a Grade I, and other glory

This weekend, four Curlin babies found the winners’ circle, two in graded stakes company.  Three more rounded out the exacta.

In short, it’s a good week to be a Curlin baby.

Curlinup heads back to the barn after finishing second in Saturday’s Hawthorne finale.

Top billing, of course, goes to Exaggerator (Dawn Raid, by Vindication).  After making a bold move in the San Felipe, but then stalling out, one could only wonder whether the same thing would happen in the Santa Anita Derby.  He dropped well off the pace early, but started to make a bold move as the field approached the far turn.

Unlike last time out, Exaggerator kept motoring on.  He swung out, circled the field, and splashed past Danzing Candy and Uncle Lino like they were standing still.  Mor Spirit rallied for second, but never seriously threatened: Exaggerator crossed the wire 6 1/4 easy lengths in front.

With that win, Exaggerator secured his place in the Kentucky Derby.  The debate goes on as to how much his win was aided by the slop, or aided by the hot early pace that Danzing Candy set.  No matter what — the fact remains that Exaggerator will get the chance to prove that on the first Saturday in May.

He has also joined Palace Malice, Stellar Wind, Curalina, and Keen Ice in the ranks of Curlin’s North American Grade I stakes winners.


Though relatively lightly raced, Terra Promessa (Missile Bay, by Yes It’s True) had already punched her ticket to Kentucky, no matter how Saturday’s Fantasy Stakes (GIII) went.  She had won Oaklawn’s previous prep, the Honeybee (GIII), and the 50 points from winning that would almost certainly be enough to get her into the Oaks.  Still, that Honeybee was only her fourth race, and her first against stakes company.

She got the biggest challenge of her three-year-old year.  That came partially from her stablemate…and partially from herself.

As expected, the early pace was hot.  Cosmic Evolution, Ready to Confess, and Florida Bird all sent.  Terra Promessa got eager, even rank.  Ricardo Santana tried his best to keep Terra Promessa out from that battle as long as he could, but she insisted on making an early move.  By the time longshot Florida Bird began to fade away, Terra Promessa would hold no longer.

Cosmic Evolution could not keep up.  Ready to Confess tried to make a fight of it, but Terra Promessa wore her down, too.

Still, she was not out of the woods.  Terra Promessa’s stablemate Taxable had rallied up the rail, angled out, and had dead aim on the outside.  But, despite how rank she had been, despite what an early move she had made, Terra Promessa still hit the wire a neck ahead of Taxable, with almost half a dozen lengths between that pair and third-place Ready to Confess.

It was not a perfect Oaks prep for Terra Promessa, but she did what she needed to do.  She will have to relax better in order to have a shot in Kentucky, but it is the type of performance that should give her team an idea of what she needs to work on between now and the big race four weeks from now.

Terra Promessa was not the only Curlin baby to get her picture taken at Oaklawn on Saturday.  Four-year-old colt  Sakima (Queen of Kills, by Unbridled’s Song) has emerged as a horse for the Oaklawn course.  He broke his maiden there last January, albeit by disqualification.  He finally got his nose on the wire first in January of this year — back at Oaklawn, against $35,000-$30,000 N2L, his first time in a straight claimer.  After that victory, he tried allowance company again twice more, with his better finish being a third-place behind Fourth of July on March 19.

Saturday, he ran in starter company: starters for a tag of $40,000 or less, non-winners of one other than a maiden or claiming race, a mile on the dirt.

That condition proved perfect.

Drawn on the far outside in a field of eight, he settled near the back of the pack, about half a dozen lengths off the lead.  There was a fight up front: Black Tie ‘n Tails and Patriotic American were head and head, with It’s All Up to You pressing them along.

Going into the far turn, he was still seventh of eight, but those top seven had compressed into about three lengths.  Ramon Vazquez pointed him outside and got him going, and he began to improve position approaching the stretch.  He found his next gear in the final furlong, passed the rest of the field on the outside, and won a length and a half clear of favoured It’s All Up to You.

With the Oaklawn meet ticking to a close, this will likely be Sakima’s last start over his favourite track until next winter.  But, hopefully he has found his place against starter company — and hopefully he will love Oaklawn just as much next year at five.

