Curlin’s monster weekend

Sires rarely have better weekends than Curlin just had.

Curlin had nine runners hit the board, six of whom won their races.  He had a pair of graded stakes winners: his first fourth-crop stakes winners, as well as his second multiple Grade I winner.  From the claiming ranks to the highest level, and everywhere in between, Curlin babies were running well.

Friday, four Curlin babies saw the starter at the Spa.  They all finished in the money.

Off the Tracks (Harve de Grace, by Boston Harbor), already Curlin’s first fourth-crop winner, took her first swing at stakes company in the Schuylerville Stakes (GIII).  She could not have won her maiden race more impressively, but she was shipping up from Gulfstream for trainer Roderick Rodriguez, who had never before sent runners to Saratoga.  The waters were deeper in the Schuylerville, but she had already shown an ability to come from a bit off — and fight a bit if need be.  As long as she could take her form away from Gulfstream, she looked like a legitimate contender.

Those who had faith that her form could travel were rewarded.

Moment is Right got a lone early lead, but set some sharp fractions.  Off the Tracks, along with Banree and Positively Royal, tracked about a length and a half off.  Through the far turn, Off the Tracks made her move, and was on even terms with the pacesetter going into the stretch.  She edged ahead past the three-sixteenths pole, and found her next gear shortly after striking the front.  She kicked clear to win by 3 1/4 lengths over a chasing Banree.  Off the Tracks proved her class, proved she could take her form away from Gulfstream, and should not be flying under the radar next time she faces stakes company.  She became the first stakes winner of Curlin’s fourth crop, and the first to win a graded stakes as a juvenile.  Curlin had juvenile stakes winners already (Golden Actor, La Grange) and had horses who were graded stakes placed as juveniles (Danette, La Grange), but Off the Tracks was the first Curlin baby to win a graded race at two.

In the very next race, Reversiontothemean (Jet Setting, by Forestry) returned to the $35,000 N3L level.  She had been finding her form last year at Suffolk, just in time for Suffolk to be closed down.  She faltered at Meadowlands, took a long winter break, but finished a smart third at the $35,000 N3L level at Belmont last out going just six furlongs.  The four-year-old filly stretched out to a mile Friday, a better distance.  She saved ground behind 55/1 longshot Kelly’s Prize, and looked like she was making a run at her as the wire neared.  Kelly’s Prize had enough to re-rally on her, though, and Jewelisa got past as well.  However, she still finished third beaten just a length.  Reversiontothemean showed that her third-place finish last out was not a fluke, and she can be competitive on the New York circuit.

Two races later, Bishop’s Pond (More for Me, by More Than Ready) faced winners for the first time.  The three-year-old filly had taken a while to get going, but finally graduated at Belmont on May 15.  She had done her best running from off the pace.  Things looked a bit difficult for her in the early going in her race on Friday, a 1 3/16 mile N1X over the Saratoga grass, as Asperites got her way on the front end early.  However, the fractions were not that slow, and Asperites eventually got some pressure.  Bishop’s Pond, at the back of the pack early, began a sustained bid down the backstretch.  She advanced up the rail, saving all the ground, and angled out turning for home.  Once she had some room, she capped off her run with a sharp turn of foot.  She split horses, had clear sailing, and sprinted away.  Bishop’s Pond crossed the wire 1 3/4 lengths clear of a cavalry charge place photo.  She has shown solid improvement through the spring and summer, and her strong showing at 1 3/16 miles here suggests she will find her future in the longer turf routes.

In the very next race, Pulling G’s (Torrid Affair, by Alydeed) tried the Saratoga dirt for the first time.  A lightly-raced five-year-old, he started his career in New York last fall.  He shipped west for the winter, had been on break since March, and returned in an N2X going six furlongs over the dirt.  He had shown versatility, the ability to run on the front or rally from off.  That looked particularly useful after the speed of the speed scratched.  Pulling G’s stalked on the outside early, about two lengths off the pace set by Scatter Joy.  Approaching the turn for home, Junior Alvarado asked the five-year-old gelding for run.  He responded, and struck the lead just past the furlong pole.  He edged ahead, and though the grey Doubledown Again made an honest effort to run him down, Pulling G’s scored by half a length.  Given his racing record, it would make sense to see him keep meticulously working through his conditions.  However, he is lightly raced enough that an advance to stakes company someday would not come as a surprise.

The win by Pulling G’s capped off a huge day for Curlin at Saratoga; out of four starters, three won and one came in third.  However, that was not all Curlin did on Friday.  Down at Laurel, Top of Mind (Over the Edge, by Thunder Gulch) made his first start since finishing sixth in the Tesio three months ago.  He returned to a Laurel oval over which he had broken his maiden at first asking, and then finished second in an allowance.  It turned out that either the layoff, the return to Laurel, or both agreed with the three-year-old colt.

Top of Mind settled near the back of the pack early, as a trio of runners on the front ensured a relatively hot pace.  I’m Mr. Blue ran in the middle, between the two packs, and then Top of Mind stayed near the front of the rear flight.  Through the turn the pack started to close ranks.  Turning for home Top of Mind had to swing outside, but he found clear track to do so.  Overthespeedlimit and Chambers Bay continued to duel on the front, but both Top of Mind and I’m Mr. Blue were coming for them.  Passing the sixteenth pole Top of Mind had the best momentum, and he edged clear to win by a half-length over I’m Mr. Blue.  He has every right to improve further off this start, but it was a promising return.

Saturday, a pair of lightly-raced maidens showed their best to date.

