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
#6: Union Jackson breaks his maiden
October 10 was a harrowing, somber day for Stonestreet Farm. That morning Rock Fall — a winner of seven straight races, a two-time Grade I winner, and a top contender for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint — was fatally injured in a workout at Keeneland.
One of the toughest things about horse racing is how soon so many people involved with it must bring themselves to face it again after terrible things happen. Some time to grieve may come later, but first come the rest of the day’s workouts, or another horse’s race that afternoon.
And, so it was for Stonestreet that day. They lost Rock Fall…but later that afternoon, over the same course, Union Jackson (Hot Dixie Chick, by Dixie Union) was scheduled to make his second start.
Union Jackson was bred by Barbara Banke of Stonestreet, through her Grace Stables. He had a very famous pasture-mate as a foal. Nicknamed Chili at the time…he gallivanted around the meadow with Taco, otherwise known at Jess’s Dream. Like his pasture buddy, it took a long time for Union Jackson to get to the racetrack. Union Jackson posted a few workouts during the summer of his juvenile year, but he did not return to the tab until May of this year, at age three.
Jess’s Dream debuted in August at Saratoga, and rallied from the clouds for a scintillating score. Union Jackson did not see the starter until the following month, when he appeared in a six-furlong maiden special weight at Churchill. He could not quite match his pasture buddy’s debut, but showed promise nonetheless. Union Jackson stalked, made a move, but could not sustain it. He finished clearly second — beaten a length and a half for the biggest prize, but six and a quarter lengths clear of third.
After a morning when his connections suffered such a devastating loss, Union Jackson brought them hope in the afternoon.
The son of Curlin got out sharply. But, so did Trace of Mojo on his inside, and Blaze’n Prospector outside. Trace of Mojo briefly got his nose in front, but Union Jackson got in front of him again almost immediately. Trace of Mojo began to back up down the rail, but Blaze’n Prospector stayed with Union Jackson into the turn. They were close together through much of the far turn.
Approaching the stretch, Union Jackson began to edge away. Coming to the furlong pole, he had the advantage by a length. Will Did It and Walker’s Way were beginning to make up ground from the rear, but Union Jackson was full of run. He found his next gear, and powered away from the field. Union Jackson crossed the wire 7 3/4 lengths clear of Will Did It. Adding to the strength of his win was the fact that the two horses who battled with Union Jackson for the lead early, Trace of Mojo and Blaze’n Prospector, crossed the wire last and next to last.
Since then, Union Jackson has continued going the right way. He returned on November 27 at Churchill Downs, stretched to six and a half furlongs, and posted a comfortable wire-to-wire victory against N1X company. Union Jackson then shipped down to Fair Grounds, and has worked twice in New Orleans. Hopefully he stays healthy, and runs to his potential at age four.
Rock Fall’s death underscores why horse racing can be the toughest sport to follow, or to be a part of. As strong and fast as thoroughbreds can be, they are also so fragile. We are reminded far too often of this.
However, horse racing can also have a way of coming through with good things at just the right times…and Union Jackson’s maiden win did just that.
Updated December 28 to correct that Barbara Banke did breed Union Jackson. Thank you, Yvonne Douglas!