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
#2: Whisper to Curlin Fights On In Chicago
I’ve loved Whisper to Curlin (Whisperifyoudare, by Red Ransom) as long as I’ve known who he was — and, why wouldn’t I? After all, Palace Malice got me into Curlin’s progeny in the first place, and there’s no Curlin baby so closely related to him as this Iowa-bred bay. Whisper to Curlin’s dam, Whisperifyoudare, also produced Palace Malice’s dam Palace Rumor.
It took a while for him to break his maiden, but once he did, he had an excellent three-year-old summer culminating with a win in the 2014 Iowa Breeders’ Derby. After one more start that year, however, he dropped off the map for over a year and a half. He struggled in allowance and stakes ranks last year, but during his seven-year-old year he showed some moments of form in the claiming ranks, including a win and a second at Prairie Meadows.
This fall, he came to my home track.
Whisper to Curlin’s first visit to Chicago didn’t go as well as it could have. Unlike his sire, Whisper to Curlin has never liked an off track much. October 7 was a sloppy mess, and he finished a flat ninth.
Eleven days later, Whisper to Curlin returned to the racetrack at 35th and Cicero. The weather cooperated this time: the skies were clear, and the track was fast. However, the public didn’t figure the track condition would make much difference. Though Whisper to Curlin was taking a slight drop in class from his last race, from a $5,000 beaten group to $4,000 beaten, the Robert L. Moser, Jr. owned, Tanner Tracy-trained entire went off a 15/1 outsider.
People had underestimated him.
Favoured Jaguar Ridge, in excellent form this year, shot to an early lead unchallenged by any of his eight foes. Whisper to Curlin, on the other hand, broke a little slowly from the far outside gate. He soon settled, and Edgar Perez got him to do what he does best: settle a handful of lengths off the pace and wait to make a rally at the right time. Whisper to Curlin tucked three wide midpack through the first turn, tracking into the backstretch.
No one else had challenged Jaguar Ridge yet as the field approached the far turn. Someone had to give him a run, and that someone was Whisper to Curlin. He launched a four-wide bid on the turn, and before the field had hit the five-sixteenths pole, he had drawn even with the leader.
Whisper to Curlin got his head in front; Jaguar Ridge came back on him. Into the final furlong, Jaguar Ridge had edged a head in front once more, and looked to have the most momentum. But, Whisper to Curlin came back on him. Approaching the wire, the favourite’s lead diminished. Crossing the wire, no unaided eye could tell whose nose hit first.
The stewards’ picture answered the question; Jaguar Ridge got the bob. But, Whisper to Curlin lost nothing in defeat. He gave an in-form horse with a tactical advantage all he could handle, and fought all the way to the wire.