Man O’ War Stakes Surprises
The ninth event on the race card at Belmont Park Racecourse on Saturday, 12 July 2008, was the Grade 1 $500 000 Man O’ War Stakes. It is a race that is run over a distance of one and three eighth miles (eleven furlongs) and is for horses over the age of three. The Man O’ War Stakes is a turf race, and even though some of the contenders lined up for this racing event were seasoned turf veterans, there was one name in particular that stood out, a horse that was making his turf debut – Curlin.
With his owners and trainer looking towards the Arc in France, which is run on turf, great effort has been made in trying to get this racing power house comfortable with the transition from dirt to grass. And even though Curlin looked good during turf training and exercising at Churchill Downs, the Man O’ War Stakes was his first test to see how he would perform on the grass. To make matters worse, he was up against magnificent turf champions such as Better Talk Now, Mission Approved and Red Rocks.
The field of runners consisted of, in post position order, Better Talk Now, Grand Couturier, Mission Approved, True Cause, Sudan, Red Rocks and Curlin. After getting off to a slow start, jockey Robbie Albarado and Curlin trailed the rest of the contenders, watching the ensuing battle between Mission Approved and Sudan. Albarado began to move Curlin up into fourth position and after getting to the stretch, Curlin began to chase down Red Rocks, who had taken the lead. But the burst of energy and speed that everyone had become accustomed to with Curlin was missing. He ran well and was not tired, but for some unknown reason he just wasn’t performing the same way as he usually did on dirt. And being up against the five year old Red Rocks, who has the experience on turf, was not helping Curlin. Red Rocks took the victory, with Curlin in second position and Better Talk Now in third.
Even though some might say that Curlin’s performance was disappointing, many have commented that as it was his debut on turf and looking at the company he held in the racing event, Curlin ran a good race. Trainer Steve Asmussen and majority owner Jess Jackson have said that even though preparing Curlin for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe was their priority, they have not made any definite plans in regard to Curlin’s future racing events, and that they would be monitoring his progress to make the right decisions in Curlin’s best interest. For now, they are satisfied with his effort and might look at another turf event before jumping to final conclusions.