August 05, 2008

Curlin is heading back to dirt for his next race -- the Woodward Stakes at Saratoga -- but his majority owner says that doesn't necessarily mean the turf experiment is over.

Jess Jackson announced Tuesday that the reigning Horse of the Year will next run in the $500,000 Grade I Woodward on Aug. 30.

Curlin made his turf debut last month, finishing second in the Man o' War Handicap at Belmont Park. Jackson said he considered sending Curlin out on another grass track for his next race but decided to keep the horse closer to home and on a more familiar surface -- at least for now.

"We decided this is the best place to show his talent," Jackson said. "Race him in America. Race him on a surface he's already a champion, and put it in a historic venue where we can add to his legend."

Curlin has been training at Saratoga in upstate New York this summer.

The 4-year-old colt trained by Steve Asmussen dominated on dirt, with nine victories in 12 starts, including the Preakness Stakes, the Dubai World Cup and the Breeders' Cup Classic.

Jackson said a return to the Classic this year is possible, although he remains unconvinced that the synthetic track at Santa Anita where the Breeders' Cup will be held is the right surface for his horse.

The horse has been invited to run in numerous races internationally, including Japan, but Jackson said he doesn't want to burden him by forcing too much travel or changes in surface.

"We're sending mixed messages to him," Jackson said. "If you're in this sport long enough, you certainly learn a horse likes predictability. They like to be certain of what they're going to do. They love consistency. Running back and forth, changing surfaces, didn't seem to be the best thing for him."

Still, Jackson said there remains a good chance Curlin isn't in his last year of racing -- and if he returns next year at age 5, attempts at a turf championship is possible. However, for a top stallion prospect like Curlin to keep racing, potential purses for older horses must go up, Jackson said.

"I want Curlin to stand here in America," Jackson said. "I want him to be appreciated by most of the breeders. I'd like to see his genes. It's a hard decision whether to retire and improve the gene pool or let him run."

Should he run much longer, a future date with racing's other big star, Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Big Brown, could be in the cards. Big Brown rebounded from his last-place finish in the Belmont by winning the Haskell Invitational on Sunday at Monmouth Park.

The Woodward has also been suggested as a possible future racing site for Big Brown, although Jackson sounded skeptical a matchup was imminent.

"Something that would interest me is whether Big Brown wants to evade us or wants to meet us somewhere," he said.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

AP-NY-08-05-08 1521EDT

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