Curlin babies: worth the wait

Time suits the Curlin babies, as both of his graded stakes winners this weekend can well attest.

Of course, from them and from a pair of juveniles, the last two days have highlighted several Curlin babies with exciting futures.  This includes his pair of graded stakes winners — as well as a pair of up-and-coming juveniles..

Sure, Texas Ryano (Blending Element, by Great Commotion) had shown promise from the day he first hit the track.  He won his debut in January his three-year-old year, rallying just in time at odds of 24/1.  Later that year he cleared his first allowance condition as well, though after a disappointing finish in the Oceanside Stakes he spent almost a year on the shelf.

Texas Ryano returned last year, at age four.  He spent the summer knocking on the door in second-level allowances, finally breaking through in September at Del Mar.  Later that month, he closed to win by daylight over Class Leader in the ten-furlong King Pellinore Stakes at Santa Anita.

That emboldened his connections.  Two starts later he made his graded debut in the Hollywood Turf Cup.  There, he finished a respectable enough eighth out of fourteen.  After another midpack finish in January’s Grade II San Gabriel, he rested up for his five-year-old summer and fall campaign.

Texas Ryano returned in June to contest a top-shelf allowance, finishing second behind multiple graded stakes winner Finnegans Wake in May.  Since then, he has faced nothing but graded stakes company.  He was no factor in the Eddie Read (GII), but since then he showed he belonged against the best of the West Coat turf division.  He rallied for third in the Del Mar Handicap (GII), and second in the John Henry Turf Championship (GII).  It was enough for trainer Carla Gaines and owner Warren Williamson to put him in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (GI).  Texas Ryano never threatened Highland Reel — but, no one could.  He rallied from a distant last to dead-heat for sixth at 67/1, outperforming better-regarded chances including Da Big Hoss, Mondialiste, and Ectot.

Saturday, almost became finally.  Texas Ryano returned to the same race in which he had made his graded debut the year before, the Hollywood Turf Cup.  For Texas Ryano, the race went a bit better this year than last.  One more year of growth and seasoning have taken him from an outsider with class questions to a confident winner.

Coming to the end of his five-year-old year, Texas Ryano has found the graded victory that eluded him for so long.  Should he stay in this form through age six or even beyond, the rest of the west coast turf division may find this fully mature Texas Ryano tough to beat.

***

Another Curlin baby who took a while to come into himself — though, not quite as long as Texas Ryano — is Connect (Bullville Belle, by Holy Bull).

At this time last year, he had not yet debuted.  Though he made a single start at two, trainer Chad Brown developed him patiently and bypassed the Triple Crown trail.

The day Exaggerator finished second in the Kentucky Derby, Connect broke his maiden at Belmont.  Connect cleared his first-level allowance condition on the Belmont Stakes undercard.  Instead of contesting the Jim Dandy (GII), Connect made his stakes debut in a race named after his sire.  He took the Curlin Stakes wire to wire.

Then, he was ready to start facing the top of his class.  Though the Travers (GI) saw Connect finish a well-beaten sixth behind eventual Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) winner Arrogate, he bounced back to win the Pennyslvania Derby (GII) over Gun Runner.  Gun Runner had proven himself to be competitive against older horses since then: he finished second in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (GI), then dominated older horses in Friday’s Clark Handicap (GI).

Connect had needed to summon his grit to beat Gun Runner in the Pennsylvania Derby.  In Saturday’s Clark Handicap, Divining Rod tested Connect with even more tenacity…and Connect found what he needed.

With this victory, Connect joins Palace Malice, Stellar Wind, Curalina, Keen Ice, Exaggerator, and Off the Tracks as Curlin’s North American Grade I winning progeny.  Should he build at four on what he has done at three, Connect will have even more Grade I success in his future.

***

Though Curlin’s progeny tend to get better with age, he has a few two-year-olds who have marked themselves ones to watch, as well.

Bonita Bianca (Friendly Michelle, by Artax) had already won twice against New York-bred company.  The juvenile filly beat maiden special weight company decisively on debut, then won the Maid of the Mist Stakes just as easily.  Saturday’s Demoiselle Stakes (GII) at Aqueduct was her first try against open company, and her first tilt at two turns.  Though she never threatened wire-to-wire winner Miss Sky Warrior or second-place Jamyson ‘n Ginger, Bonita Bianca rallied from faraway last to finish a clear third.  For that being just her third start, and her first against that class of company, Bonita Bianca proved what she needed to.  She belongs, and deserves more chances outside the New York-bred ranks as she grows.

Curl the Pearl (Sea Gift, by A. P. Indy) had shown little in two sprint starts so far, and saw herself dismissed at 20/1 on the morning line in a maiden special weight at Churchill Saturday.  The juvenile filly was stretching out to two turns for the first time.  Though Sea Gift also produced crack sprinter Chitu (Henny Hughes), influences of Curlin and A. P. Indy would suggest that Curl the Pearl may want a route of ground.  The public figured Curl the Pearl would take a step forward, too: though she drifted up to 7/1 by post time, she spent much of the wagering period at 2/1 or 5/2.  The early money knew what it was talking about.  Instead of chasing well off the pace early, Calvin Borel took early initiative with Curl the Pearl.  She went straight to the lead, and no one could catch her.  With such a victory behind her, it would be no surprise to see Curl the Pearl sticking to two turns for the foreseeable future.

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