Welcome back to the Twelve Days of Curlin Babies, where we celebrate the twelve most memorable races from Curlin’s progeny throughout 2016. Through all the hundreds of races in which they ran this year, these are the ones that keep reappearing in my mind.
#12: My Curby makes a winning visit to Arlington
#11: Reversiontothemean finds the wire just in time
#10: Theogony goes long in the Rags to Riches
#9: Barbara’s Smile soars against the boys
#8: Fireball Merlin and Copperplate go clockwise
#7: Undulated debuts without fear
#6 Stellar Wind defeats a champion in the Clement Hirsch
#5 Connect wins the race named after his sire
#4: Exaggerator matches his sire’s feat
From his first crop on, Curlin’s babies have had success in the Classic races. Palace Malice got Curlin on the board in his very first crop, winning the 2013 Belmont Stakes. The next year, Ride On Curlin started in all three Triple Crown races, with his best finish a second behind California Chrome in the Preakness. Last year, Keen Ice continued Curlin’s streak of having a horse in every crop hit the board in a Classic, finishing third behind American Pharoah in the Belmont Stakes.
This year, Curlin had one representative in the Triple Crown series: Exaggerator (Dawn Raid, by Vindication).
He entered the Kentucky Derby off an impressive victory in the Santa Anita Derby, but would face a foe who had vanquished him thrice before. Exaggerator made a mighty rally, but for a fourth time played second fiddle behind Nyquist. Still, he broke new ground for a son of Curlin.
Though Curlin had sired three Kentucky Derby starters, none had hit the board. Palace Malice, after setting a breakneck early pace, faded to twelfth. Ride on Curlin and Keen Ice both rallied for eventh.
Curlin himself had been third; Exaggerator did that finish one better.
Two weeks later, Exaggerator soldiered on to Baltimore. He would once again have to face Nyquist, who entered the Preakness undefeated in eight starts. But, things looked as good for Exaggerator as they ever could, by the time the field loaded into the gate. For one, the race had attracted plenty of frontrunners, something kind to Exaggerator’s closing style.
The weather cooperated, too. Unlike the Preakness in 2015, where the heavens opened just before the race, this year’s edition left no question about the condition of the course. Rain had fallen all day.
Gallons of ink had been spilled, millions of pixels blackened, over whether Exaggerator needed a wet track. But, no one denied that Exaggerator thrived in the mud.
This would be Exaggerator’s chance: his chance to introduce Nyquist to defeat, and his chance to join his sire on the roll of Preakness winners. Exaggerator would not let his chance go to waste.
Odds-on Nyquist came out of the gate well, and took his place in the speed brigade between Uncle Lino and Awesome Speed. Though the likes of Laoban and Abiding Star were conspicuous in their absence from the leading pack, the race started at a blazing clip.
Kent Desormeaux dropped Exaggerator to the rail near the back of the pack and let the speed roll. Uncle Lino and Nyquist carved out a 22.38 quarter-mile and a 46.56 half — wicked for a mile and three sixteenths. True to his style of making a true, sustained run, Exaggerator had begun to close up ground by the time the field began its procession down the backside. He regained touch with the main group, inhaled the field, and had made it right behind the leading pair by the time the field approached the far turn.
Boxed inside, Exaggerator lost position into the turn while waiting for a hole to open. Approaching the head of the stretch, he swung outside to make his run at Nyquist and Uncle Lino.
Once he had that racing room, the Preakness was over. Curlin’s Preakness win may have come after a hard-fought stretch run, but his son Exaggerator had it in the bag by the time he hit the three-sixteenths pole.
Nyquist tried to go along, but Exaggerator frolicked away. He hit the wire all alone. Three and a half lengths separated him from Cherry Wine, who nosed out Nyquist for second.
Exaggerator finally turned the tables on Nyquist, and became Curlin’s first Preakness winner. He made Curlin the tenth stallion to both win the Preakness and sire a Preakness winner, placing Curlin in company with Man o’ War, Citation, and Secretariat.
Next out, Exaggerator disappointed as the favourite in the Belmont Stakes. But, Exaggerator returned to do something Curlin couldn’t: win the Haskell. Curlin himself finished third behind Any Given Saturday in Monmouth’s feature sophomore race. Exaggerator enjoyed the same combination of factors he did in the Preakness, a hot early pace and a muddy track. He danced home a length and a half in front.
That would be Exaggerator’s final on-track highlight. After off-the-board finishes in the Travers (GI) and the Pennsylvania Derby (GII), Exaggerator was retired to stud. The next part of his highlight reel will come with his foals: hopefully in the Classics, and perhaps in the mud.