Curlin is set for his turf debut in the first step of an ambitious attempt that could prove he's the best horse anywhere _ regardless of the surface, competition or continent.
The reigning Horse of the Year will run in the $500,000 Man o'War Stakes over the turf at Belmont Park on Saturday, part of a plan by the owners that would make him the sport's all-time leading money winner and secure a place among the racing's pantheon.
Curlin has won nine of 12 career races on the dirt, including the Preakness and the Breeders' Cup Classic last year and the Dubai World Cup in March. After his last victory, in the Stephen Foster Handicap on June 14, trainer Steve Asmussen said the 4-year-old colt would be pointed to the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in Paris on Oct 5.
The Arc, run on the turf, is considered the premier race in Europe.
"I think this is about the horse's legacy," Asmussen said Tuesday. "To have won the Breeders' Cup Classic in such a strong running ... winning the Dubai World Cup. I think that international racing is going to be very strong in the future and they want Curlin to be in the forefront of that movement."
Curlin has never raced on the turf and has one workout on the surface, going seven furlongs in 1:31.20 on July 1 at Churchill Downs.
"What that did is establish his willingness (to run on the turf)," Asmussen said. "Curlin is well aware of where he is. If it was something he didn't want to go for, he would have given us an indication."
Asmussen chose the 1 3/8th-mile Man o'War over Saturday's Arlington Park Handicap at Arlington Park near Chicago, in part because the lure of stiff competition. Curlin should get it against a field that will include former Breeders' Cup Turf winners Better Talk Now and Red Rocks.
"We don't want to kid ourselves about his turf form," Asmussen said. "I think that we're definitely going to get our wish and a true test of his turf ability."
Curlin doesn't have to win the Man o'War to head overseas, though Asmussen said he would "have to look the best" to continue on to France and a shot at the Arc.
"I think our big question is this Saturday and after that, if all goes well, we still have a lot to do," Asmussen said.
Curlin's bid to run in the Man o'War depends on the ownership group for Curlin receiving a license from the New York State Racing & Wagering Board, a move that appears to be a formality according New York Racing Association president Charles Heyward.
Licensing issues aside, Curlin's bid to measure himself against the world's best turf horses gives horse racing something to cheer about in the aftermath of a troubled Triple Crown season that included the death of filly Eight Belles and Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Big Brown's mystifying last-place finish in the Belmont.
"I'm sure Steve and them feel like he's got a very good chance," trainer Larry Jones said. "They wouldn't just be putting his head out there on the chopping block. He's very, very capable of handling the turf."
Curlin's bid at the Arc is rare for an American-based horse, but not unprecedented. Carry Back, the 3-year-old champion colt in 1961, finished 10th in the 1962 edition, while Tom Rolfe's 3-year-old championship season ended with a sixth-place finish in 1965.
Asmussen said part of the allure of running in the Arc is finding how great his horse can be.
"It's the pinnacle of the game," Asmussen said. "There's a tremendous amount of curiosity on both sides (of the Atlantic)."
A strong finish in the Man o'War would bring Curlin one step closer to becoming the sport's first $10 million horse. He currently is third on the list with career earnings over $9.3 million, trailing only Skip Away ($9.6 million) and Cigar ($9.9 million).
Asmussen plans on shipping Curlin to New York on Thursday.
Associated Press writer Brett Barrouquere in Louisville contributed to this report.