#2: 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
#5: Please Explain wins the Suncoast Stakes
#4: Golden Actor breaks his maiden
#3: Keen Ice breaks his maiden

#2: Whisper to Curlin wins the Iowa Breeders’ Derby

Earlier this year, when I started compiling my (aspiring-to-be) complete list of Curlin babies, I stumbled across a guy named Whisper to Curlin.  In addition to being a Curlin baby, he was closely related to Palace Malice.  Whisper to Curlin’s dam is Whisperifyoudare; she also produced Palace Rumor, who then produced my favourite racehorse ever to put on a saddle.  Thanks to that close connection to Palace Malice, I started to pull for him particularly strongly.

Things looked pretty hard-luck for him in the early going.  He had finished second at Prairie Meadows against Iowa-breds in both of his starts at two, had a tough time in one start against open company at Oaklawn (first off a seven-month lay), and then finished second twice again at Prairie Meadows.

In one of those starts, back in April, he had finished as the bottom end of an all-Curlin exacta.  That was how I had even found out Sheriff Curly existed: I knew Whisper to Curlin was racing that night, but it had not quite sunk in when I peeped at the entries where the “Curly” part of Sheriff Curly had come from.  I was already keyed up about the Illinois Derby, which was coming up the next morning, and seeing an exacta of Curlin babies was a beautiful beginning to the weekend.  Next out, he went off odds-on, but still could not quite get past Denali Tiz a Park.

Finally, dropping back to state-bred company again, he graduated.  He returned to face state-bred N1X company, mustering third behind older foe No Time Limit and stablemate Ooey Gooey.  Next out, in a state-bred N1X allowance optional claimer, he turned the tables on Ooey Gooey and finished 5 3/4 lengths in front.  Though the maiden win was at just six furlongs, the allowance triumph showed he could win at two turns.

This was enough to set him up for his first stakes attempt: the 1 1/16 mile Iowa Breeders’ Derby.  The bettors — particularly, an early wagerer who put five grand on his nose — figured he was well set for this spot.  As the gates flung open, our hero was 2/5, and it was time for him to prove that this faith was well-placed.

Whisper to Curlin broke from the 5 gate.  He went four wide into the clubhouse turn, but settled near the back of a very tight main pack down the backstretch.  He chased only two lengths off a pace set by his stablemate, familiar foe Ooey Gooey.  He circled the pack through the far turn, and midway through the bend had confronted that pacesetter.  Turning for home the pair was head and head, and Ooey Gooey fought Whisper to Curlin as gamely as could be.  I willed him home, cheering and urging loudly enough that I briefly feared my upstairs neighbour would come knocking on my apartment door.

I needn’t have worried.  No one came knocking, and Whisper to Curlin knew exactly what to do come the sixteenth pole.  That old pattern of finishing second seemed but a memory.  He got away, and crossed the wire a clear 2 3/4 lengths the best.

Whisper to Curlin has only raced once since then.  He shipped down to Remington to try turf — and older stakes horses — for the first time in the Edward J. DeBartolo Memorial Handicap.  Though he was eighth that day, he was not far up the track, finishing just 3 1/2 lengths behind the winner.  He showed an ability to handle turf, and showed that if he could grow into himself just a bit more, he could likely come back and contend.  As a three-year-old (or, four-year-old as of Thursday!) son of Curlin, an ability to improve with age and experience seems likely.  He has shipped out to Oaklawn for the winter, and though he has not published works yet…once it is time to go, he will be an exciting colt to watch.

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