Welcome back to the Twelve Days of Curlin Babies, where we celebrate the twelve most memorable races from Curlin’s progeny throughout 2017. Through all the hundreds of races in which they ran this year, these are the ones that keep reappearing in my mind.
#12: Stellar Wind Wins the First Beholder Mile
#11: Fireball Merlin Carries His Class to Fort Erie
#10: Irish War Cry Rolls Onto the Derby Trail
#9: Federal Agent Makes It Five Straight
#8: Horse-for-Course Captured Slips Under the Radar
#7: Good Magic Gives Curlin a Breeders’ Cup Win — and Solomini, an Exacta
#6: Handsome Franco Weathers Hurricane Maria
#5: Iredell Romps over Majestic Hussar at Laurel
#4: Curlinup and I Try Stakes Company
#3: Volgograd Debuts — Finally
To say I had been looking forward to Volgograd’s debut for a while is an understatement. Back in 2013, I stumbled across a picture on Facebook of a Curlin foal. I did a little sleuthing about the dam, and found out she was someone I could get excited about, too. Though she raced before I began to follow the races, Magnetic Miss was a local: an Illinois-bred who made 24 of her 36 lifetime starts in the state of Illinois. She was also a good one, a six-time stakes winner. Finally, she was an interesting match for Curlin: as Curlin had classic stamina, Magnetic Miss (like her sire Artax) did her best work going around one turn.
I waited, and waited, and waited for Volgograd to appear in the entry box, and hoped that would happen here. His two-year-old year passed quietly. His three-year-old year passed quietly.
In September of his four-year-old year, closing week at Arlington, he finally passed the entry box.
He debuted in a modest spot: a $20,000 maiden claimer at Arlington. On one hand, the tag was a bit of a disappointment; he had been an $80,000 auction purchase as a yearling. That said, he had been privately sold since then, and a lot of time had elapsed. It boded well that he was racing for one of the higher claiming tags on the Chicago circuit, instead of dropping right to a $7,500 or a $12,500 group.
The distance made sense, too: seven furlongs on the polytrack. It wasn’t too short, wasn’t too long, and Magnetic Miss was a multiple stakes winner over that very same course and distance. Expecting a win first out seemed a little much, but it at least looked a good spot for trainer Hugo Rodriguez and owner Sugar Daddy Stable to start getting an idea about how much he wanted to be a racehorse.
Drawn second to the outside in the field of seven, Volgograd came away well, but took back to track while Boogie Man, Toll Guard, and Savemethelastdance disputed the issue. Passing the half-mile mark and heading into the far turn, Volgograd gradually improved position, still outside.
The lost ground through the turn hindered him not. Past the five-sixteenths, Savemethelastdance was the one who had survived the pace battle. But, Volgograd had made it to his outside flank, and had more momentum. Savemethelastdance gave in.
Volgograd wasn’t home free. 34/1 outsider Hannity had slipped through to his inside, and asked Volgograd was he was made of. Volgograd never let the longshot pass. Hannity gave, but Volgograd gave more, holding him at bay by half a length.
It had been a long time, but well worth it. Volgograd was not only a starter — but 1:24.70 later, he was a winner.
He hasn’t seen the winners’ circle again, but in three starts after that maiden victory, he has held his own against winners. Volgograd cut back to six panels and finished a belated third in October at Hawthorne against $20K N2L claimers. He then finished an even closer third against N1X allowance company in early November, his first try at two turns. That outing was good enough for his connections to roll the dice and enter him at a distance his sire always liked — a mile and a quarter — in the Grade 3 Hawthorne Gold Cup. Though the race was wide open, he was by far the least experienced. Yet, in a race where speed held relatively well (and in which the ambitiously spotted Side Pocket almost walked the dog), Volgograd rallied from dead last for fifth in the eight-horse field.
Since then, he has moved to the barn of trainer Scott Becker, for new owner William Stiritz. Volgograd still has a chance to end his four-year-old year on a winning note; he is entered tomorrow, December 30, in a two-turn N1X allowance-optional at Fair Grounds.