Connect (Bullville Belle, by Holy Bull) carried the banner for Curlin Babies Saturday, winning a loaded edition of the Pennsylvania Derby (GII). Already a stakes winner after winning the Curlin at Saratoga, he rebounded from a sixth-place finish in the Travers Stakes (GI). He tracked inside and midpack through much of the race, was finally asked approaching the turn for home, and stoutly held Gun Runner at bay. It was Connect’s fourth win in six starts, and his first graded victory.
Still, since Thursday, Connect is not the only Curlin baby who has made his mark. He is one of eight winners by Curlin over that time, in addition to three more stakes placings.
Thursday, things started well at Arlington Park, with My Curby (My Baby Baby, by Bernstein). A winner at Arlington later in the meet, he looked to be slipping off form. He found his stride again in Thursday’s 1st race, a conditioned $7,500 claiming race at a mile and a sixteenth over the main track. He tracked the early pace set by W W Orient, kicked on turning for home, and drew off to win by six and a quarter lengths. It was his second win of the summer at Arlington, and the third victory of his career.
Four-year-old gelding Duke of Denver (Pola’s Place, by Out of Place) has found his place at Belterra Park this summer. He won for the first time in a maiden special weight there on September 9, his fifth career start and his first at the Cincinnati track. He went six furlongs over a wet fast track, stalking the pace and drawing off to win by two and a quarter lengths. He returned to the same course and distance on Saturday against N2L allowance company. Duke of Denver was sent off the 2/1 favourite in a field of nine despite it being his first time facing winners. He tracked off the pace early, on the outside, four or five lengths off loose-on-the-lead longshot Fourinthemorning. Through the turn, Duke of Denver began to advance on the 51/1 leader. He drew even approaching the sixteenth pole, and edged clear to beat that rival by a length and a half come the wire. Duke of Denver is now a winner of two of his six starts, and Belterra has proven to be the right track and class level for him.
Bonita Bianca (Friendly Michelle, by Artax) made her debut Thursday at Belmont. The two-year-old filly debuted in a six-furlong sprint for New York-breds, breaking from the second-farthest outside gate of twelve. She settled near the back of the main pack in the race’s opening stages, on the outside thanks to her post draw. Bonita Bianca tracked as Lady Bergen and Seattle Ice Queen contested the early pace. Through the sweeping turn, Irad Ortiz began to encourage Bonita Bianca, and she began to gain ground. Wide turning for home, she continued to chip away at her deficit. Though Sand City had first run, Bonita Bianca had best run. She found her next gear near the furlong pole, rolled past Sand City near the sixteenth pole, and hit the wire two and a quarter lengths clear. For a Curlin baby to show that first time out — particularly when her full brother Inmyfathersimage did not put it all together until his eighth start, near the end of his sophomore season? Bonita Bianca is one to watch.
Curlin’s Princess (Image of Mom, by Halo’s Image) made her eighth start of the year on Thursday, in a six and a half furlong allowance-optional on the Gulfstream dirt. She hit the ground running at two, becoming the first Curlin juvenile to start in 2014, and also the first to win. She won again in allowance company last year. This year, she had three money finishes in seven starts against allowance-optional types, but had not gotten off the mark yet at four. That changed Thursday. Sent off at 11/1, Curlin’s Princess broke from the rail and settled inside. Dogwood Trail and Diamond Earring contested a stiff pace. Through the turn, Diamond Earring began to take the lead alone. Curlin’s Princess begun a confident advance up the rail. Turning for home Diamond Earring had daylight, but Curlin’s Princess angled out and sustained her tenacious rally. The wire came…and it was too close for even the stewards to call. Curlin’s Princess dead heated with Diamond Earring, with another nine lengths back to favoured Winning for Sarah.
Good times continued for Curlin babies Friday night at Penn National. Four-year-old gelding Traveling Afoot (Creeker’s Surprise, by Victory Gallop) made his tenth career start, and his third since dropping into the maiden claiming ranks. Going a mile and a sixteenth, the longest distance he had attempted yet, worked out well for him. He settled to track the pace in third in the early stages, three to four lengths off the lead. Coming into the second turn, rider Julio Hernandez began to ask, and Traveling Afoot responded. He gained on Mane Monsteur and Euro Demon, and swept outside them as they entered the stretch. Mane Monsteur tried to keep up, but Traveling Afoot was far too good. He cleared to cross the wire comfortably ahead, two and three quarters lengths clear of Mane Monsteur.