Last out, Sunset District (America America, by Mister Baileys) won for the first time in over a year and a half.  He returned on Saturday, facing non-winners of three for the first time.  Despite it being his first try against N3L types, the public sent this five-year-old gelding off as the favourite in a field of eight.  It was the same distance and course as his last outing — a mile and a sixteenth over the Gulfstream grass — but against $12,500 N3L instead of $16,000 N2L.

Sunset District broke from the outside in the field of eight, but was able to get up to track the pace from the two-path as the field entered the clubhouse turn.  Longshot Off Duty sprinted out to the lead, with Sunset District biding his time about four lengths back, near the front of the main pack.

Quite keen to run on, he gradually closed distance on the leader, along with the rest of the field.  Going into the far turn, he had clear sailing to swing outside of Off Duty and How You, who were head and head along the front by then.  How You briefly struck the front, but Sunset District had more in hand than How You was finding under a drive.  How You kept him honest, but once Sunset District was asked, he struck the front for good.  Modern Tale came in late for second, but Sunset District got home a length and a quarter clear.

Fortunately, for Sunset District, Gulfstream will be running through September.  Though his condition gets tougher from here, as long as Sunset District stays sound and in form, he should have turf races over his favourite course all summer long.


In addition to these three winners, a trio of Curlin babies almost got there this weekend.

On Saturday, Illinois-bred Curlinup (Almost Sma, by Cure the Blues) made her second lifetime start.  This three-year-old filly had debuted at Fair Grounds on March 17, but finished a well-beaten seventh after a poor start.  Though her breeding suggests she would like routes, her race on Saturday was another sprint.

However, the experience and the class drop led to a far better outing.  She was midpack early, but made the most credible rally of anyone against pacesetter Bella Carmella.  Bella Carmella held on to win by a length and a quarter, but it was another four and a quarter lengths from Curlinup back to third-place Strolling Star.  Being a Curlin half to Rolling Sea and Chadwick, her best may end up coming at two turns, but her outing on Saturday suggests she has some talent as a runner.


Five-year-old gelding Fireball Merlin (Princess Ruckus, by Bold Ruckus) has run at Woodbine for all of his starts save one.  However, Saturday’s race presented a new challenge: Tapeta, with which Woodbine had replaced its Polytrack over the off-season.  It was also a class rise from his last time out.  He had closed out his Woodbine meet with a victory in $20,000-$19,000 N2L company, but returned against N1X.  At least the distance was the same: five furlongs.

Fireball Merlin picked up right where he left off.  Most of the pack, including Fireball Merlin, was quick out of the gate.  However, it was Dr. Sport who dashed to a clear early lead, with Fireball Merlin left to track a few lengths back.  Into the turn, Fireball Merlin and Malbec, to his outside, moved in tandem on Dr. Sport.  Dr. Sport wilted in shallow stretch, and Fireball Merlin edged to the lead.

However, Pat Daddy was making a run on the outside.  Fireball Merlin tried, but Pat Daddy was moving too well.  The son of Scat Daddy got his neck in front just in time.  Still, it was a sharp return for Fireball Merlin after five months off.  He showed he likes the Tapeta, and that he can compete in allowance company.

Sunday, another son of Curlin returned after a long layoff.  Packy’s Out (Ema Bovary, by Edgy Diplomat) tried six times to break his maiden last summer at Emerald Downs.  He finished second once, and third a couple of times, but never got all the way there.  Saturday, the gelding made his three-year-old debut, and dropped into claiming company for the first time.  Up for a $25,000 tag, he and six foes lined up to go five-furlongs on the dirt.

For it being his first race in six and a half months, Packy’s Out acquitted himself well.  He was far off the pace early — not the best setup, particularly when the most in-condition horse of the group, Golden Gate shipper Lord Walton, was loose on the lead.  However, Packy’s Out did fire well down the stretch.  He was closing up ground with every step, got up for second, and crossed the wire just a length and three quarters behind the winner.  It suggests this level is the right one for him, and he should turn in an even better effort second off the lay.


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