June 21, 2008

No Brown Crown... Curlin to the Turf

Now that the Belmont dust has settled, it appears that it simply was a bad day at the track for Big Brown, who's stock has dropped as much as his corporate namesake, UPS. Rick Dutrow is pointing the strapping son of Boundary for a new campaign to include the Haskell Inviational at Monmouth Park in August and perhaps the Travers Stakes at Saratoga. If Brown again has his way with these nominal three year-olds, he will perhaps get the chance to go up against older horses in the 25th rendition of The Breeders' Cup Classic to be held at Santa Anita Park in late October.

One horse that is on quite a different path is Curlin, the recent winner of another Grade I race in the Stephen Foster Handicap, where much was made of the excessive weight assigned to Robby Albarado's saddle (128 pounds including the jock). Although the 10 to 15 pounds Curlin spotted his foes never factored into his four length victory, Steve Asmussen was quick to generate an excuse, if needed. He knows the burden of carrying even a few extra pounds, especially if the race were to unfold unfavorably for Curlin. In Cigar's penultimate performance in 1996, he finished a nose behind Skip Away after falling prey to very soft fractions (1:11 2 and 1:35 4) and being forced wide on the clubhouse turn. Although he nearly made up the difference in positioning and pace, perhaps the five pounds he was spotting the younger and highly talented Skip Away was too much to overcome. Asmussen knows (take note, Dutrow!) that things can -- and often do -- go wrong on the track and that every disadvantage can lead to defeat.

So rather than lobby weight assignments the rest of the year, Steve and majority owner Jess Jackson will pursue a brief turf campaign prior to retiring their champion, hoping to extend Curlin's win streak of five races on the lawn, while increasing his value at stud. For those of you who question or even criticize this decision, we must recall another chestnut horse some decades ago who finished his career with two impressive turf victories after proving dominance over dirt tracks. That horse's name, anyone? Secretariat.

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