Exaggerator (Dawn Raid, by Vindication) debuted June 5 at Santa Anita.  Near the back early, the two-year-old colt was able to run evenly enough to finish 5th, but never mustered enough of a rally to challenge Nyquist and Annie’s Candy.  With the race under his belt, and with the stretch out from five furlongs to six, the public figured Exaggerator was far better intentioned in Saturday’s Del Mar 6th.  A 28/1 bomb on debut, the public let Exaggerator off as the 2/1 chalk in his second start.  He stayed well in touch throughout, but got boxed in along the rail as the field headed through the far turn.  Rider Kent Desormeaux had to angle Exaggerator out well wide, but he finally found precious running room.  23/1 shot Miner’s Light had asserted a clear lead, but Exaggerator was closing that distance with every stride.  He got there just in time, taking the race by a nose.  This made Exaggerator Curlin’s second fourth-crop winner in North America.  It also made him a horse to watch into next time: Exaggerator was a Trip Notes Horse from that race, but also had the talent and gameness to win despite the trouble.

Though Exaggerator was the only Curlin baby to break his maiden on Saturday, he was not the only one to hit the board.  Three-year-old filly Belisama (Bavarian Belle, by More than Ready) debuted in September of last year.  It was not a bad debut; well off the pace early, though she never threatened the runners who hit the board, she was able to improve to fifth.  She took the winter off, and resurfaced in Saturday’s Indiana Grand 6th.  The race was a maiden special weight, but a bit shorter than her Churchill debut: five and a half furlongs, as compared to her six-furlong debut.  She was near the back of the pack early, but able to save ground along the rail.  Though she never got up to threaten winner Elusive Holiday or second-place finisher Flying Jibe, she continued with interest.  She was striding well done the stretch, and able to eclipse pacesetter Sweet Bagg O Joe in time to nab the show.  With more fitness — and quite probably more distance — Belisama should improve.

Though no Curlin babies ran at Saratoga on Saturday, two ran on Sunday.  As it happened, they were both in the same race: Curalina (Whatdreamsrmadeof, by Graeme Hall) and Danette (Sugar Britches, by Dixieland Band) both ran in the Coaching Club American Oaks (GI).  Both horses came into the race off of wins: Curalina won the Acorn last out after a terrible trip, and Danette finally broke her maiden last out at Belmont.  Danette, of course, was no stranger to Grade I company; she finished third in the Chandelier (GI) last year, and was a solid fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (GI) as well.  Curalina went off the 4/5 chalk.  Danette went off the 38/1 longest shot on the board.  Both acquitted themselves well.

I’m a Chatterbox, racing for the first time since finishing third in the Kentucky Oaks, gunned to the lead.  Curalina tracked just about two lengths back early.  Danette, on the other hand, settled near the back of the pack.  In the early going, Danette trailed everyone but known from-the-clouds type Include Betty.  I’m a Chatterbox stayed on the front end, though both Curalina and Conquest Eclipse stayed well on her heels.

Entering the far turn, Chide and Danette were both trying to rally from the back of the pack, but one of those two was moving better: the daughter of Curlin.  Meanwhile, on the front end, Conquest Eclipse was dropping out of it.  Curalina, however, turned up the pressure on I’m a Chatterbox.  That pair asserted a clear lead down the stretch, leaving only one question on the win end: would Curalina pass I’m a Chatterbox?  She never did; I’m a Chatterbox hit the wire a nose in front.  However, the head-on view revealed something that the side view concealed.  I’m a Chatterbox drifted out in the last few strides, pushing Curalina out as well.  With the margin at the wire being just a nose, and with Curalina moving as well as she was before (and even just after) she was herded out, rider John Velazquez had a solid claim for an objection.  The stewards took a look, and took I’m a Chatterbox down.  I’m a Chatterbox was placed second, and Curalina had won the Coaching Club American Oaks.  She became Curlin’s second multiple Grade I winner (after Palace Malice), and his third multiple graded stakes winner (Palace Malice, Stellar Wind).

As for Danette?  She missed the board, but it was not for lack of trying.  Though she never challenged the top two, she continued with interest all the way to the wire.  She was only beaten for third by the surging Include Betty, who swooped in to win their little duel by a head.  It was an encouraging first race back after breaking her maiden, and suggests that Danette could do well staying around the Spa for the rest of the summer.

Closing out a weekend of solid runs by Curlin babies was Colonial Power (Provincial, by Pulpit).  This three-year-old colt had debuted at Santa Anita on June 27.  Well off the pace in his debut, he rallied well enough for fifth, though he at no point looked like the winner of the race.  In Sunday’s Del Mar 9th, a five and a half furlong maiden special weight on dirt, Colonial Power took a different tactic.  When the gates opened, Tyler Baze sent Colonial Power.  J Serino also wanted the lead, so the pair duelled.  A wall of horses chases about a length behind those two, but Colonial Power and J Serino had their own little race on the front.

Turning for home, Colonial Power wrested the lead away from J Serino.  He mustered as much of a head in front before his rival came back along the inside.  J Serino would not quit.  He fought his way past Colonial Power, and edged away to prevail over the Curlin colt by half a length.  Colonial Power still had enough to hold on for second, holding off the pair of Clickjab and Alamo.  Though J Serino outgamed Colonial Power to the wire, it was still Colonial Power’s best start so far, and he can improve from this — particularly because it suggests he might do his best work on the front, and not in the pack.

All in all, the weekend was a special one for Curlin, his babies, and his fans.  He had a new graded stakes winner, a new multiple graded stakes winner, and a handful of horses to watch for the future.  Here’s hoping the summer of Curlin babies continues.

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