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
#3 Solar Maximus steps up in class
So much of Solar Maximus’s racing career has been a gift, the sweetest surprise in the sport.
When I first added Solar Maximus (Solar Colony, by Pleasant Colony) to my virtual stable, his last line was DNF, pulled up, vanned off. But, he returned to the worktab. He lost at Churchill…then got his picture taken in his first try at Mahoning Valley.
That began his love affair with the Youngstown oval. He won four times in the 2014-2015 meet, twice in claiming company and twice against starters. Thistledown did not treat him as well in the summer, but once he got back to Mahoning he returned to his winning ways. It took a few starts for him to get going. But, he hit the board in his first three starts…then in his fourth start of the meet, Solar Maximus won emphatically against beaten $7,500 company. He returned to beat similar last out, then notched back up to starter company. He rolled by six.
February 22, it came time for Solar Maximus to face allowance company again.
Solar Maximus had tried allowance company once before. In December of 2014, off his N2L win at Mahoning, he notched into one-other-than company. He finished a well-beaten sixth behind Offlee Sinister that day. A N2L win up into a N1X allowance proved a bridge too far.
A year and three months had now passed. Instead of being fresh off a lifetime claiming condition win — and third off a layoff of over a year — Solar Maximus was a stronger, saltier racehorse. He was six years old, not four. He had five more wins behind him. He was better.
Was he better enough? Yes, he was going two turns over a course he loved. However, he was skipping a condition. Solar Maximus still had his one-other-than, but he turned up in an open two-other-than allowance. He would face Silver Tongued, a winner of multiple Ohio-bred stakes races that didn’t count under the condition. He would also face Engine, the course record holder over the distance.
Solar Maximus couldn’t read a condition book. He couldn’t read a sheaf of past performances.
Solar Maximus could run.
Breaking from the far outside, Solar Maximus dropped in off the pace as soon as he could find room to move inside. The pace took a while to settle, but through the clubhouse turn, Mound settled on the front ahead of sharp-breaking entrymate Geppetto.
Down the backside, rider Dean Sarvis began the advance with Solar Maximus. At first, he did not get far. He advanced up the rail to gain touch with the rest of the pack, but stalled out behind a tight bunch of horses.
Solar Maximus could bide his time. He settled again, calm in Sarvis’s hands. He eased off the rail, around a fading foe. He accelerated, gaining touch with the five in front of him.
Halfway through the turn, he swung around the second flight. Three more behind him, he only had two of the nine to catch. One of those was the favourite, the multiple stakes winner, Silver Tongued.
Solar Maximus would have to worry more about another: the track record holder, Engine. He had been in that second flight, and he accelerated as soon as he saw Solar Maximus go by. Engine went along, fighting every step. They pushed past the leaders.
Engine got his nose in front a sliver outside the sixteenth pole.
Solar Maximus would not abide.
He fought back to open terms.
Solar Maximus dared Engine to respond, and edged clear to hit the wire three quarters of a length in front of that foe. It was another two lengths back to Silver Tongued in third.
Solar Maximus had done it: he passed muster in allowance company, against even tougher allowance company than his record would suggest he should face.
This would be Solar Maximus’s last win of the 2015-2016 winter meet at Mahoning Valley. He raced twice more, finishing a close second in starter company, then third when Engine turned the tables in a two-other-than in April. The previous year he had not liked Thistledown, so Solar Maximus spent the summer at Belterra. Winless in five starts, he amassed a second and a third.
After a two-month break, Solar Maximus returned to his racing home for this winter. He has finished fourth and fifth in his two starts this meet — though if he gets good this year the same time he got good in the last two winters, we have not heard the last from Solar Maximus.
Look toward Youngstown, and keep an eye on him.