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
#5: Please Explain wins the Suncoast Stakes
Early this year, I was trying to make sense of the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks pictures. Derbyologist’s Triple Crown fantasy league was in full swing, and I was trying to dig up interesting horses to claim for my stable. I spent many late nights earlier this year catching up on stakes races, watching, re-watching, trying to see who I thought had a good chance to make a splash on the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks trails. If anything, I was a bit more focused on finding interesting Oaks prospects than interesting Derby prospects, only because there seemed to be fewer adversaries in the league who were turning their focus to the fillies. The first claiming day was at the end of February, and I had one slot I was looking to fill.
Please Explain (Lizzy’s Bluff, by Pine Bluff) had run into some pretty tough customers during her maiden days. First time out she finished second behind Divine Beauty, who returned to win the Letellier Memorial Stakes and finished third in the Pago Hop at Fair Grounds just today. When she did break her maiden on December 19 of last year, fourth out, she beat House Rules by 5 1/2 lengths. House Rules broke her maiden next out…and though this was still in the future come claim day, she would proceed to hit the board twice in graded stakes. After her maiden win, Please Explain was ready for her first crack at stakes company.
Please Explain resurfaced on February 1 in the Suncoast Stakes, going a mile and 40 yards over the Tampa Bay Downs dirt. She broke near the back of the pack, but there was daylight between her and every other horse before the field hit the clubhouse turn. She settled a clear last early — about half a dozen lengths off of where Nesso pressed Ice for the Lady. Coming down the backstretch, she started making up ground along the rail, closing up the gulf and then picking off horses one by one. By the midpoint of the backstretch, she was near the front of the main pack, with only the pacesetting pair in front of them. Approaching the far turn, several other runners made their moves: Light Bringer, Runway Giant, House Money. Julien Leparoux was patient. He stayed inside, about two lengths off of Nesso, and waited for a hole along the rail. Turning for home, the field left her a gaping hole along the rail, and Please Explain shot right through. By the three-sixteenths pole, her head was in front. By the furlong pole, she had opened daylight. She won going away, six lengths ahead of Nesso.
She showed a lot in that race. Despite the pace pressure, the early fractions were not particularly fast: 24:59 for the quarter, 25.42 for the half. Still, she closed emphatically, and won going away. This was significantly farther off the pace than she had been in her maiden win, showing she had some versatility of pace. The win was visually impressive, and enough to convince me that she was who I needed to claim for my stable.
Unfortunately — for my fantasy stable and, more importantly, for her and her connections — Please Explain’s racing luck has been far tougher since that win in February. She tried graded company next out in the Grade III Honeybee, and finished third…but was disqualified for a positive test for methylprednisolone, a corticosteroid that is allowed, but not within a week of race day. She just plain did not fire as the favourite in the Fantasy (GIII), finishing a flat seventh. Even so, the Tom Proctor trainee was a surprise entrant in the Kentucky Oaks (GI) — though she had no points, there were open gates. She went off at 52/1, and again did not fire. She did get a well-deserved break after that fraught trip down the Oaks trail, resurfacing to try grass in an allowance optional at Arlington over the summer. She finished fourth, with a mild re-rally late in the race, behind lone speed Seeking Treasure. It was not an eye-popping effort like the Suncoast, but more than she showed in the Honeybee or the Oaks. She has not seen the starter since then, though she resurfaced on the worktab on December 18, and again on December 24.
Those works were both at Tampa Bay Downs: the same site as that win in the Suncoast. We can only hope she can get her four-year-old year on track at the same place where she pulled off her most dazzling win to date.