, as you can see, when he's ready to run, he's ready to run."
In other races with potential impact on the Classic Division:
Pyro, starting for the first time since his eighth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby, tracked the early leaders in Saturday's $175,000 Northern Dancer Stakes for 3-year-olds at Churchill Downs, got to the front on the turn and drew off to a 1 3/4-lengths victory. My Pal Charlie was second and Visionaire was third. Pryo and Visionaire also ran 1-3 in the Louisiana Derby. Pyro, with Shaun Bridgmohan up for trainer Steve Asmussen, ran the 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.53. Reflecting on his Pulpit colt's poor showing in the Blue Grass and the Derby, Asmussen said, "He was a lot sharper in (Saturday's) race and looked comfortable the whole time. Hopefully we can map out a schedule that has some important races in it for 3-year-olds."
Two Step Salsa led every step of Sunday's $100,000 Affirmed Handicap for 3-year-olds and won by 3 3/4 lengths over Tres Borrachos. Dixie Chatter checked in third. Two Step Salsa, a Kentucky-bred Petionville colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:41.57 under Martin Pedroza.
Other races with championship division implications:
Tizdejavu led seven rivals a merry chase in Saturday's $200,000 Jefferson Cup for 3-year-olds at Churchill Downs, leading by as much a 7 lengths en route to a 4-length victory. Golden Yank was second and the favorite, Old Man Buck, settled for third. Tizdejavu, a Tiznow colt trained by Gregory Fox, ran the 9 furlongs on firm turf 1:49.15 for jockey Garrett Gomez. It was his second straight graded stakes win, following the American Turf over the same course on May 2. In six starts, Tizdejavu has never finished out of the money. "We are going to enjoy this victory now," Fox said. "He has plenty of options."
One race after Curlin's triumph, another Eclipse Award-winner, Dreaming of Anna, also advanced her reputation. Leading seven rivals all the way, the 4-year-old Rahy filly easily held on at the end of 1 1/16 miles to win the $150,000 Early Times Mint Julep by 2 1/2 lengths over Ballymore Lady. Kiss With a Twist finished third. Dreaming of Anna, the juvenile filly champ of 2006, finished in 1:42.77 under a well-timed ride by Garrett Gomez. She now has 10 wins from 15 starts and her earnings are approaching $2 million for owner/breeder Frank Calabrese. "The Beverly D (Aug. 9 at Arlington Park) is one of the races we have targeted for her and after today, she obviously is headed in the right direction," said winning trainer Wayne Catalano.
Pure Clan took charge in the stretch run to win Saturday's $200,000 Regret Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Churchill Downs by 2 3/4 lengths over C J's Leelee. Zee Zee was third. Pure Clan, a daughter of Pure Prize, ran 9 furlongs on the firm turf in 1:49.86 under Julien Leparoux. Third in the Kentucky Oaks in her last start, the filly now is undefeated in three tries on the grass for trainer Robert Holthus. Holthus said he is eager to send Pure Clan on to the American Oaks Invitational July 5 at Hollywood Park, "if we get an invitation … We felt all along that her action was better suited to the grass than the dirt."
Social Queen rallied from last in a field of eight to win Saturday's $150,000 Eatontown Handicap at Monmouth Park by a neck over Chestoria. Miracle Moment finished third. Social Queen, a 4-year-old daughter of Dynaformer, ran the 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:40.4, equaling the course record. Jose Lezcano rode for trainer Alan Goldberg.
Ginger Punch had no trouble disposing of five rivals in Saturday's $300,000 Ogden Phipps Handicap at Belmont Park. Patiently ridden by Rafael Bejarano, the 5-year-old Awesome Again mare took the lead at the top of the stretch and won by 7 3/4 lengths in a hand ride. Golden Velvet was best of the rest with Mistical Plan third. Ginger Punch ran the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.37, winning for the eighth time in her last 11 starts -- a string that includes a victory in last year's Breeders' Cup Distaff and earned the 2007 Eclipse Award. "They talked about retiring her last year," said winning trainer Bobby Frankel. "But I said, 'She's pretty sound. Why not keep her in training?' She's not the prettiest filly in the world but she's got a heart the size of an elephant and that's what counts." He said he has not mapped out the rest of Ginger Punch's 2008 campaign. "Today she carried 123 pounds," he noted. "You want champions to stay around. But then the weight starts piling on."
