#11: the fifth annual Twelve Days of Curlin Babies

Welcome back to the Twelve Days of Curlin Babies, where we celebrate the twelve most memorable races from Curlin’s progeny throughout 2018. Through all the hundreds of races in which they ran this year, these are the ones to which my mind keeps wandering back.

#12: Timeless Curls Marks Herself a Rising Star

#11: Secret Passage Comes Into His Own

In the fall of 2015, I got very excited about a two-year-old Curlin baby. By then Exaggerator had been on the radar for months, but there looked to be a rising star at Remington Park: Secret Passage (Sweet Eloise, by Sky Classic). After a pair of deep-closing victories that fall, I hoped to see him in the Springboard Mile and on the Derby trail.

Those things never happened.

Instead, he didn’t return until after the Triple Crown was over — August, in the Super Derby Prelude. In both that and the Oklahoma Derby (G3) he chased home Texas Chrome. He was fourth in the Super Derby Prelude and fifth in the Oklahoma Derby; though he never looked a winner in either, he did well for being thrown into the deep end immediately, better than splitting the field in both.

From there, his form went on and off. He did have an allowance win at Oaklawn in February of last year, but after Oaklawn his form flattened out a bit.

This year, I wasn’t sure what to expect. He finished off the board in a pair of allowance-optional races at Tampa for Pin Oak and trainer Malcolm Pierce, then was privately transferred to trainer Robertino Diodoro and new owners Lucky Dog Stables, Fitch Racing Stable LLC and Selman Shaby. His first start for those connections was also his first start in a straight claimer — a conditioned $50,000 race. If he was going to find his better form, it seemed like that would be the race where he would. But, he didn’t kick on quite enough and finished fourth beaten five lengths by Brerry.

Things went better two weeks later. Let off at 20/1 in an allowance-optional dirt mile at Oaklawn April 11, Secret Passage looked like the old Secret Passage. He settled back off a contested pace, kicked on in the lane, and scored by a head.

I hoped that race would be a harbinger of a better year, but I was cautious about my expectations, particularly since he had shown some horse-for-course tendencies at Oaklawn before. But, after his effort at Belmont on June 1, I let myself believe that he could have his breakout season this year.

The bettors in New York didn’t think much of his Oaklawn victory, or of his ability to win a two-other-than optional claimer outside of Hot Springs. (Secret Passage was in for the $62,500 tag.) He was hardly chalk at Oaklawn, but he went off over twice the price at Belmont: 41/1.

Once again, the Secret Passage I had known since 2015 came out to play.

J S Bach, half of an odds-on Michael Dubb entry, made the early pace. He set an uncontested yet heady clip for the mile and a sixteenth distance: 23.27 for the quarter, 45.90 for the half. Secret Passage dropped out the distant trailer, about a dozen lengths off the running, waiting for the pace to catch up to J S Bach and his closest pursuers, the likes of Realm and Driven to Compete.

The pack began to close in on J S Bach through the sweeping far turn. Secret Passage was still far back, but beginning to make up ground outside of fellow trailer Frammento. Approaching the stretch the pacesetter still had his lead, but just barely: Realm loomed to his outside, and Niigon’s Edge breathed down three wide.

Secret Passage was coming. Turning for home he blew through most of the pack and swung to the outside. Into the lane had dead aim on the leading trio, and something in the tank.

Into the final furlong J S Bach capitulated, but Niigon’s Edge and a game Realm made Secret Passage work for it. Under a drive, Secret Passage kept finding more; he wore down Niigon’s Edge to get up by a neck at the wire.

Secret Passage has raced three times since that victory at Belmont. He finished fourth in a field of five in an allowance-optional at Saratoga in August, where a dawdling pace did him no favours. The next month he reappeared at Belmont, in the same kind of race he won in June: N2X/$62,500, a mile and a sixteenth on the dirt. Secret Passage’s odds were 5.9/1 and not 41/1, but the win tickets were just as good: he swallowed up the field in the lane and won by a length and a quarter. From there, it was off to Listed stakes company in the Delta Mile — where he achieved the first stakes placing of his career, finishing third behind a forwardly-placed Mocito Rojo.

Though it happened a couple of years later that I had let myself think it would, Secret Passage finally found his stride at age five. As he is a gelding by Curlin, we can only hope he stays healthy, in training, and in that form for a while longer.

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