Saturday, Curalina (Whatdreamsrmadeof, by Graeme Hall) made her stakes debut in the Acorn (GI).
It was not the first time she had been entered in a stakes race, or even entered in a Grade I. Despite still being a maiden at the time, Curalina had been entered in the Spinaway Stakes (GI) at Saratoga, off a second-place finish in her career debut. Dreams of a Curlin baby winning Tom Durkin’s final race danced in my head, but a scratch the morning of the race dashed those dreams. Her connections instead alluded to a return at Belmont against maiden special weight company, but that did not happen either.
Instead, she disappeared.
Come winter, thanks to dispatches on Twitter from Hillary when she visited Aiken, we found out Curalina was safe, sound, and training up to her three-year-old season. She returned to the worktab, and showed up in the entry box in March: in a maiden special weight on the Florida Derby undercard. Despite having been on the shelf since July at the Spa, the public sent her off odds-on. The public had it exactly right. Despite some trouble at the start, Curalina won her three-year-old bow by a length.
In line with her scratch from the Spinaway, Todd Pletcher and Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners remained a bit cautious with their placement of Curalina. She ran on Oaks day, but neither in the Kentucky Oaks nor the Eight Belles. She instead returned in an N1X for three-year-old fillies on the undercard. She stretched from her seven-furlong maiden win to a mile and a half, and dazzled in the process. Distraction set the pace, Garden Princess pressed. Curalina stalked to their outside, and made her move through the far turn. Past the furlong pole, she turned on the afterburners. Curalina crossed the wire eight and a quarter lengths ahead of her closest competition, and made it clear why her connections had considered running her in a Grade I while still a maiden.
After such a win, even the most careful connections would have to figure she deserved a shot in stakes company. They did not disappoint, entering Curalina in the Grade I Acorn on Belmont day. It would be her first stakes race.
Curalina started poorly, but she got into stride quickly. John Velazquez got her running well, and in touch with the lead quickly. Sometimes horses handle being sent up that quickly well, but often not. Velazquez was urging her a bit, but not putting her under a drive that early; that boded well for her to beat the odds. Coming into the far turn, she remained outside, but sat only a few lengths off of Promise Me Silver and Miss Ella.
Turning for home, By the Moon took command. Just over a furlong from home, By the Moon had three lengths on the rest of the field. Miss Ella was fading, but a pair of horses looked loaded enough to get close: Wonder Gal and Curalina. Passing the sixteenth pole, Wonder Gal stalled out just a little, but Curalina kept on closing. Despite the poor start, despite having to close up ground early, Curalina had more to give. She steadily advanced, got her head in front, and edged past to win by a neck.
It was not easy, but she did it. Curalina’s first stakes start resulted in a Grade I win. She became Curlin’s third North American Grade I winner after Palace Malice and Stellar Wind, and marked herself a three-year-old filly to watch.
The victory in the Acorn marked not only Curalina’s first stakes win — but also a personal first.
I had seen a few Curlin babies run before. I had seen Maria Maria hit the board in stakes company twice at Arlington over the years, and saw Conquest Curlinate miss by a nose in the Illinois Derby at Hawthorne this April. I had seen a few others in person, though they missed the board: Please Explain, Air Squadron, Whirl, even Keen Ice in the Kentucky Derby.
I had never seen a Curlin baby win in person until Curalina won the Acorn. For that, Curalina will always be one of my favourites, even among the Curlin babies.