Hystericalady did the expected in Saturday's $300,000 Fleur de Lis Handicap at Churchill Downs, stalking the pace early and dominating late. At the end, jockey Garrett Gomez had the 5-year-old Distorted Humor mare wrapped up and 7 1/2 lengths ahead of Initforthekandy -- who clearly was in it for second-place money. Kathleens Reel finished third in what amounted to a paid workout for the winner. Hystericalady, a close third in the Humana Distaff in her last start, now has 9 wins from 19 lifetime starts. She was second by a neck to Ginger Punch in last year's Breeders' Cup Distaff. "This worked out good for us," said winning trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. "I'm not sure when her next race is going to be but it probably won't be at Del Mar. I would think she may run two more times before the Breeders' Cup."
Unbridled Belle led most of the way to an easy 5 3/4-lengths victory in Saturday's $150,000 Obeah Stakes at Delaware Park. Copper State ran second all the way and Lemon Drop Mom was third. Unbridled Belle, a 5-year-old daughter of Broken Vow, got the 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:49.72 under Ramon Dominguez. "She just showed she was clearly the best," Dominguez said, indicating the $1 million Delaware Handicap on July 13 is likely next for the Todd Pletcher trainee.
Also Saturday at Delaware, Weathered upset favorite African Violet in the $175,000 Susan's Girl Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, beating that rival by 4 1/2 lengths and leading from gate to wire. Never Retreat was third with a late run. Weathered, a New York-bred daughter of Key Contender, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.60 with Rosie Napravnik in the irons.
Rockerfeller dominated the stretch run in Saturday's $100,000 Ponche Handicap at Calder Race Course, drawing clear of a pace-pressing trip to score by 7 lengths. How's Your Halo ran well late to take second from pace-setting Blue Pepsi Lodge. Rockerfeller, a 4-year-old Maria's Mon gelding, got the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.17 under Javier Santiago. "This horse is the real deal," said winning trainer Marty Wolfson, adding Rockefeller will move on to the $400,000 Smile at Calder on July 12.
Wolfson also saddled Golden Spikes to a head victory in Saturday's $100,000 Unbridled Stakes for 3-year-olds at Calder. Gentleman James settled for second and Make Me Zach was third. Golden Spikes, a Kentucky-bred colt by Seeking the Gold, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:10.39 with Elvis Trijillo up. "He's not really a sprinter," Wolfson said of the winner, whose dam is by A.P. Indy. "I think he's probably best at 7/8 to a mile." But he added Golden Spikes "will stay around now" for the $250,000 Carry Back on July 12.
First Defence held on to win Sunday's $150,000 Jaipur Breeders' Cup Stakes for 3-year-olds at Belmont Park by a head over Salute the Count. Mohegan Sky was third. First Defence, a 4-year-old son of Unbridled's Song, finished the 6 furlongs in 1:09.48 on yielding turf under Javier Castellano. "I'm not sure if that family really likes it on soft turf," said winning trainer Bobby Frankel. "Javier said he bobbled a few times. Hopefully, that's why he was stopping. He made an easy lead, but maybe it wasn't as easy as I thought. Watching him on the turn, it looked like he was going to gallop. At the end, I was looking for the wire."
Distaff Turf Sprint
London Snow came from off the pace in Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) Balade Stakes at Woodbine, catching early leader Only If Split in the final sixteenth and winning by 2 lengths. Only If Split held second, 3/4 length ahead of Executive Flight. London Snow, a 5-year-old, Ontario-bred daughter of Trajectory, finished the 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:09.83. Steven Bahen rode. "She's a pretty versatile horse," said winning trainer John Charalambous. "We have a lot of possibilities -- long, short, turf. It doesn't matter."
Dulce Realidad got the lead early in the stretch run in Saturday's $200,000 Jostle Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Philadelphia Park and held on gamely to win by 3/4 length over the onrushing Snowy Elegance. Throbbin' Heart was third and A Rose for You completed the order of finish. Dulce Realidad, a Florida-bred daughter of Sweetsouthernsaint, got the 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:15.82. Jose Flores rode for trainer Richard Vega.
Dixie Dreamer rallied from well back to catch pace-setting Rgirldoesn'tbluff at the wire in Saturday's $100,000 U Can Do It Handicap at Calder. Bereba was third. Dixie Dreamer, a 5-year-old Mutakddim mare, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:11.07 with Jermaine Bridgmohan up for Wolfson, who had a good day. "She's been training tremendous," Wolfson said. "We'll go into the Princess Rooney (a $400,000 Grade I event at Calder July 12) much better than last year." Dixie Dreamer finished eighth in the race in 2007 but Wolfson pointed out she had been his barn less than a month at that point. "She's a different horse this year," he said.
Orinoquia dawdled near the back of the pack early in Saturday's $100,000 Leave Me Alone Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Calder, then gathered speed around the turn and ran past 'em all in the stretch, winning by 5 1/4 lengths. Sadie's Time was second and Freedom Afleet finished third. Orinoquia, with Eduardo Nunez up, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:12.12. Nunez said when asked, Orinoquia "really explodes and when she gets to the lead, she likes to pour it on." Trainer Rodolfo said the Whywhywhy filly will return in the $250,000 Azalea July 12.
