Curlin by a hair in the Preakness

May 19th, 2007

Curlin, who finished third to Street Sense in the Kentucky Derby, out-dueled the Derby champ in the final strides of the Preakness Stakes to win by a nose and tie Tank’s Prospect (1985) and Louis Quatorze (1996) for the fastest winning time of 1:53 2/5.

“He started a 2-year-old and finished a 5-year-old,” said rider Robby Albarado following the victory, the first Preakness win for Albarado, as well as for trainer Steve Asmussen.

 “We’re trying to win the Preakness,” Asmussen said before the race. “We’re not taking a shot at anybody. We’ve got an outstanding 3-year-old that’s very healthy at an extremely important time of the year, with an opportunity of winning a classic. That’s the focus.”

Although this is his first win in a Triple Crown event, Asmussen has been the nation’s leading trainer in terms of wins for three years in a row and in 2004, broke the record for most wins in one season with 555.

Calvin Borel, who skillfully guided Street Sense to a 2 1/4-length win in the Kentucky Derby, thought he had another victory, when he cleared the field coming into the stretch. “I thought I was home free,” he admitted. “He came and got me. No excuses.”

It was a difficult day for Pimlico Downs, the nation’s second oldest racetrack, where 100,000 spectators witnessed the breakdown of 5-year-old Mending Fences in the Dixie Stakes, immediately following the inaugural Barbaro Stakes, which preceded the Preakness. The Barbaro Stakes was named to honor last year’s Kentucky Derby winner, who broke down in the Preakness and eventually had to be euthanized as a result of his injury.

Mending Fences, who suffered a compound fracture to his right front leg, was euthanized on the course, shielded from spectators by a screen. Robby Albarado was thrown from his mount Einstein, as he tried to avoid the fallen Mending Fences, but came back to win the Preakness. Eddie Castro, Mending Fences’ rider, also walked away uninjured following the spill.

Curlin is owned by a group that includes Jess Jackson of Kendall-Jackson Wines and Satish Sanan’s Padua Stables. He was purchased for a reported $3.5 million following his first race, won by12 3/4 lengths at Gulfstream Park.

Although he was undefeated going into the Kentucky Derby, with wins in both the Arkansas Derby and Rebel Stakes, some handicappers dismissed Curlin in the Derby because he had not raced as a 2-year-old. The Preakness win, worth $650,000, increased the Smart Strike-sired colt’s career earnings to $1,652,800.