Welcome back to the twelve days of Curlin babies: a look back on twelve races during 2014 that stand out among races by Curlin’s progeny over the course of the year. They are races I keep returning to in my head, and ones that I am always excited to discuss. They will all have a story, a clear reason why they stand out among the hundreds of races in which I saw Curlin babies race this year.
#8: J to the Croft, the longest shot on the board, breaks his maiden
Growing up, I did not watch a lot of horse racing, but I did always watch the Triple Crown races. From those early days of dabbling in watching the sport, two sets of horses stick in my mind: the Classic race winners, and whoever Pat Day rode. He was my father’s favourite jockey; I have little bits of memories of him pointing out who Day was riding, or me looking on the lists of horses to see who he rode. One of the names from my youth that stuck in my head for this reason was Menifee: a son of Harlan who finished second behind Charismatic in both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness in 1999.
Menifee eventually found his way to the stud barn. One of his daughters, A to the Croft, was a pretty good runner: versatile enough to win on both turf and dirt, and graded stakes placed on dirt and polytrack. She did most of her running over two turns, but was versatile and precocious enough to break her maiden first time out at six furlongs, and then finish second in the six and a half furlong Adirondack Stakes (GII) second out. She raced until the end of her three-year-old year, winning three times and being four times graded stakes placed over fourteen starts.
In 2011, she had a foal by Curlin, a bright chestnut colt who perpetually looks like someone just pegged his right back leg with a snowball.
J to the Croft (A to the Croft, by Menifee) debuted at Aqueduct on April 2. The race was a six-furlong sprint: it looked at first blush a bit short for a son of Curlin out of a Menifee mare, but a perfectly logical debut test…and just the sort of race that his dam won first out, albeit at 2 and not 3. He was only one of two first-time starters in the field, and despite the fact that both his sire and his dam won first out at one turn on the dirt…the public let J to the Croft off at 16/1, the least backed in the six-horse field.
J to the Croft broke near the front of the pack, and settled along the rail. Cashmere Cat settled on his outside, and they ding-dong duelled down the backstretch. Through the far turn, 8/5 favourite Vona came outside, making them three in a line. Once the field turned for home, one of the trio was clearly in front: J to the Croft. Vona tried to go with him, but gradually lost touch with the intrepid leader. Still, J to the Croft had one more challenge. Cost Affective had been tracking a few lengths back, biding his time. He made a confident run on the outside, and easily eclipsed the rest of the runners. Despite being in a duel for so much of the race, J to the Croft just would not go away. Cost Affective kept coming, but nothing he did was enough. The three-year-old son of Curlin, the first-time starter, hit the wire a head in front.
To date, that has still been J to the Croft’s only start over the dirt. He showed up next in an N1X AOC at Aqueduct — going two turns on the turf. He finished fifth that day, trying an off-pace style but getting caught wide. Since then, he has proven himself to be at the very least a good allowance-level turf horse in New York. He has done his best when able to get the lead, which made it difficult for him the two times he ran into an even speedier front end type, Tourist. He still came just a neck shy in an allowance at Belmont in May, and cleared N1X over Los Borrachos and Harpoon in June. He last raced in September at Belmont, finishing second; he got an off-pace ride that time, and was just unable to dispatch with early leader (and Tonito M.’s old rival) Roman Approval.
He has had a few works since, though none since November. Hopefully he comes back in the winter or spring, and can pick up at four where he left off at three. He looks like he got mom’s versatility of surface and distance…and if he got dad’s late-developing influence, J to the Croft will be a fun horse to watch next year.