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
#1: Keen Ice Upsets the Suburban
Keen Ice (Medomak, by Awesome Again) did not always win, but when he did, he did so when it looked an impossible task.
Even though he went off the favourite in a Churchill Downs maiden race in September 2014, he had eight lengths to make up on Tiznow R J and Starbound with a furlong to go. Keen Ice got there.
The next year, in the Travers (G1), few thought Triple Crown champion American Pharoah could be beaten. No one bothered to tell Keen Ice that, and he took command in the final sixteenth.
Antepost, most had already handed this year’s Suburban Stakes (G2) to Shaman Ghost. The son of Ghostzapper had come closest to Arrogate in the Pegasus World Cup (G1), then followed that up with victories in the Santa Anita Handicap (G1) and the Pimlico Special (G3). He had the form, the stamina, and the tactical ability to shine at a mile and a quarter in a field of five. Among the few who thought Shaman Ghost could be beat, most of them leaned toward Matt King Coal, figuring he could just wire the field.
Keen Ice, dismissed at 5/1, had other ideas.
As expected, Matt King Coal assumed the early lead, and Shaman Ghost settled in closest to stalk. Keen Ice dropped back to last in the early stages, but rider Jose Ortiz made sure his horse never lost touch with the field. As Matt King Coal dawdled in the lead down the backstretch, Ortiz eased Keen Ice forward. He inched ahead to fourth position in shallow backstretch, hugging the rail just behind Watershed, and only about three lengths from the front.
Through Belmont’s sweeping far turn, Matt King Coal still led. Rider Javier Castellano implored Shaman Ghost to go, but it took him some time to get going. Just back and inside Jose Ortiz sat chilly on Keen Ice. He sat in the perfect spot, ready to unleash the power at the right time.
Approaching the quarter pole, the time came. Ortiz asked Keen Ice for what he had, and swung him out three wide into the stretch. By then, the engine in Shaman Ghost had turned over, and he gained on Matt King Coal. The pacesetter retreated, meek.
Shaman Ghost’s nose did not stay at the vanguard for long. Keen Ice, moving better, descended to the favourite’s outside. Approaching the final furlong he got his head in front, and he drew off to an easy three-length victory.
Keen Ice’s victory in the Suburban was his first since his Travers victory almost two years back, his first since moving to the barn of Todd Pletcher, and his first since Calumet Farm joined Donegal Racing in ownership. It also turned out to be his final career victory. After second-place finishes in the Whitney (G1) and the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1), I hoped for one final surprise before he went off to stud. Unfortunately, that did not happen; he came out of a gallop less than two weeks before the Breeders’ Cup Classic with an ankle injury, and was retired to stud when that happened.
Still, Keen Ice left his racing days with one more win, his powerful surprise in the Suburban. Here’s hoping he has babies as long-winded, durable, and fun to follow as he himself was.