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Red Rocks shocks Curlin at Belmont

The 49th running of the Man O’ War was just another weekend graded stakes race at Belmont Park for the casual horse racing enthusiast. That is B.C. — Before Curlin.

The defending Horse of the Year was entered into the 1 3/8-mile race late last week on the firm inner turf and suddenly there was a buzz. Curlin, which had won four straight Grade I races, was switching to the turf for the first time.

The New York Racing Association was hoping to cash in on Curlin’s appeal, and offered free admission and free parking for Saturday’s card. But Curlin, which won five straight Grade I races on the turf, couldn’t translate his success to the turf and finished second in front of a sparse crowd of 8,428.

Instead it was Irish-bred Red Rocks that captured the $500,000 Grade I race, beating Curlin, last year’s Preakness Stakes winner, by two lengths in 2:12.60.

“It is about beating the field and Curlin happened to be in there,” Red Rocks trainer Brian Meehan said. “Everybody loves a champion and today Red Rocks is a champion.”

Longshots Mission Approved, and Sudan bolted out of the gate and appeared on a suicide mission, setting the pace at a ridiculous 22.29 after a quarter mile.

The speed duel lasted for about a mile, as Red Rocks and Curlin comfortably stalked. Finally, with about three furlongs remaining, jockey Robby Albarado asked Curlin, who got off to a slow start after hitting the side of the gate, to make his move.

And it was a powerful one.

From the outside, Curlin was in an all-out sprint down the stretch, but he couldn’t catch Red Rocks, last year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf champion which won by two lengths and paid $14.40.

“That was a dream trip for my horse,” Red Rocks jockey Javier Castellano said. “I sat behind the speed, made my move and then waited for the late kick of Curlin. I didn’t see Curlin for a while but because I had such a great trip, I thought I would be able to hold on.”

Curlin, the 2-5 favorite which won the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont, the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Monmouth Park, the Dubai World Cup at Nad Al Sheba and the Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs, finished second. The 6-7 exacta paid $32.

“Obviously, he didn’t grab me like he normally does,” Albarado said. “It wasn’t an awful race. He was up against it with a couple of Breeders’ Cup winners. His acceleration was a little different. He felt great, physically. He wasn’t stressed or tired when I pulled him up.”

Before the race, Curlin owner Jess Jackson told reporters the plan would be to run in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in Paris, the top turf race in the world in October.

But those plans are now up in the air.

“This is a bit of a disappointment,” Jackson said. “It’s not a setback, it’s just a puzzlement. Now we don’t know clearly what we might want to do.”

Reach Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at dbutler@timesledger.com or call 718-29-0300, Ext. 143.

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