Racing has not come the most naturally to five-year-old gelding Prince Curlin (No Small Wonder, by Capote). He debuted in December of his two-year-old year, but it took him seventeen tries to break his maiden. On April 1 of last year, he finally hit the wire first. In a $10,000 maiden claiming race at Parx, he duelled early and then pulled away to prevail by three and a half lengths.
N2L proved tough. Over the next year, Prince Curlin raced seventeen more times without a win. He hit the board just once in that stretch, finishing third in as a 95/1 shot at Parx last October. He had started three times in 2015, most recently on April 6th. That had been his first start in two months, and he finished a flat eighth in a $7,500 N2L going six furlongs on the dirt.
Prince Curlin wheeled back six days later at the same level, and stretched out to six and a half panels. Things went a little differently.
Prince Curlin broke with the field, but rider Mychel Sanchez settled him off the pace. He took up the rear by the time the field came out of the chute, already almost ten lengths from early leader Spenny B. If his front-end maiden victory was any indication of his running style, this did not bode well.
However, the pace unfolded favourably for someone running from off the pace. Spenny B. got early pressure from Golden Punch, and set an opening quarter of 22.15. If Sanchez could get Prince Curlin to fire, he would have a chance. Approaching the far turn he began to close up ground. He and Maxwell both made circling moves through the far turn. Prince Curlin ran widest of all, near the centre of the track.
Turning for home, odds-on favourite Habanero Gold took command. He had been tracking Spenny B. and Golden Punch early, moved in along the rail, and kicked clear to open up on the field.
Despite the ground loss, it was Prince Curlin and not Maxwell who could sustain a serious move. He cleared the field, kept running at the leader, and had gotten within a length by the furlong pole. Habanero Gold kept on gamely, but could not hold off the charge from his outside. Prince Curlin fought his way past, and got up to win by a neck.
The win was a long time coming, a year (and eighteen starts) after Prince Curlin broke his maiden. It may well take that long again to see him there again if his race record is any indication, but sometimes the happiest wins are the unexpected ones.