Juddmonte Farm's Hofburg could strike an imposing figure in the $100,000 Curlin at Saratoga Race Course as he looks to use Friday's stakes for 3-year-olds at 1 1/8 miles as a springboard to next month's Grade 1, $1.25 million Travers.
From the Hall of Fame barn of Bill Mott, the homebred colt by Tapit will be making his first start since finishing third in the Belmont Stakes on June 9, 3 ½ lengths behind Justify in his successful bid for Triple Crown immortality. Prior to the Belmont, Hofburg was seventh in the Kentucky Derby on May 5, a spot he earned with a solid runner-up performance in the Grade 1 Florida Derby on March 31, his stakes debut.
Despite a pair of Grade 1 placings and $377,950 in career earnings, Hofburg still has only a single tally in his win column in five starts, a maiden victory in March, making him eligible for the Curlin, restricted to nonwinners of a graded stakes over a mile in 2018. Mott noted that the colt may be cross entered into Saturday's Grade 2, $600,000 Jim Dandy, also at 1 1/8 miles. Entries for the Jim Dandy, the traditional local prep for the Travers at 1 ¼ miles on August 25, will be taken on Wednesday.
“We want to have a look at it,” Mott said of the Curlin. “It doesn't always have to be easier. Sometimes they can get a really nice horse in the Curlin. We want to have the option. Our focus is on the Travers at 10 furlongs.”
Hofburg has turned in four breezes at Saratoga since the 1 ½-mile Test of the Champion, including a four-furlong move in 49.03 seconds on Sunday over the Oklahoma training track.
“He's doing good,” said Mott. “We got a useful work yesterday and he galloped out good. He was strong this morning walking the shedrow. He's been eating well enough. He held up well throughout the Triple Crown races and he seems as though he's improved since.”
Irad Ortiz, Jr., who piloted Hofburg in both the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes, has the return call. The pair will break from the rail.
Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, who conditioned two-time Horse of the Year and Hall of Fame inductee Curlin, will be represented by a pair of contenders in this year's iteration in Jackpot Ranch's Zing Zang and Winchell Thoroughbred's homebred Reride.
Zing Zang, by Tapit, was a close third last time out in an allowance on the Belmont Stakes undercard while Reride, by Candy Ride, returned from a third-place finish in the Group 2 UAE Derby in March to finish fifth in the Mystic Lake Derby on the turf at Canterbury Park on June 23. The stablemates wrapped up their preparations for the Curlin on Monday, each working four furlongs in 50.04 and 50.77 seconds, respectively.
“Both of them blew out really nice today. We were lucky enough to beat the weather,” said Asmussen, still looking for his first win in the Curlin. “This race is a little extra special. Hopefully, we can win it.”
Zing Zang will be ridden from post 3 with Ricardo Santana, Jr. aboard. Reride will break from the outside post 6 with Jose Ortiz in the irons.
Also entered in the Curlin are a pair from trainer Linda Rice, who will saddle Nicodemus, making his first start since transferring to Rice, and Lincoln Stable's American Lincoln, second to Navy Commander in the Long Branch on July 7 at Monmouth Park last time out. Madison's Luna, winner of the Grade 3 Hutcheson in March at Gulfstream Park, completes the field.
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