ELMONT, N.Y. - This time in the Belmont Park stretch, Curlin didn't come up short, and now the Preakness winner is back in the hunt for Horse of the Year.
Thirteen weeks after falling a head short to the filly Rags to Riches in the Belmont Stakes, Curlin wore down the sensational 4-year-old colt Lawyer Ron to take Sunday's Grade 1, $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup by a neck. Lawyer Ron, coming off victories in the Whitney and Woodward at Saratoga, finished second by four lengths over Political Force.
Sun King, Brother Bobby, Indy Wind, and Malibu Moonshine completed the order of finish before a crowd of 19,338 on a gorgeous autumn afternoon at Belmont Park.
As part of the Breeders' Cup Challenge's "Win and You're In" program, Curlin earned an automatic berth in the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic at Monmouth Park on Oct. 27.
The Jockey Club was Curlin's first start since he finished a non-threatening third behind Any Given Saturday and Hard Spun in the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park on Aug. 5. But Curlin was hardly a horse in need of a race.
Under Robby Albarado, Curlin settled into fourth position in the early stages of the Gold Cup while Brother Bobby set the pace through fractions of 24.26 seconds 47.88 and 1:11.66.
Lawyer Ron, under John Velazquez, was a bit rank early on and pressing the pace. Down the backside, Albarado kept Curlin right behind Lawyer Ron.
Lawyer Ron took over from Brother Bobby at the quarter pole, but Curlin was just one length behind him. Lawyer Ron maintained his advantage until the sixteenth pole when Curlin kicked in and gradually wore him down two strides before the wire.
Curlin, a son of Smart Strike, trained by Steve Asmussen, covered the 1 1/4 miles in 2:01.20 and returned $6.20 as the second choice.
As Curlin approached the stretch, Asmussen said he felt a lot more confident about his chances than in the Belmont Stakes.
"He wasn't having to be ridden along and he carried him all the way into the stretch," Asmussen said. "When he came into the stretch you saw [Albarado] slap him with the stick down and he jumped right into the bridle and he went from there. I think he's an outstanding horse and he proved so once again today."
Asmussen said Curlin was to fly to Lexington, Ky., on Monday where he will do all his serious training up to the Breeders' Cup Classic.
Trainer Todd Pletcher said he feared Lawyer Ron being too fresh for the Classic, which is why he felt the need to run him in the Gold Cup. Lawyer Ron actually showed some of that freshness early on in the Gold Cup.
"He was very sharp, he never gave up and ran a big race and actually galloped back out in front so I don't think the mile and a quarter is an issue," Pletcher said. "We just got to get him settled down a little bit."
If all goes well, the Breeders' Cup Classic is shaping up to be the definitive race of the year with a cast that should include Street Sense, Curlin, Any Given Saturday, Hard Spun, Tiago, Lawyer Ron, and Student Council.
"We'll all meet in a month's time to probably decide a lot of honors," Asmussen said.
Belmont Park, 10th Race - September 30, 2007