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
#4: Campaign Wins Twice at Kentucky Downs
#3: Vino Rosso Rediscovers His Best in the Wood
#2: Bam Bam Blu Rewards the Patience of His Connections
#1: Solar Maximus Returns to His Favourite Winners’ Circle
Solar Maximus (Solar Colony, by Pleasant Colony) has long been a favourite. When I was first gathering my list of racing-age Curlin babies in 2014, his last line just read “pulled up, vanned off”. I had no idea if he was alive, much less if he was going to race again.
Then, he returned to the worktab. Then, he returned to the track.
In the fall of 2014 Mahoning Valley Race Course opened, and Solar Maximus found his place to thrive. From November 2014 through February 2016 the first-crop Curlin gelding won eight times, with all of those wins coming in Youngstown, including a four-win streak in the winter of 2015-2016. Over the next two years he had a lot of competitive races — including four second-place finishes in a row over his favourite course in early 2017 — but the winners’ circle eluded him.
However, the sun began to shine again the next season.
Solar Maximus made his first start of the 2017-2018 Mahoning Valley season on December 27, finishing a close second behind odds-on favourite Tiznow R J in a $5,000 claimer at a mile over the dirt, for non-winners in the last six months. Running on late, he missed by only half a length. He made his 2018 debut on January 10 — his eight-year-old debut — at the same course, distance, and level as that outing. Without Tiznow R J in the picture, the public figured Solar Maximus would find his best again, sending him out the 9/5 favourite in the field of nine.
As usual, Solar Maximus dropped all the way to the rear, settling two wide almost a dozen lengths behind runaway pacesetter Artemus Coalmine. He continued without a particular hurry into the backstretch, gradually improving position as the field approached the half-mile mark though not yet being asked for a run.
Approaching the far turn, with Artemis Coalmine still winging it five lengths clear of the field, Solar Maximus could wait no longer. He dropped to the rail and fast improved to midpack.
Approaching the three eighths, Solar Maximus needed room. He bided his time in the midst of a traffic jam, waiting for a way out.
That came on the turn for home. Jockey Jaime Rodriguez swung Solar Maximus out side of a line of horses at the mouth of the lane, urging him to go four wide. By then, Artemus Coalmine was coming back to the field; Solar Maximus’s task was no longer to catch him, but to outkick everyone else in the chasing throng.
Into the final furlong, Strongbow had established himself as the one to catch. Three wide — directly inside of Solar Maximus — he carried a half-length advantage into the last eighth of a mile. Solar Maximus kept coming. Though they exchanged contact approaching the sixteenth mark, Solar Maximus did not lose momentum, and he powered on by. Strongbow continued on with grit, but Solar Maximus would not be denied. The son of Curlin crossed the wire a half-length in front.
After a stewards’ inquiry and a claim of foul by Strongbow’s rider, both involving the bumping approaching the sixteenth pole, the race went official. Solar Maximus stayed up. He posed for his ninth win picture at Mahoning Valley, and the tenth of his career.
This would be Solar Maximus’s last race for longtime trainer Joe Poole and owner Richard H. McCall. He was claimed out of the contest by owner Loooch Racing Stables and trainer Gary Johnson, for whom he has continued to race since.
He has won once more for his new connections — in his very next start, on February 12. Notched up to $10,000 company, Solar Maximus crossed the wire second that day, but only after being impeded by a drifting Colony Classic. It was enough to take Colony Classic down and award Solar Maximus the victory. Solar Maximus made ten more starts this year; though he has not won since that disqualification, he has finished second four more times — including in his most recent start, in which he finished second behind stablemate Another Source, who went gate to wire.
If previous years are any indication, watch out for Solar Maximus as the meet goes on. Watching him get good during the winter at Mahoning never gets old.