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Racing Fever: Curlin to Try Turf, Proud Spell, Colonel John Seek Redemption

A Champion Born, a King is put to the Test

Last Saturday, Zenyatta, the big four year-old filly, went to her sixth career start looking a little sweatier than usual. And even under circumstances that showed the girl was having an off day, the “Amazon” managed to hold off rival Tough Tiz’s Sis, winning the Grade 1 Vanity Handicap by half a length. For Zenyatta, an “off day” means winning by a half length instead of 4 and a half. Until the Vanity, no horse has come to challenge Zenyatta in the stretch, at closest trailing her by a 1 ® lengths — and that horse happened to be Bob Baffert trainee, Tough Tiz’s Sis. Openly admitting he had been trying to avoid a match-up with his filly against Zenyatta again, Baffert had hoped the daughter of Tiznow would be able to keep her two-race winning streak rolling. It was not to be, as the reigning Queen of California proved to be the best even when she didn’t feel like it.

Trainer John Shirreffs says Zenyatta is likely to run next in a Del Mar race, and he has no interest in racing her against the boys. This is a shame, as Curlin looks likely to skip the Breeder’s Cup Classic this year, and the stakes could be raised by throwing the boys at Zenyatta on her own home turf (or rather, synthetics).

This will be the first time in history the Breeder’s Cup will be raced on synthetics, giving horses from California the home advantage. Curlin has never raced on synthetics, but he is about to try his hoofs on turf for the first time this Saturday.

After weeks of deliberation on where the 2007 Horse of the Year can literally be allowed to race next, due to 20% of his ownership being court-ordered out of the hands of future convicts, New York is throwing open its arms to welcome the champion back to Belmont. But this time, he’ll be spinning clods of grass into his opponents’ faces. That’s the plan, anyway.

On his quest for world domination, Curlin is being entered into the Man o’ War Stakes this Saturday, a turf race which saw such history as Secretariat sweeping the surface for the first time. Curlin was literally pointed to the race at the last minute, as the ownership of the horse must be given a racing license for whatever state he or she races in. Curlin flew to New York on Thursday after working out on the turf only once prior to race day. The other main race that trainer Steve Asmussen had been considering was the Arlington Handicap in Chicago, which is held on the same day. The contenders in Chicago must be breathing a sigh of relief. But those at Belmont aren’t just a troupe of pansies.

Asmussen had hoped to enter Curlin in the Man o’ War for the graded stakes competition, to truly gauge the champ’s turf debut. Also entered in the handicap are Breeder’s Cup Turf winners Better Talk Now (2004) and Red Rocks (2006), two of the strong competitors that aren’t about to give the champ an easy victory. If Curlin proves to be a worthy contender in the Man o’ War, plans to put the champ on the road to the Arc in France will continue. More than that, Curlin will raise the bar on what caliber horse he really is; as he stands now, Curlin is the most dominant horse on American dirt. If he defeats a field like this on turf, his name will be lifted to the record books. He will be a race horse among race horses.

ESPNews and HRTV will be airing the Man o’ War Stakes this Saturday. Post time is tentatively set to 4:15 p.m. CT.

Proud Spell goes back to bat for trainer Larry Jones

In a horrendous trip in the Grade I Mother Goose Stakes on June 28, Proud Spell stumbled at the start, and after seeming to pull herself together, was checked at the rail and shut out to last in the four-horse field before surging to finish second place, where she was ultimately disqualified to third. The positively abhorrent call for her disqualification was a slap in the face for the talented filly, and she will hopefully clench her redemption this Saturday. After a two week turnaround, she is being entered into the Grade II Delaware Oaks, where she will face a little less polished competition. Proud Spell is the winner of the Grade I Kentucky Oaks and the Grade II Fair Grounds Oaks and her biggest competition this Saturday will be in the form of She’s All Eltish, whose claim to fame is winning the Grade II Bonnie Miss Stakes and placing second in the Grade II Black Eyed Susan Stakes.

HRTV will be airing the Delaware Oaks this Saturday. Post time is tentatively set to 3:02 p.m. CST.

Colonel John set for Comeback

Last seen as the second betting choice and finishing sixth place in the Kentucky Derby, Colonel John is poised to make his comeback this Saturday in the Grade II Swaps Breeder’s Cup Stakes. Back at home on the synthetics after flubbing his first start on the dirt on Churchill, Colonel John won’t have much to keep him from pummeling the field at Hollywood Park. He will be forced to keep a quick step with pacesetter Two Step Salsa, winner of the Affirmed Handicap, and will also face the runner-up to that race, Tres Borrachos. Nownownow, winner of the 2007 Breeder’s Cup Juvenile Turf, will enter the Swaps as his debut synthetics race. Will Colonel John clear his name like how former Derby competitor, Pyro, did in the Northern Dancer Stakes? Let’s hope so, because the Breeder’s Cup Classic is seriously in need of worthy competitors. Asmussen has already said there’s no way Pyro will be going back to synthetics. How about a rematch between Colonel John and Big Brown?

TVG will be airing the Swaps Breeder’s Cup Stakes this Saturday. Post time is tentatively set to 6:50 p.m. CST.

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