Welcome back to the Twelve Days of Curlin Babies, where we celebrate the twelve most memorable races from Curlin’s progeny through 2019. Among all the hundreds of races in which they ran this year, these are the ones to which my mind keeps wandering back.
#12: Curlina Curlina Finds the Wire
#11: A Pleasant Surprise, Volgograd
#10 Ajaaweed Emerges as a Juvenile to Watch
#9 Lady Apple Trains On
#8 Tenfold and Cordmaker Stretch Out
There aren’t enough races at the Classic Distance anymore, even in the handicap division, so it was a pleasant surprise to see the Pimlico Special (G3) stretch out to a mile and a quarter.
Though, rest the emphasis on surprise. The Special wasn’t a short race to begin with; it had been a mile and three sixteenths, just like the Preakness (G1). It had been a mile and three sixteenths dating all the way back to its beginning in 1937, when War Admiral beat Masked General by a length and a half. It had been a mile and three sixteenths for the Seabiscuit-War Admiral match race, for Whirlaway and Assault and Citation, for Devil His Due and Cigar and Invasor. It has been a mile and three sixteenths for another son of Curlin, Irish War Cry, who seized the lead and gave One Liner, Untrapped, and the rest no chance in 2018.
Thirteen horses lined up for the first Pimlico Special at a mile and a quarter. That included two four-year-old sons of Curlin, Tenfold (Temptress, by Tapit) and Cordmaker (Tanca, by Polish Numbers).
Though Cordmaker was Maryland-bred, he had never run at Pimlico before. Every one of his prior starts had come at Laurel Park, and all but two had come at one turn. His first route try, on the grass, suggested he didn’t like that footing much; his previous two-turn dirt try was more promising, a length and a half triumph in the nine-furlong Harrison E. Johnson Memorial Stakes. That race had come two starts before the Pimlico Special, and he had piled on another allowance victory at seven furlongs since that race. Form was no question for Cordmaker, though the Pimlico Special would be Cordmaker’s first try at the Classic distance and only his second graded stakes attempt.
Tenfold, however, came into the Pimlico Special with a good day at Old Hilltop behind him already. A year earlier, though he couldn’t quite topple eventual Triple Crown winner Justify in a foggy, sloppy Preakness, he fought for a mighty third, three quarters of a length short. He went on to win the Jim Dandy (G2) that summer, though with two off-the-board finishes to begin his four-year-old year, Tenfold was hoping the move to Pimlico and the step up in trip would bring him back to his best.
From the start Flameaway and Flying the Flag locked in battle. Jockey Ricardo Santana, Jr. dropped Tenfold to the rail as soon as he could, though was happy to let him settled near the rear of the field while the speed duel took its toll. Cordmaker looked a coiled spring in the opening furlongs, on the stretch out from a sprint, but rider Victor Carrasco was able to set him midfield between horses, not losing too much ground and not blowing too much energy over a longer trip than he had ever traversed.
Into the far turn, as the early pouncers began to make their runs, Tenfold continued near the rear, inside, lying in wait. Things looked less cozy for Cordmaker, who was losing ground through the field while coming under a ride. Passing the three eighths, Tenfold was beginning to make his run; he had passed Cordmaker, who was all out near the rear, looking an unlikely contender for any late-race photographs.
The pace horses began to back up in upper stretch after setting such fast fractions, and Tenfold took full advantage. He had aim on the leading flight at the three sixteenths, ready to split as soon as there was a horse-sized gap. Just past the quarter pole, Tenfold was in front, responding well to what Santana was asking him.
Meanwhile, coming into the lane, Carrasco had swung Cordmaker to the outside. He put Cordmaker to a drive near the three sixteenths mark, and soon it became clear that Cordmaker was just playing possum through the second turn. He gained outside the length of the stretch, closing the gap jump by jump, just outside of the also-rallying You’re To Blame.
Tenfold hit the wire just in time: a neck in front of You’re to Blame, with Cordmaker another neck behind.
Since then, Tenfold has yet to return to those heights. In five starts since the Pimlico Special, all in stakes company, his best finishes have been a pair of fourths. One was a well-beaten one behind Higher Power in the Pacific Classic (G1) in August. The other came just two days ago, in the Tenacious Stakes, though that was as encouraging a start as Tenfold has had since the Pimlico Special: he was gaining late, and beaten only three quarters of a length by Pioneer Spirit.
Cordmaker has won three of four since the Pimlico Special, with his only defeat being a fifth-place run in the Suburban (G2) in June. He has successfully flipped between short and long distances, winning the Polynesian Stakes at seven furlongs at Laurel, an allowance at a mile and seventy yards at Delaware, and most recently the DTHA Governors’ Day Handicap over that same course and distance.
Hopefully both Tenfold and Cordmaker remain healthy and happy, and can return for a rematch next spring at Pimlico!