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.
#12: Theogony wins the Belle Mahone Stakes
#11: Stellar Wind and Curalina finish 2-3 in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff
#10: Jess’s Dream is a reality!
#9: Danette graduates — finally!
#8: Copperplate finds his place
#7: Curalina wins the Acorn…right in front of me
Sometimes, being a Chicago-based lover of Curlin babies gets frustrating, since we have so few on our circuit. We have had a few make appearances on our circuit over the years. Maria Maria started her career with local trainer Jim DiVito, and is the closest thing the Chicago circuit has ever had to a regular by Curlin. Now she is in the barn of Steve Asmussen, unlikely to return here. Danette debuted at Arlington, and Larrymoeandcurlin ran there once as well. Conquest Curlinate, Air Squadron, and Melody Lin have all showed up at Hawthorne along the way.
So far, the only Curlin baby to win on the Chicago circuit has been Maria Maria. She has won twice at Arlington and once at Hawthorne; I was not present for any of those.
It took a trip out of town — a trip that was intended for seeing a completely different Curlin baby — for me to finally see one get their nose on the wire first.
It was not the possibility of an American Pharoah Triple Crown that got me to pull the handle on a trip to Belmont. It was the possibility of seeing Palace Malice defend his Met Mile crown. My favourite racehorse, the the one who did so much to get me into racing, the entire reason I follow Curlin babies…I wanted to see him race in person at least once, and figured the Met Mile would be the perfect time to do so.
Of course, that did not turn out as planned.
Still, I could see Keen Ice in the Belmont…and I could see Curalina in the Acorn. Since being scratched from the Spinaway last year, since getting the long winter off…Curalina was back, and making a mark. She overcame a poor start to break her maiden at Gulfstream in March, on the Florida Derby undercard. She returned in an N1X at Churchill on the Kentucky Oaks undercard, trying two turns for the first time. She rolled.
No matter how cautious her connections wanted to be, that was good enough to ensure that Curalina would not be relegated to the undercard for her next outing.
She entered the Grade I Acorn Stakes on Belmont day. She would be cutting back to a one-turn mile, but it was the marquee sophomore fillies’ race that time of year. Even if one turn did not work out against classier horses than she faced in her seven-furlong maiden win, it would set her up perfectly for longer races through the summer, things like the Coaching Club American Oaks and the Alabama.
Turned out, the Acorn proved the perfect spot.
The gates opened, and Curalina did not start well. By the Moon broke outward, Shook Up broke inward, and Curalina was one of four horses in between who got caught in the mess. Thanks to getting pinched off in that terrible start, she was off in dead last. Even so, she got into gear relatively quickly, and was only a few lengths off of the speedy Promise Me Silver a quarter mile into the race. Through the sweeping Belmont turn, she closed the gap a bit, tracking on the outside of a line of horses behind Miss Ella and Promise Me Silver.
Turning for home, By the Moon took the lead. She had been in that tracking group — but inside, saving all the ground, and more an instigator in the poor start than one of the affected. Curalina stayed on, still tracking from the outside of that closest flight.
Approaching the furlong pole, By the Moon looked gone. She was moving well, and there was daylight between her and her closest pursuers, Curalina and Wonder Gal. Still, Curalina and Wonder Gal had some steam for one last run, and they began to close the gap in that final eighth.
Wonder Gal could not get there.
She drew even with By the Moon five strides before the wire, and edged past. I could not see quite what a tough trip she had when it happened. The apron at Belmont was crowded, and though I could still follow things on the infield screen before they came into view, it took replays to make clear just what a trip she had. All I knew at the time was that By the Moon looked loose turning for home, it looked like a tough ask for Curalina, and it looked like she got there.
I stood there on the crowded apron, stunned, just yelling…”I think she got there! I think she got there!”
Of course, she did. My eyes did not deceive me. They posted the order…6-3-2-12. Curalina won by a neck. I had finally seen a Curlin baby win in person, for the first time…and it was Curalina, winning a Grade I.
The Acorn would not be the last we saw of Curalina this year. Next out, she won the Coaching Club American Oaks (GI), albeit via the disqualification of I’m a Chatterbox for interfering with her. She finished third in the Alabama (GI), then second against older company in the Beldame (GI). Curalina closed out her season with a third-place finish after a tough trip in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (GI). In eight career races so far, Curalina has never finished off the board, and has two Grade I wins to her credit.
Hopefully Curalina continues her classy and consistent ways at age four…and, hopefully I see her win in person again.