Welcome back to the Twelve Days of Curlin Babies: a look back on twelve races during 2015 that stand out. Among hundreds of races by Curlin’s progeny through the course of the year, they are the ones I keep returning to in my head, the ones that I am always ready and excited to discuss.
#8: Copperplate finds his place
Four-year-old gelding Copperplate (Verdana Bold, by Rahy) had always shown some promise. He broke his maiden third time out, in August of last year, in a turf sprint at Ellis. He cut his teeth in allowance company at Kentucky Downs, Keeneland, and Fair Grounds, on turf and dirt, going long and short, but never finished better than fourth. He dropped into the claiming ranks for a pair of dirt sprint starts at Oaklawn; he fared no better there.
A trip back north for the spring and summer yielded a bit more fruit, finally. He dropped in against $25,000 N2L company at Indiana Grand, dashing five and a half furlongs on the dirt. He stalked, kicked on late, and won by daylight. He tried allowance-optional company at Indiana Grand and Ellis for his next four starts, with his best showing being a second-place finish at Ellis. In that turf dash he was beaten just a head.
Still, Copperplate did not find his true calling until a trip even farther north. In Canada, he found his niche doing something quite unexpected for a son of Curlin.
Curlin did his best work going long. Most of his races came on the dirt, though he also finished second in his one try over the grass. The only time he ever missed the board was in his final race, a fourth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) at Santa Anita. That race was his only try over a synthetic surface.
In short, very little about Curlin’s race record suggested he was going to throw a sharp polytrack sprinter. However, clues lied underneath.
Copperplate’s dam, Verdana Bold, absolutely loved the Woodbine polytrack. Though she started her career sprinting on turf and dirt at Laurel, she was a stakes winner going short on the Woodbine main, and a graded stakes winner at two turns over the surface. She did her best work on the synthetic.
It made sense to try Copperplate there, anyway. Going into the fall of this year, he had not tried a synthetic surface. Copperplate turned up in the barn of Daniel Vella — who also trained Verdana Bold — and entered an allowance-optional going six furlongs over the Woodbine main.
Copperplate came out well, and rider Alan Garcia put him on the front to start. Really Sharp pressed on the outside through the early stages, and briefly drew even.
Copperplate kept on.
As the field approached the far turn, Really Sharp gradually lost ground. However, a new challenger appeared. Call Me Wally split that frontrunning pair, and replaced Really Sharp as the threat from the outside.
Copperplate kept on.
Into the stretch, Copperplate and Call Me Wally opened up daylight between them and the rest of the field. Though Copperplate had been setting fast, pressured fractions all race, he still had a neck in front passing the sixteenth pole. Call Me Wally edged along, though, and was closing the gap late.
Still, Copperplate kept on.
He dug in approaching the wire, and the decision came down to a head bob. Announcer Robert Geller called the race for Call Me Wally…but the photo told a different story. Copperplate got his nose on the line, and made his polytrack debut a winning one.
Copperplate’s polytrack debut proved no fluke. On October 21, he tried polytrack again, cutting back to five and a half furlongs. He did not need the photo finish camera that day, cruising home by three comfortable lengths. It was a sharp enough outing that he tried stakes company next: the six-furlong Kennedy Road (GII – CAN). Though Copperplate did not win, he proved he belonged when he dead-heated for fourth in the field of eleven.
Unfortunately, Copperplate found his love of Woodbine’s polytrack just in time to lose it.
They are removing his favourite course, replacing it with a new Tapeta surface. Polytrack form does not always translate there…though, hopefully, Copperplate’s will. After all, Verdana Bold finished second in the 2009 Satin and Lace Stakes at Presque Isle in her only try over Tapeta.