#5: 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

#10: Legit Proves Aptly Named in His Gulfstream Unveiling
#9: Bishop’s Pond Proves She Is a Dirt Horse, After All
#8: Good Magic Reasserts His Class in the Blue Grass
#7: Dixie Moon Never Quits in the Carotene
#6: Amiral Rallies, Stuns, and Begins a Banner Day for His Sire

#5: Dabster Gives His All Against Battle of Midway

Though Dabster (On a Roll, by A. P. Indy) spent more of his three-year-old season on the bench than on the track, he had a full four-year-old season for trainer Bob Baffert and owner Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa al Maktoum. He became a stakes winner in the summer, winning the one-mile Harry F. Brubaker Stakes at Del Mar. He then showed his prowess going even longer with a comfortable score in the ten-furlong Los Alamitos Special, and then a gutsy second behind the nation’s top dirt stayer Rocketry in the Marathon Stakes (G2) at Churchill Downs.

After that, it was intriguing, almost surprising, to see him cut back to a mile and an eighth for the Native Diver Stakes (G3) on November 25 at Del Mar, especially when he would have to face Battle of Midway. Battle of Midway, one of the best two-turn middle-distance dirt horses by the end of 2017, had needed a few races after a subfertile season at stud, but he was finally coming back into his better form. If Dabster was going to get his first graded stakes win, he was going to have to get by one tough horse.

Dabster makes Battle of Midway work for victory in the 2018 Native Diver Stakes.

In a field scratched down to three, Battle of Midway had the inside, and was pushed along to the lead. Breaking out of the outermost gate, Joe Talamo got Dabster settled just outside of the pacesetting favourite, ahead of the chasing Isotherm. Dabster took the first turn affixed to Battle of Midway’s outside rear hip, and edged closer to even terms into the backstretch.

At the five-eighths pole, Dabster put his head in front, and kept it there utnil the half-mile mark. At that point, Battle of Midway drew even again, and the fight was on.

Around the far turn, head next to head, neither gave an inch as they relegated Isotherm to spectator. Into the lane, Joe Talamo and Flavien Prat had their dueling horses under a drive, asking each for everything they could give.

With three sixteenths of a mile remaining, Battle of Midway pushed his nose in front. Past the furlong pole it became a head, a neck, a half length past Dabster.

Dabster wasn’t done.

Inside the final sixteenth the son of Curlin came back. Half a length became a neck again, then less. But, the wire came too soon. Battle of Midway held off the resurgent Dabster by a head.

Dabster faced Battle of Midway again on December 26 in the San Antonio (G2). Though many expected a renewal of the Native Diver, a new foe joined the fray. Though Battle of Midway got the best of Dabster in the lane once again, after Joe Talamo lost the whip in upper stretch, Gift Box swooped past both for top honours.

If the San Antonio is a harbinger for the west coast handicap division to come in 2019, then Dabster, Battle of Midway, and Gift Box should make for a thrilling season.

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