The more I think about Whisper to Curlin’s run in the Edward J. Debartolo Memorial Handicap at Remington last night, the more I come away with just one thought: I’m so proud of this guy.
He had only raced away from Prairie Meadows once, an up-the-track finish at Oaklawn back in March. After a string of second-place finishes, he finally broke through when switching to Iowa-bred company. Two starts after breaking his maiden he won an allowance in dazzling fashion. His next out he won the Iowa Breeders’ Derby: his first stakes win, in his first stakes attempt.
The Debartolo was a huge class jump over three-year-olds in Iowa. He faced open company, and he faced older. He was the only three-year-old in that field, facing far more seasoned company. The race was his tenth start. The race was Unbridled Giant’s twentieth start: and he was the least seasoned of Whisper to Curlin’s adversaries. Only Gaelico was trying a stakes for the first time in the race, and everyone else had raced in open stakes company before. Though none in the field had won a graded stakes in the past, most had tried graded company at least once.
The Debartolo was also Whisper to Curlin’s first race on the grass. All nine of his previous starts had been on dirt. Pedigree-wise, seeing him be able to handle it would be no surprise. Curlin himself only raced once on the grass, finishing second in the Man O’War (GI) in 2008.* His babies have done well on the grass, and been a solid 17% first time turf. He is half to six winners, one of whom is a stakes winner on the turf: that one being none other than Palace Rumor. Still, trying the grass for the first time in a stakes race against older is a tough test, no matter how many clues there are that he may be able to handle it well.
The beginning did not bode well for our hero. Whisper to Curlin was one of the slowest out of the gate, and quickly found himself almost a dozen lengths off of the pace set by Bernie the Jet. Him being off the pace near the back of the pack was not in itself a concern: in his allowance win three starts back, he was near the back with half a mile to go, and kicked away to win decisively. However, even then, he was about six back: not twelve, not fifteen. The only time he was ever that far back was in his one maiden attempt at Oaklawn, in which he was about ten lengths back early and ended up beaten by eight.
Still, he didn’t give up, and that’s what I took away from this race more than anything. The field turned for home. He had closed up a bit of distance approaching the far turn, but by the beginning of the stretch he had begun to trail. He fell out of the field of vision of the camera just as he was angling out. Still, though, he had hustle in him. As the wire approached, Whisper to Curlin had regained touch with the field, and crossed the wire not even four lengths beaten. He did not trail off completely — he still had run. Though he finished eighth, and did not ever challenge the leaders, he remained engaged. He closed up a bit late, and did not finish distantly up the track from these older and more experienced runners. He was eighth in the field of nine, but his official margin of defeat was only three and a half lengths all told.
It was not an earth-shattering run. But, it showed a few things. It showed he had fight. It showed he could handle the grass. It showed that despite his being younger, new to the turf, and accustomed to less salty company…he was not a distant outsider. He has some growing to do yet to show he is up to this company again, but the thought is not out of the question.
Whisper to Curlin, you rock. It was great to see you try your hand at the Debartolo, and it will be exciting to watch you wherever you go next.
*This originally said Curlin had not raced on the grass, but Barbaro06’s comment set me right. Thank you!