two different paths to the winners’ circle

Within the last few days, two sons of Curlin broke their maiden by open lengths.

Their paths to the winner’s circle could not have been more different.

Three-year-old colt Top of Mind (Over the Edge, by Thunder Gulch) made his career debut on Friday at Laurel.  He had a string of sharp workouts leading up to that career debut, and both his dam as well as his only sibling to race (a half-brother by Harlan’s Holiday named Stormy Holiday) had won on debut.  The public saw all of these as positive signs, and sent him out the 7/5 favourite in a six-furlong maiden special weight over the Laurel dirt on February 13.

The moments before the race got a little tense, as Top of Mind resisted loading into the gate.  The starters got him loaded after a few tries; with the 7 post of 8, he was one of the last to load.  Top of Mind broke on top, but settled to stalk about a length and a half off the pace on the outside.  Going through the turn rider Victor Carrasco urged Top of Mind along, and he responded.  Despite being wide, he gained on pacesetter Tricky Lion.  Little Love and Easy Comparison were making their moves, too: Little Love inside Tricky Lion, Easy Comparison outside him, and Top of Mind widest of all.

Briefly they tussled.  But, entering the final furlong, Top of Mind showed himself to be the best horse that day.  He kicked away, almost immediately opening up daylight on the field.  He crossed the wire an easy 3 3/4 lengths in front of Little Love, who tried all the way to the wire but could not keep up with Top of Mind.

Top of Mind’s connections nominated him for the Triple Crown.  Mid-February is a bit late to get started, and he will have to contend with both the Curse of Apollo and a distinct lack of Derby points so far to get into the field on the first Saturday in May.  Still, it would make sense to see him try tougher company next out.  It is too early to tell since he has not yet been tested, but if he does show himself to be competitive against stakes quality horses, he could be a fun local spoiler in the Preakness.

The Triple Crown was never in the picture for five-year-old Curlinator (Tap Your Feet, by Dixieland Band).  The five-year-old gelding was not nominated in 2013, and did not make his career debut until May 27 of his three-year-old year.  That day he started in a maiden special weight at six and a half furlongs over the Retama dirt, but finished a well-beaten eighth.  He started once more at three, again finishing eighth, but did not race again until October of his four-year-old year.

He dropped to the claiming ranks for that first start in fifteen months, but finished a well-beaten eighth that day.  Going into Saturday, he had started eight times, with his best finish being a clear second in $7,500 company at Retama on November 1.  His last two starts going into Saturday’s race had been at two turns over the Sam Houston dirt, and he finished fourth beaten just three lengths against $10,000 company on January 30 — possibly his best start to that point.

On February 14, Curlinator returned in a $10,000 maiden claiming race going a mile and seventy yards over the Sam Houston dirt, the same distance and class level as his previous race.  Breaking from the 4 gate, he settled along the rail in the middle of a strung-out pack, about five lengths off the early pace.  Approaching the far turn, Curlinator got a hole in front of him, and started to make up ground down the rail.  By the midpoint of the turn, Curlinator, Wedded Prince, and Shades had all advanced upon pacesetter Tauzin My Man, and were swallowing him up.  Curlinator’s run proved strongest, and he had opened up two lengths on the field in shallow stretch.  He drove clear, crossing the wire six and a half lengths ahead of Wedded Prince.

Curlinator’s career on the track has been through fits and starts so far, but he finally put it together on Saturday.  Hopefully he can stay sound, and put forth some more strong performances like he did on Saturday.  The Triple Crown may not be in the cards for Curlinator, but a future as a solid performer going two turns in the Texas claiming ranks looks possible if he can build on his maiden win.

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