#6: twelve days of Curlin babies

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.

#12: Federal Agent breaks his maiden
#11: Miss Frost wins the Tenski Stakes
#10: Curly Queen breaks her maiden
#9: Stopshoppingdebbie wins the Washington State Legislators Handicap
#8: J to the Croft, the longest shot on the board, breaks his maiden
#7: Moulin de Mougin wins the John C. Mabee Stakes

#6: She’s Curly, and the ad hoc match race

Ever since the tragic 1975 matchup of Ruffian and Foolish Pleasure, match races have become almost extinct in American racing.  Unlike the days of American Eclipse and Sir Henry, or Seabiscuit and War Admiral…is it no longer typical to settle a question with a match race.  Even so, they are not completely extinct.  Occasionally, as was twice the case with Soviet Problem, they are planned.

Other times, they happen by chance.

Ten horses, plus one main track only entry, entered a $35,000 starter allowance at 1 1/16 miles over the Laurel grass on October 17.  The race was washed off the turf, and with that, much of the field was washed away as well.  Only two horses stuck around to go a mile on the dirt instead: She’s Curly and Sky Given.

She’s Curly (Mo Cheoil Thu, by In the Wings) had only raced once before on the dirt.  She was third in her debut, a $12,500-$10,500 maiden claiming race in March of this year.  She returned against a bit tougher on turf next out, and then graduated in a maiden special at Pimlico in May, also over grass.  She’s Curly was a bit over her head in allowance and stakes company, but finished a close-up fourth on the drop to starter company.

She returned to that level on October 17, but faced just one other foe.  Four-year-old Sky Given had far more experience than She’s Curly, and also had a win over dirt.  Both of the fillies, though, had done their best work from off the pace.  Sky Given’s two wins had both come from a handful of lengths off early; She’s Curly had broken her maiden coming from the clouds.  It seemed anyone’s guess who would take the lead; the only guarantee was that strategy would be a little different one-on-one, than it would have been in a full field of ten.

Both runners broke well, but it was Sky Given on the outside who edged clear in the early going.  She’s Curly stayed on her flank early, but gradually dropped back to allow daylight in between her and her single foe.  About halfway through the far turn, rider Alex Cintron finally asked She’s Curly to run, and she started to close up the two-length gap.  Daniel Centeno started to ask Sky Given once the field turned for home, and she started to edge away again.  She’s Curly was not done.  She did not let Sky Given too far out of her grasp, and re-rallied to get within a neck.

Unfortunately, that is as far as she got.  Sky Given maintained position in front of her through the last few strides, and She’s Curly settled for second.

Since then, she has raced twice.  Both times she has stepped up to tougher company and longer routes.  Her November 6 race was less than her best day.  That N1X was another washout from turf to dirt, but she did not fire and finished seventh.  Still, that was over sloppy going, not the fast dirt she had in the match race.  Maybe she just dislikes the slop.  She shipped down to Florida, and resurfaced in a 1 3/8 mile N1X over the Gulfstream grass on December 23.  She was dismissed by the bettors at 49/1, loped along in last most of the way, but got up late for fourth.  The competition may have turned out a little too tough for her there, but she showed enough stamina to stay in touch with those better horses late.

This is one of the stranger races in the twelve days of Curlin babies, in every possible regard.  There were only two contestants.  The Curlin baby did not win.  It looked neither then nor now like some pivotal point in She’s Curly’s racing career.  The race was an uncommon occurrence…and one that She’s Curly was able to turn into a closely contested contest despite looking at two different points like she was losing touch with Sky Given.  She gave it her all, and though she did not win, she and her connections left the racetrack with everything to be proud of.

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