The horse could become the first in 125 years to win a Kentucky Derby without running as a 2-year-old.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Kentucky Derby purists cling to these truths: a horse can't win if he didn't run as a 2-year-old or if he comes into the race with three or fewer career starts.
It's been 125 years since Apollo won after skipping his 2-year-old season, and not since Regret in 1915 has such a lightly seasoned horse worn the blanket of red roses.
Arkansas Derby winner Curlin -- unbeaten in three career races -- tries to overcome both those obstacles in Saturday's 133rd Derby.
All that history and negativity working against his horse doesn't bother trainer Steve Asmussen.
"We're not running against history," he said Monday. "We're running against who they load up."
Six other horses have run in the Derby without benefit of 2-year-old races and with three or fewer starts. The best any of them managed was a sixth-place finish by Showing Up last year.
Asmussen dismissed suggestions that Curlin's lack of racing experience could keep him from the winner's circle.
"He exudes confidence and he's got a great presence about him," the trainer said. "I feel great about the position we're in. He's not worried about anything, why should you be?"
Conventional wisdom suggests young colts need the mental and physical tests of racing as 2-year-olds to succeed later, especially in the Derby, a chaotic 2-minute stampede expected to feature a full field of 20 horses this year.
Curlin will find out what that's like Saturday; Asmussen already knows. The 41-year-old trainer, who also plans to enter Zanjero, has tried the Derby three times before. His best result was a ninth-place finish by Fifty Stars in 2001.
"I've been guilty in the past of having my Derby horses run their best before they got here," Asmussen said, referring to some who raced frequently trying to win enough money to make the field.
Curlin's three victories have been by a combined 28 lengths. Asmussen saddled him for his last two -- the Rebel Stakes and Arkansas Derby -- after his clients beat out several owners and trainers who wanted to buy the horse.
After Curlin won his debut in February, owners William Gallion and Shirley Cunningham (whose great-grandfather Charles Curlin inspired the colt's name) sold 80 percent of him to a partnership.
Jess Jackson, founder of Kendall-Jackson winery, owns 31 percent; Satish Sanan of Padua Stables owns 29 percent; and George Bolton, who owns a small San Francisco investment firm, has 20 percent.
The owners agreed Curlin would race in different silks each time, so it's Bolton's turn to see his colors worn by jockey Robby Albarado in the Derby.
"We didn't buy him for this race. We weren't thinking we were going to be standing here," Bolton said, gesturing around the Churchill Downs stable area. "In the Arkansas Derby, he looked like a horse that had been doing it two or three years, not two or three times."
Asmussen has been around horses since he was a kid. He's the son of two trainers and his younger brother Cash is a successful former jockey. The Texan had a brief fling with a riding career of his own, but he struggled to keep his weight down.
Asmussen's 200-horse stable is spread around the country. He racked up a single-season record for victories with 555 in 2004.
"His numbers show he's a win machine," Albarado said. "I know what Steve expects from a jockey. He expects to win a lot. There's not much time to make excuses. He expects great results."
Asmussen has assistants with each string of horses he keeps at various tracks, but he's hands-on during training hours. He gets on a pony to lead his horses to the track for workouts and it's rare that his thumb isn't punching on a PDA.
"All the people who work for him are extremely focused," Bolton said. "He plans way in advance. Everything is not an accident with Steve Asmussen."
Last year, Asmussen was suspended six months by the Louisiana Racing Commission for a positive drug test on one of his horses in that state. He wasn't at Evangeline Downs the day the horse ran and denied any wrongdoing.
Asmussen thought the punishment overly harsh, but he accepted responsibility. He spent the six months with his wife and three sons -- ages 8, 6, and 4 -- while top assistant Scott Blasi ran things.
Although his job keeps him on the road and away from home, family is important to Asmussen. He took a three-day break last weekend to fly home to Arlington, Texas, to attend his oldest son's first communion. His wife and sons will be joining him for Derby Day.
That's when bettors could make Curlin the favorite, a role Asmussen says he accepts "only if it has something to do with the outcome."
He knows the questions about Curlin won't stop until the race ends. And Asmussen has one of his own.
"How would he deal with getting beat?" he said. "We don't want to find out."