The year is drawing to a close, and it is time to look back on the races that made 2014 a good year in horse racing. Everyone has their opinion on the top (insert arbitrary number here) races of the year, but Blinkers Off cannot claim to have watched every race. However, I have watched a meaningful fraction of the races run by Curlin’s progeny this year, as many as I have been able to get my hands on.
Hence: the twelve days of Curlin babies.
This countdown revisits twelve races from the year that have stuck with me the most. They are races I keep returning to in my head, and ones that I am always excited to mention when discussing the Curlin babies on here or on Twitter. There are a lot of excellent races that did not make the list, and they may not all be the most historically significant races among the Curlin babies this year. For example, you won’t see Curlin’s Princess’s maiden win (the first of Curlin’s third crop), La Grange’s Cinderella Stakes win (the first stakes win of Curlin’s third crop), or even Palace Malice’s Met Mile win (the second Grade I race won by a Curlin baby). However, they will all have a story, a clear reason why they stand out among the hundreds of races I watched this year in which the Curlin babies were in action.
#12: Federal Agent breaks his maiden
Federal Agent (Gwenjinsky, by Seattle Dancer) debuted in November of his two-year-old year, and did not have the most auspicious start. He drew into a dirt mile at Aqueduct against a pretty good horse named Normandy Invasion, trailed the entire way, and finished beaten over forty lengths. He did far better next out, on the stretch to nine furlongs, but played second fiddle that time. In fact, it took a while to figure it out. Federal Agent travelled all over: Florida, New York, Kentucky, Louisiana. He tried dirt, turf, and polytrack. He went as short as a mile, and as long as a mile and a quarter.
Normandy Invasion was not the only heavyweight Federal Agent ran into early on. His fourth time out, he was second just two lengths behind a pretty solid turf router: two-time graded stakes winner War Dancer. In his very next race, he finished third behind two more eventual graded stakes winners: Hardest Core and Unitarian. Still, as he kept crossing the wire third, fourth, fifth…finally he dropped into claiming company. He kept trying, though he finished no better than second in his first sixteen starts.
September 12 was different. He raced in a $15,000 claiming race; this was one of the lower levels of his career, but had been a well-beaten second in a $10,000 race at Ellis two starts before. He went a distance relatively short compared to most of his tries: 1 1/16 miles.
Midpack early, he advanced…but this time, he just kept going. He kept going well enough to gain through the far turn, take advantage of a fading pacesetter, and lead by daylight come shallow stretch. He kept going well enough to make it home 12 1/4 lengths in front. After twenty-two months of almost, not quite, and up the track…Federal Agent finally won.
Just a win by a horse who had tried so many times merited celebration as it was. However, two starts later, he showed it was no fluke. After a flat seventh-place finish in his first start against winners — a seven and a half furlong grass race that may have been too short for him, he stretched back out to eight and a half furlongs and prevailed by half a length against $15,000 company at Churchill. Almost two years of being the bridesmaid, he had now won two of his last three. The rest of the story remains to be written, of course. He has raced once since then, a fifth place finish against a tougher N2X field at Turfway. Beyond then, only time will tell. As Federal Agent is still only four, he could have plenty more good years if he stays sound.
Federal Agent may not be a stakes horse like the ones who beat him so early in his career. He may not even be an allowance-level runner. Still, seeing that Federal Agent still had the heart after sixteen straight losing races to win race number seventeen, and do so decisively? It was a thrilling surprise, and a highlight of the racing year.