Picking a finite list of five or ten favourite Curlin babies would get difficult at the margins, given that one of the core premises of Blinkers Off is a love for all of them. However, a few are very easy additions to any list of favourites, and Solar Maximus (Solar Colony, by Pleasant Colony) ranks easily among those few.
When I added him to my virtual stable, I had no idea if he was even alive; his last line was the dreaded “pulled up, vanned off”. He resurfaced on the worktab a year later. Since the fall of 2014, he has arisen as a horse for the course at Mahoning Valley. Last winter meet, he won, he kept winning, he went longer, and longer yet.
Though he struggled at Thistledown over the summer, he picked up right where he left off once racing returned to Youngstown. He finished third in his first two starts back at Mahoning. He crossed the wire first in his next start, but was taken down to second after extended bumping down the stretch.
Since then, there had been no question of Solar Maximus’s superiority. He beat $7,500 non-winners of one in six months, and then held sway against $7,500 non-winners of two in six months. He then notched up into $5,000 starter company on January 27 — and won by six lengths, going away.
Today, he faced his toughest racetrack test of his entire career. The course and distance were something Solar Maximus had conquered so many times before: a mile on the Mahoning Valley dirt. However, the class was new territory. He faced straight allowance company, with a broadly drawn N2X condition (non-winners of two other than maiden, claiming, starter, or Ohio-bred, or N3L).
For one, Solar Maximus was skipping a condition. He had won eight times before today, but all of those wins had come in maiden, claiming, or starter company — by any traditional definition, he still had his N1X.
Secondly, Solar Maximus had only tried allowance company once, and it did not go very well. He tried N3L, a far less salty condition, in December of 2014. He finished a well-beaten sixth, and had run exclusively against claiming or starter company since.
Thirdly, he was going against horses who had been running against tougher company than Solar Maximus had been beating. The recent form lines included open claimers, allowances, even state-bred stakes. Engine, the morning line favourite, had set the one-mile track record at Mahoning Valley just last month in a starter allowance win — and had beaten straight N1X company in the start before that.
Solar Maximus did not have it easy on paper.
He did not have it easy on the track, either.
In a field of nine, Solar Maximus was marooned in the outermost gate. He broke well, and though he was still well outside approaching the clubhouse turn, rider Dean Sarvis sent him sharply to the rail as soon as he found room.
Going into the backstretch, Solar Maximus was in the rear flight, saving ground along the rail. He settled about half a dozen lengths off the pace set by Mound. Though Mound had some company on the front, the fractions he set were hardly breakneck: 26.26 for the quarter, and 52.03 for the half.
Solar Maximus steadily gained ground down the backstretch, but encountered a wall of horses as the field headed into the far turn. Sarvis had to slow him down, wait for room to clear, and angle him out.
Meanwhile, Keepinyourchinup had rallied. He had the lead as the field turned for home. He had to face a three-pronged challenge, though. Favourite Silver Tongued angled off the rail to make his run. Engine moved even better, just to the favourite’s outside. Farther out, Solar Maximus had acquired dead aim after circling the field.
The track record holder tried to put the son of Curlin away, but could not find quite enough horsepower. Solar Maximus drew clear in the final five strides, beating Engine by a widening three quarters of a length.
Solar Maximus handled his class test with aplomb. He has now won four straight, including the toughest race of his career. With another two months left in the Mahoning Valley meet, it will be a thrill to see what Solar Maximus does next.