Albarado: With luck, Curlin would be thinking Triple

May 29, 2007 3:39 AM

In Robby Albarado’s mind, Curlin should be shooting for the Triple Crown when he runs in the Belmont Stakes on June 9.

The 33-year-old Albarado, who guided Curlin to an upset victory by a short head over Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense in the Preakness Stakes on May 19, feels that under more advantageous circumstances, Curlin could have won the Derby instead of finishing third by eight lengths, and thus be poised to become to first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.

"Before the Kentucky Derby, I thought I could win it," Albarado said. "That’s how much I believed in Curlin and that’s how much talent I thought he had. But having said that, once Street Sense went by me on the inside at the quarter pole, I knew I was riding at best for second. I got Curlin turned over on his right lead and kind of spanked him a bit and he came on. He wanted to win it. He ran to our expectations, but just ran into a good horse.

"He got away good in the Derby, but got shut off a couple of times before I got to the wire the first time. Through his immaturity (it was only his fourth race), he kind of shuffled himself way back and was 13th or 14th, instead of sixth or seventh, like I wanted to be. That made it harder for him and he had a longer run, but he was really finishing the last eighth of a mile. Everybody kind of lost their focus on him and was looking at the obvious winner and second-place horse (Hard Spun).

"But Curlin made up a ton of ground from the eighth pole to the wire to be beaten eight lengths, so it was a good race for him."

Albarado, who, like many renowned jockeys, emanates from Evangeline country in Louisiana, will be riding in his second Belmont Stakes. He finished fourth aboard Steppenwolfer last year.

"But I’ve won plenty of Grade I’s in New York," said Albarado, who grew up in Lafayette, La., and rode in match races at the age of 11. "Horse racing is a way of life in Louisiana. All I’ve ever wanted out of life was to be a good person, a good family man and a good race rider."

Mission accomplished. He won Santa Anita’s George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award in 2004, was the regular rider of 2003 Horse of the Year Mineshaft, and captured five riding titles at the Fair Grounds, two at Oaklawn Park, two at Keeneland and one at Arlington. He was involved in a serious spill in 1998 at Churchill Downs that resulted in a titanium plate being inserted in his skull. He was uninjured in a mishap aboard Einstein in the Dixie Stakes two races before the Preakness.

His focus now is on the mile and a half Belmont Stakes on the massive one-turn oval in Elmont, N.Y. "I love Belmont Park," Albarado said. "It’s huge and it suits a horse like Curlin, because he’s a big horse and doesn’t negotiate the (shorter) turns that well. He should get over those big sweeping turns real nice."

Should Albarado enhance his national presence with a Belmont victory, he’s likely to remain on the circuit where he’s enjoyed most of his success. Although he was at Hollywood Park for "a cup of coffee" several years ago, a permanent move to Southern California is not in the offing.

"I’m doing well on this circuit," Albarado said, "but you never rule anything out. I enjoyed my brief time in Southern Californian in 2000, but these days, they have a limited amount of horses there, which would limit my opportunities. But you never know."

As to what permeates the DNA in Louisiana that has produced great jockeys such as Eddie Delahoussaye, Randy Romero, Craig Perret, Shane Sellers, Kent Desormeaux, Mark Guidry, Ray Sibille, 17-year-old Joe Talamo and Calvin Borel, who rode Street Sense to victory in the Derby, Albarado was at a loss.

"I don’t know what it is," he said. "Maybe it’s the water or the crawfish."

The homestretch

Agent Ron Anderson, a Las Vegas native representing the nation’s leading money winning rider Garrett Gomez, says Street Sense, Curlin and Hard Spun "are three real good horses. Curlin was lucky to win the Preakness and Street Sense was unlucky to lose it. They both were looking for a target and Curlin got one. Street Sense didn’t.

"I think that probably made the difference," Anderson continued. "But they were both running the last part of it. I watched the Preakness a half a dozen times and the rail that day was thought to be slightly deeper than the outside. The rail is where Street Sense runs best. I think Street sense lost his focus because he was out in the middle of the track. He always runs on the rail and always trains on the rail. The difference possibly was him waiting a bit and Curlin, being lightly raced and needing a target, got the target."

Initially, Anderson felt Street Sense might not run as well away from Churchill Downs, where he won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile by 10 lengths and the Derby by 21/4, but he changed his tune. "I thought that going in (to the Preakness)," Anderson said, "He ran so good and also ran well at Tampa, I’m not sure that’s the case anymore."

Anderson said his relationship with Gomez continues to progress, despite not hitting the board on Any Given Saturday in the Derby and King of the Roxy in the Preakness. "We’re in New York now but we’ll return to California for the Hollywood meet next fall and then the winter meet at Santa Anita," said Anderson, who got Gomez on Hard Spun for the Belmont after Mario Pino was jettisoned following an apparent premature move in the Preakness that resulted in a third-place finish.

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