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
#5: Charismata helps introduce a new voice to Emerald Downs
#4: Solar Maximus goes long…really long
#3: Diversy Harbor wins the Buena Vista Stakes
#2: Conquest Curlinate almost gets there in the Illinois Derby
Conquest Curlinate (Higher World, by Peaks and Valleys) had been on my radar since he was two. As the first half of his name suggests, he is owned by Conquest Stables — one of the most fun owners out there, and based in the Chicago area as well. As its second half implies, he is a son of Curlin.
This is as good a recipe for an instant horse crush as exists in the stud book.
The strapping grey son of Curlin debuted in November of last year, trying a six-furlong sprint over the Woodbine polytrack. Midpack early, he did not find his best stride until late. Though he was fifth, he closed to finish just two lengths beaten for all of it. For a juvenile son of Curlin, this was a solid debut. He only stood to improve with time, distance, and a move to the dirt.
He got all three of those things in January when he resurfaced at Oaklawn. He returned in a two-turn maiden special, and though he broke poorly, his late run powered him to a 2 1/4 length victory. Though he only mustered third place in a return in allowance company at Oaklawn, his connections had enough faith in him to move him up to stakes company for his next start.
That start came at Hawthorne, in the Grade III Illinois Derby.
Before the race, I got to spend some time with the Conquest Stables people. Ernie Semersky, Dory Newell, and everyone else were a joy to talk to — their enthusiasm for horse racing shone through, and their online presence is a clear reflection of that enthusiasm. A few weeks later, I was lucky enough to talk to Ernie in even more detail about Conquest Stables, and his outlook on racing — one of the highlights of my horse racing year.
In the paddock before the race, I realised just how big Conquest Curlinate was. Only Cross the Line had a frame even close to as large as Conquest Curlinate’s. I have a certain place in my heart for the big tanks…and his size made me love him even more.
The race itself proved a thriller.
As expected, Conquest Curlinate was not blazing fast out of the gate. He started far better than he did in his maiden victory, but was still content to settle almost a dozen lengths off the early pace. Things were setting up well for him, as Kantune, Cross the Line, and A. Rod Again all disputed the pace as the field entered the first turn. Into the backstretch, rider Florent Geroux tried to get Cross the Line out of the speed duel. Whiskey Ticket advanced on Kantune and A. Rod again.
With a half mile to go, Conquest Curlinate still trailed. Kantune began to drop out of it, and Whiskey Ticket went at A. Rod Again.
Passing the three-eighths pole, Conquest Curlinate was finally warming up. He regained touch with the field, passed Private Prospect, and swung out to the centre of the track as the field turned for home. Whiskey Ticket had taken the lead, and was moving well, but the hulking grey was closing up ground by the centre of the track.
Passing the furlong pole, Conquest Curlinate had passed every horse but Whiskey Ticket. He had a length and a half to make up, and a furlong to do it. He kept coming, but the wire was fast approaching, and Whiskey Ticket was digging in.
The wire came just a stride too early for Conquest Curlinate.
He lost by a nose, but he proved he belonged in stakes company. He was growing into himself, and relishing the distance. Though he missed, he marked himself as a horse to watch as the season progressed.
Conquest Curlinate shipped up to Belmont for the Peter Pan (GII), with the Belmont Stakes a possible next goal. The mile and an eighth worked well for Conquest Curlinate, but the short field did him no favours. He closed strongly once again, but missed Madefromlucky by a length. The Belmont was briefly in consideration, and his connections even supplemented the Ontario-bred into the race.
They opted instead to go the Queen’s Plate route. He ran second behind Danish Dynaformer in the Plate Trial, a prep that set him up well for the Queen’s Plate the following month. However, just a few days before the Plate, he suffered a sesamoid injury in training, one severe enough to retire him.
Starting next year, Conquest Curlinate will stand stud at Shannondoe Farm in Ontario. Hopefully, his babies will be able to carry on the promise their sire showed on the track.