There are so many Curlin babies who I could be writing about now, or even should be writing about. There’s Curalina, who won another Grade I. There’s Exaggerator, second in the Kentucky Derby. Connect, Curlin Kisses, and Wicked Mover all shed their maiden labels over the weekend.
But, the only one I can bring myself to think about much right now is Air Squadron.
Air Squadron (Air France, by French Deputy) had gotten so good this year. The six-year-old gelding had found his place. That place was the lower claiming ranks at Gulfstream Park, where he showed a sort of consistency that he had never yet shown. He fired off a three-win streak through February and March, all against open $6,250 company going the one-turn dirt mile there. Claimed by Jamie Ness out of that last win, he shipped to Tampa, notched up to $10,000 company, and finished a creditable second behind lone speed Paltarrevenge.
Air Squadron entered at Laurel on Friday against $7,500 starter company, the toughest class level he had faced in time. The race was originally carded for turf, but was washed to the main track — a great sign for Air Squadron, as all his strong recent form had come on dirt.
I missed the race live, because I was on a long weekend road trip, in and out of data reception all day. The first I saw of it was a tweet, asking if I had any news after he broke down at Laurel.
I didn’t. But, it blindsided me. So many good races this winter and spring…and now this?
I opened up the chart, immediately. All it said was that he broke down. It’s a reflex, something I always do when I find out a horse did not finish a race…their most recent race, their last race, whether it’s a horse I know well or a horse I had never heard of in my life. I always read the chart.
I have no good reason for why I feel compelled to do that. It’s almost like a prayer, at least an act of reverence. I know I wasn’t there, and I know there’s nothing I can actually do. But, illogical as it may be, reading the chart feels like the least I can do.
A few days out, I’m still not sure if he could be saved. I’m not optimistic. It looked bad, downright horrible, in the replay. But, that’s all I know. It’s another one of those times where I keep searching for credible information, but feel I would be overstepping my bounds to contact his connections, cold. It’s the worst part of loving this sport, of being a fan of any horse, when this happens.
But, I hope against hope. After all, he was one of the most special Curlin babies to me. I so rarely see Curlin’s progeny in person. We have so few who race here in Chicago, so I always take a special shine to the ones I have seen.
Air Squadron was never a regular on the circuit here. But, he did race at Hawthorne once, making him one of the few I have seen run in person. Air Squadron was in the Mike Maker barn at the time he raced here, and Maker did not regularly run at Hawthorne. However, Coalport ran in the 2014 Buck’s Boy Handicap, and Air Squadron must have been his travel buddy. He turned up in an allowance on the undercard. He did not win that day, but I loved being able to see him, to get some pictures, to watch him run.
I was so happy that he had found his level and his form this year. I was so excited to see him move up on the class ladder. Now…I hope it wasn’t as bad as it looked, or that if it was, that he is out of his pain.
And, no matter what…this is how we’ll remember your time on the track, Air Squadron: in cracking form, pressed on the pace, getting headed, and still fighting on to victory.
Update: Air Squadron did not survive his injuries, as there has been a death report filed with the Jockey Club. Rest in peace, Air Squadron.