Learning from defeat: Resurgent Curlin has Belmont in his sights
There’s no Triple Crown at stake, but there’s still some drama to today’s race.
NEW YORK (AP) — The way Curlin responded to the only defeat of his brief but brilliant career has trainer Steve Asmussen feeling pretty good about winning the Belmont Stakes.
After finishing third in the Kentucky Derby, Curlin came back two weeks later and staged a remarkable rally after stumbling at the start to edge Derby winner Street Sense by a head.
“It’s so tough for someone who hadn’t felt defeat to rebound off of it,” Asmussen said on a hot, humid Friday morning at Belmont Park. “And he rebounded emphatically.”
There may not be a Triple Crown on the line and Street Sense isn’t running, but Curlin is poised to become racing’s latest sensation if he can capture the 11⁄2-mile Belmont, the longest and most grueling of the Triple Crown races.
Curlin won his first three races by nearly 30 lengths combined before his loss in the Derby, where dirt was kicked in his face for the first time. The experience was worth it.
“His attitude off losing the Derby was very determined, somewhat aggressive,” Asmussen said. “He’s definitely a competitor.”
An imposing 3-year-old chestnut colt, Curlin is the 6-5 favorite in a seven-horse field that includes the filly Rags to Riches and Hard Spun, runner-up in the Derby and third in the Preakness.
The late addition of Rags to Riches adds spice to what was shaping up as a ho-hum Belmont. The filly trained by Todd Pletcher will take on the boys for the first time after rolling to four dominating wins against her own sex.
“We’re going in because we think we have a chance to win,” said Pletcher, who is 0-for-28 in Triple Crown races. “If I was anyone else in the race, I wouldn’t be excited that she was in there running against me.”
Rags to Riches will be the first filly in eight years and 22nd ever to run in the Belmont. Silverbulletday finished seventh in 1999. Two fillies have won, Ruthless in 1867 and Tanya in 1905.
Asmussen said Rags to Riches adds “curiosity” to the race, but his biggest concern is Hard Spun, the 5-2 second choice.
“He’s one of only two horses that beat Curlin, and that has to be acknowledged,” he said. “I think he’s a quality horse.”
Hard Spun led at the top of the stretch in the 11⁄4-mile Derby, and with a half mile to go in the 1 3-16-mile Preakness before coming up short. Trainer Larry Jones is hoping for a different result, and believes it can happen with a slower pace at the start.
“Different distance, different pace scenario,” Jones said. “We can’t keep going out there the way we’ve been going.”
To that end, Hard Spun will have a new rider in Garrett Gomez, who replaces Mario Pino.
“I hated to change, but felt like we needed to do something,” Jones said, noting Gomez is more familiar with the wide, sweeping turns of Belmont.
The $1 million Belmont will be televised by ABC, with post time at 6:25 p.m. The winner’s share is $600,000.