Though Connect’s victory in the Pennsylvania Derby grabbed the headlines on Saturday, two other runners found places on the highlight reel as well.
Earlier in the afternoon, four-year-old gelding Top of Mind (Over the Edge, by Thunder Gulch) made his graded stakes debut in the Commonwealth Turf Cup (GII). Just two starts back, on June 5, he had dropped into a claimer for the first time. He won a $35K N3X at Pimlico, going a mile and a sixteenth on turf. The race was his first on grass. He tried the same distance on turf once again July 1 at Laurel, for an N2X allowance. Sent off at 7/1, Top of Mind won by a nose, denying odds-on favourite Class and Cash. He was a new horse on turf, and his connections got gutsy. Turns out, an ambitious placing was the right call.
Later that evening, Captured (Alluring, by A. P. Indy) underscored the same idea, that an ambitious placing can play dividends. Captured has been as consistent as it got in the starter ranks with three straight wins between $4K starter company and $8K starter company. On September 9, he advanced to the N1X ranks, and finished third beaten only two lengths. On Saturday, he returned to the same level. Despite a bad start, Captured told the field that he had every reason to be in allowance company. He was in last through the early stages, and into the run down the backstretch. But, Captured made a strong rally in the backstretch, asserting himself from the back toward the pace. He gunned it through the turn, and dared everyone to match him. No one could. He edged ahead, hitting the wire a neck ahead of Omarvelous. No matter what, he got home first — even after Omarvelous was taken down from 2nd to 5th. In short, Captured has proven that he belongs against protected company.
Sunday saw no wins, but did see a pair of stakes-placed Curlin babies at Remington.
Bold Conquest (One for Jim, by Distorted Humor), a four-year-old colt who is multiple graded stakes placed at ages two and three, had been a disappointing sixth last month in an allowance at Remington. Still, he returned in the Governor’s Cup Stakes as a 13/1 outsider — and made far better account of himself. He tracked the pace early, near the back of a tightly knit pack. Turning for home, he rallied wide. Though he never looked like he was going to beat Chocopologie, he kept on well enough for third behind that one and Smack Smack, and edged out the honest Mobile Bay for the final spot on the podium.
Lightly-raced Cu Rahy (Richetta, by Polish Numbers) has gotten his career off to a good start. Though the two-year-old colt was seventh in his debut at Lone Star Park in June, he returned to break his maiden in a romp on August 31, in a one-mile maiden special at Remington. That was enough for his connections to send him out in the Kip Deville Stakes at Remington. The stakes cut him back to six furlongs, but he showed he could handle it well. Cu Rahy lagged in last for much of the race, and went extremely wide turning for home. It was too little, too late to catch winner Cool Arrow, and Mannford’s much earlier commenced run got him up a clear second. But, Cu Rahy found a furious late rally and got up for third at odds of 36/1. Particularly given that his maiden race came at a mile, he stands to improve with a stretch back out, as well as some more time.
The Curlin babies returned to their winning ways on Monday. Woelf Den (Gorgeous Goose, by Mongoose) has shown a strong affinity for Thistledown over the last two years, and the five-year-old gelding returned in a $5,000 starter allowance going a mile on the sloppy track. He went off the lukewarm favourite, 5/2 in a field of seven, and made that look an absolute gift. He set a measured pace, even with a little early pressure from Devil and a Half inside and Mizz Wizz outside. Farleys Mandate ran at him through the far turn, but riderJacob Radosevich let Woelf Den out just a bit more. Woelf Den opened up. Reason to Be Proud made a run on the inside, but Woelf Den was gone. He crossed the wire three and three quarters lengths clear of that rival, and it was another six and a quarter lengths back to third-place Farleys Mandate. It was Woelf Den’s second win of the year, his sixth at Thistledown, and his eighth career victory.