At all rungs of the class ladder, there has been no shortage of highlights among the Curlin babies over the last week.
Many eyes were on the five stakes races at Santa Anita on March 7, but a sprint allowance on the Santa Anita undercard drew the attention of anyone who followed Curlin’s progeny. Five-year-old Pulling G’s (Torrid Affair, by Alydeed) had missed the board on February 7 for the first time in five starts, and he returned for the first time since then. He came back at a similar level, an N1X allowance, and cut back from seven furlongs to six and a half. It would be time for Pulling G’s to show if last race was just a one-off, or if something might need to change soon.
The race did not start the best for Pulling G’s, as Northern Iowa broke inward and squeezed him a bit. Pulling G’s had shown two starts back that he could roll late after a bad start, so he was still in with a chance.
Rider Victor Espinoza got him going, and he tracked wide off of the first flight of horses down the backstretch. He let the multi-way pace battle unfold. that front flight, led by Brando the Birdman, clicked off a quarter in 22.16 and a half in 44.70. Pulling G’s swept through on the outside as the field came around the far turn. Most of the tight early pack dropped away, and Pulling G’s only had four to beat as the field turned for home. I B Mike tried to scurry away from the front line, but Pulling G’s had dead aim. He rolled past in the final sixteenth, and held off a late run from Big Tire to win by 3/4 length.
The race was an auspicious sign: he cleared N1X on his fourth attempt, and again showed the ability to surmount some trip trouble and run a strong race.
Later on last Saturday’s Santa Anita card, Curlin’s Fox (Foxysox, by Foxhound) made her second career start. After a sharp maiden win down the hill she had been entered in the Santa Ysabel, but was scratched in order to stay on the green stuff. She instead turned up a week later in the China Doll Stakes, a turf mile at Santa Anita. Running well in the China Doll runs in the family: her dam Foxysox won that race in 2006, and Curlin daughter Diversy Harbor (Motokiks, by Storm Cat) annexed it last year. On the strength of her maiden win, the class of her breeding, and the presence of big money rider Mike Smith in the irons, she was sent off the even-money choice in the field of eight.
Curlin’s Fox broke well, and Smith got her settled along the rail by the time the field hit the far turn. She was near the back of the pack, but not out of touch by any means — just about four lengths off the early pace of She’s a Big Winner. She held her ground as the field hit the far turn, and then Mike Smith angled her out for the drive. At that point, Singing Kitty had also angled off, and was closer to the leader. Singing Kitty struck the front in shallow stretch, though She’s a Big Winner held on gamely along the rail. Several lengths back, Curlin’s Fox was moving best of the rest. She flew down the outside in the final furlong, and got up to beat She’s a Big Winner by a nose for the place.
Though Curlin’s Fox did not win the China Doll, her future looks promising. Her breeding suggests that she should only get better as the races get longer, as both sire and dam were multiple graded stakes winners in longer route races. No official word has come out about her next start, though it would be no surprise to see her in the Providencia (GIII). That race is the next in Santa Anita’s series of three-year-old fillies’ turf stakes, and it is already clear she can run well on the track.
Air Squadron (Air France, by French Deputy) has been having a tough time lately. The five-year-old horse looked to be getting into a good stride over the summer, when he rattled off two straight wins at Churchill and Ellis, and then finished a creditable fourth behind Power Ped at Kentucky Downs. Since that race, Power Ped has become one of the stronger horses on the west-coast turf circuit, with a pair of on-the-board finishes behind Finnegans Wake in graded events. Air Squadron, however, has not had the same sort of success. He struggled in two allowance starts afterwards, including one at Hawthorne on the Buck’s Boy undercard, and then moved into the straight claiming ranks at Gulfstream through the winter.
On March 8, he dropped to the lowest level of his career. He faced $8,000 company, non-winners in six months, going a mile and a sixteenth over the Gulfstream dirt. It was a precipitous class drop, but after he struggled in $20,000 and $16,000 company, it appeared his connections were just trying to find a place where he could win.
The gates opened, and Edgard Zayas sent Air Squadron right to the front. Never again was there the least bit of suspense in the race.
Air Squadron ran a race of his own. By the midpoint of the backstretch, he had opened up almost a dozen lengths on his closest competitor, 7/5 favourite Lure of the South. That adversary separated himself from the rest of the field and attempted a run at the leader, but Air Squadron just kept running. He kept daylight behind him all the way to the wire, and finished four lengths in front of the chasing Lure of the South. That pair finished over a dozen lengths ahead of Romance Argentino in third.
This marked Air Squadron’s first win since a victory at Ellis in July of last year. It was a positive sign: the race was a large class drop, but Air Squadron performed exactly the way he should have on such a drop. He won in commanding fashion.
Tuesday, the Sam Houston winter meet wound down. Five-year-old Curlin mare Melody Lin (Melody Que, by Sadler’s Wells) raced on closing day. It was her second start of the meet; she had finished second in a one-mile N1X turf allowance on February 20. That second-place finish was particularly notable in light of the fact that it was her first start in over a year. Melody Lin had not raced since February 7, 2014, when she won a $16,000 N3L at Tampa Bay. On the move from the Jamie Ness barn to the Dallas Keen, she did not seem to have lost a step.
On March 10, second off the lay, Melody Lin did one better.
Rail-drawn, Melody Lin settled inside and a few lengths off the early pace set by 80/1 shot Estialescq. The pack was spread out early, she sat solidly near the front. She gradually improved position down the backstretch, and waited for an opening. Turning for home Estialescq left the rail, and Melody Lin pounced. At the three-sixteenths pole, there were four in a line: Melody Lin on the inside, the pacesetting Estialescq, early stalker Cash Policy, and the late-running Yaya J on the outside. Melody Lin edged ahead, and then turned on the afterburners in the final furlong. Yaya J tried to keep up, but Melody Lin had the most. She crossed the wire 2 1/2 lengths in front.
For a horse who had not raced in over a year, Melody Lin has gotten back into form nicely, and set her five-year-old year off to an auspicious beginning. Hopefully she can stay healthy and stay in the form she showed in her two Sam Houston starts.
Between Curlin’s Fox, Pulling G’s, Air Squadron, and Melody Lin, the week was full of highlights about Curlin babies! With three racing in stakes at Oaklawn today, and more around the country, hopefully next week can go even better.