Tam Lin rallied down the stretch and caught front-running favorite Cosmonaut at the wire in Saturday's $75,000 Scottish Monk Stakes, winning by a nose. Would Be Willing finished third. Tam Lin, a 5-year-old, British-bred gelding by Selkirk, ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:33.05. Javier Castellano rode the Godolphin Racing standard bearer for trainer Saeed bin Suroor.
Southern Exchange dominated the stretch run in Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian) Victoria Stakes at Woodbine, drawing off to post a 4 3/4-lengths upset win. The odds-on favorite, Dicey Riley, held second over Segal. Southern Exchange, a Florida-bred daughter of Exchange Rate, ran the 5 furlongs on the all-weather track in 57.48 seconds under Jono Jones.
In other weekend racing:
Cedar Mountain rallied from last of eight to win Saturday's $75,000 Round Table Handicap by 2 3/4 lengths over Transduction. Porfido, the favorite, was third. Cedar Mountain, a 5-year-old, Irish-bred gelding by Galileo, ran 1 3/4 miles on the firm turf in 2:53.65 with Alonzo Quinonez up for trainer Neil Drysdale. "Neil told me to put him behind horses," Quinonez said. "I said, 'Behind the leaders?' and he said, 'No, behind horses.' I guess he wasn't worried how far back he was."
Arkhill rallied to the lead on the final turn in Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) Alberta Derby then held well to win by 1 length over Papa Time. Ballintoy finished third. Arkhill, an Alberta-bred son of Orchid's Devil, ran the 1 1/16 miles on a "good" track in 1:43.4.
Lady Lev came from last of six with a rush to win Sunday's $75,000 Penny Ridge Stakes for 3-year-old fillies by a neck over Daymaker. Briars Flash was third. Lady Lev, an Alberta-bred daughter of Othello, got the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:37.4.
Red Hot N Gold prompted the pace early in Saturday's $70,000 Cyclones Handicap for Iowa-bred colts and geldings, then took command in the lane and won by 3 3/4 lengths over 40-1 longshot Diginandrun. Crimson King Cat finished third. Red Hot N Gold, a 4-year-old Gold Case gelding, finished the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.87 under Terry Thompson.
Beyond the Reach led early in Saturday's $70,000 Hawkeyes Handicap for state-bred fillies and mares, took back and then came on again in the stretch to win by 2 lengths over Thekatcamehome. Camela Carson finished third. Beyond the Reach, a 4-year-old Sahm filly, got the 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.02 for Carlos Montalvo.
Golden Gate Fields
Bonfante ran to the lead in the stretch drive of Saturday's $75,000 Oakland Stakes, then edged clear to win by 1 1/2 lengths over the favorite, Black Seventeen. Vicarino finished third. Bonfante, a 7-year-old, California-bred gelding by Fruition, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:09.57 under Frank Alvarado.
Lemonlime stalked the pace in Saturday's $50,000 Minnesota HBPA Mile, got to the leaders in the stretch and drew clear in the final sixteenth to win by 1 1/4 lengths. Inhonorofjohnnie was third and Angel Smoke third. Lemonlime, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Lemon Drop Kid filly, ran the "about" 1 mile on firm turf in 1:37.56 with Willie Martinez up for trainer Anthony Granitz.
Cool Coal Man got back on the winning track in Saturday's $70,000 Spend A Buck Stakes for 3-year-olds, taking the lead with about 6 furlongs to run and holding on by a neck over Atoned. Chirac was third. Cool Coal Man, a Kentucky-bred son of Mineshaft, ran the 1 mile and 70 yards in 1:41.84 with Eddie Castro riding for trainer Nick Zito.
Call My Bluff led all the way to an 8 1/4-lengths victory in Sunday's $70,000 Battlefield Stakes. Precious Passion was second and I'm Only Laughing third. Call My Bluff, a 6-year-old, Kentucky-bred Pine Bluff gelding, ran 9 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:50.83 for jockey Pedro Cotto Jr.
Luna Park rallied to nip pace-setting Meadow Blue by a nose at the wire in Sunday's $60,000 Bernie Dowd Handicap for Jersey-breds. Cuba was third. Luna Park, a 5-year-old son of Dance Brightly, ran the 1 mile and 70 yards on a sloppy track in 1:42.16.
Nationhood stalked the pace in Sunday's $60,000 Budweiser Emerald Handicap, took the lead after 5 furlongs and went on to win by 2 1/2 lengths over Westsideclyde. Jamaica Bound finished third. Nationhood, a 6-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Cherokee Run, ran the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:35.2 under Seth Martinez.