#12: the sixth annual Twelve Days of Curlin Babies

It’s the second half of December. As chaotic as things may get, I try to keep one thing constant in this corner of the Internet: the last twelve days of the year are the time to count down the highlights from Curlin’s progeny on the track.

For the sixth year in a row, highlights don’t always mean the richest or highest-profile races. They don’t mean the largest margins of victory, nor the narrowest. The list features horses at every level of the game, from maiden claimers to millionaires. It features horses of all ages, from up-and-coming juvenile stars in his eighth crop, to durable nine-year-olds in his first.

Let’s look back on the highlights of another great year in Curlin babies.

#12: Curlina Curlina Finds the Wire

On May 20, 2015, I bid hello to Curlin’s fourth crop. Curlina Curlina (Helen’s Echo, by Swiss Yodeler) was entered in a maiden special weight at Santa Anita the next day. I tempered my expectations; four-and-a-half-furlong baby races don’t tend to be where Curlin’s progeny shine. In a field of eight, she ran an even fifth.

Alien Giant won by three and a half lengths. Right There, who crossed the wire three and a half lengths behind, broke her maiden a month later in the Landaluce Stakes. As the year passed, one by one, the runners from Curlina Curlina’s debut broke their maidens. My Mom, who finished eighth and last, broke her maiden in August at Emerald Downs. Joan of Arch, sixth, came next, in October. November brought seventh-place Rich Girl a victory. Fourth-place She’s On the Line needed until two days before the year turned, but even she won as a juvenile.

That left Fast Escape and Curlina Curlina. Third-place Fast Escape never won; in four starts at age two and one at three, she never ran better than third. But, by the time 2019 blew in, Fast Escape had a filly on the ground, a Smiling Tiger yearling.

Curlina Curlina was still racing.

She only raced three times as a two-year-old. She sat out for ten months, from September 2015 through July 2016, but ran five times before the end of the season. Her best finish was fourth.

At four, she raced twelve times. She came as close as ever, missing by only a neck in a maiden claimer at Los Alamitos on July 9, 2017. But, Adaptability got her picture taken. For Curlina Curlina, the result was the same. Her saddle came off. She walked back home.

She tried eleven more times at age five. She ran second another three times, twice in California and once on November 26, 2018 at Zia. That maiden special weight sprint was her first start since moving from the barn of Mike Harrington to that of Justin Evans, her first try in New Mexico. Despite the new scenery, the result rang familiar.

Curlina Curlina turned six. She had run 31 times. She had run second five times, third four times. She kept trying.

January 12, she dropped into a claimer at Sunland, went off the odds-on favorite…and ran second of eleven. January 27? Another maiden claimer at Sunland, another wave of odds-on enthusiasm from the bettors, another second.

And, on the crisp, clear afternoon of February 17, her 34th start? Curlina Curlina went off in a six-and-a-half-furlong maiden claimer at as short a price as ever, 1/5, despite so many tries. She settled midfield as Easy Target and Sometimes a Rebel battled on the pace. Past the half mile mark, Sometimes a Rebel began to flatten. Curlina Curlina went around her, easily, with Easy Target in her sights.

At the quarter Curlina Curlina was clear of Sometimes a Rebel and back on the inside. Into the lane, there was a hole between Easy Target and the rail. Jockey Luis Contreras put Curlina Curlina to a drive, asking her what she had.

Enough. For once, she had enough.

She didn’t slip away quickly and easily; Prairie Dog had made a three-wide rally into the lane, and battled outside Curlina Curlina to midstretch. But, in the final furlong, Contreras no longer had to ask Curlina Curlina what she had. He let her go; they drew off by four and a half easy lengths.

That ease belied the long road Curlina Curlina took to get there.

Curlina Curlina has raced seven times since that maiden win. It may have taken her five racing seasons to win for the first time, but it only took her three starts to beat winners; she won by four and a half lengths again on March 31 at Sunland.

It took Curlina Curlina a little longer to find the wire than some of the others in her crop — a crop that featured shining stars like Exaggerator, Off the Tracks, Connect, and Curlin’s Approval. But, that only made it all the more sweet when she finally did.

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