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
#7 Chaos Theory Defies His Inexperience
#6: Global Campaign, Standard Deviation, and Curlin Grey Hit the Trifecta
#5 Point of Honor Lives Up to Expectations
#4 Risky Risky Risky Comes Home
#3 Gladiator King Rediscovers His Talent
As the year progressed, and three-year-old sprinters like Hog Creek Hustle and Shancelot came to the fore, it was easy to forget about one of the most intriguing sophomore sprinters from the first half of 2019.
Gladiator King (Golden Dawn, by Hennessy) had tried an impressive range of races before he even turned three. In just six races at two, he had tried dirt and turf, tried distances from five furlongs to a mile and an eighth. The shorter the better, it seemed. His three wins came in a maiden turf dash at Gulfstream Park West, an allowance turf dash there, and then the six-furlong Inaugural Stakes on the Tampa Bay dirt.
Coming into the Texas Glitter Stakes at Gulfstream on February 23, Gladiator King had already raced three times as a three-year-old, all on dirt. None of his races had gone well. He ran last behind Mihos in the one-mile Mucho Macho Man Stakes. He ran last behind Win Win Win in the seven-furlong Pasco Stakes. He ran last behind Harvey Wallbanger in the one-and-one-sixteenth-mile Holy Bull Stakes (G2).
The Texas Glitter was an acid test for the Jaime Mejia trainee. With all of the things Gladiator King had tried in nine starts so far, he was finally coming home, in a sense. The Texas Glitter was his first try on the grass since his allowance win back in November, and he was cutting back to five furlongs. If he was going to show that he was still a stakes horse, this was as good as spot as he was going to find.
The public though Gladiator King was finding the right spot…or, at least, a better spot than the last one. He went off at 16/1, the fourth-longest shot in the field of nine. Those odds were positively chalky compared to his 202/1 odds last time out, in the Holy Bull.
Breaking from the outside, jockey Jorge Solorzano nudged Gladiator King to get involved from the outset. Never Have I Ever made the top, but Solorzano got Gladiator King in a cozy spot just to his outside.
A quarter mile in, Gladiator King made it a battle, edging up to join on even terms with Never Have I Ever. They turned for home in a head-and-head-duel, with Gladiator King going slightly the better of the two. Though, the cavalry closed in on both sides.
In midstretch, Gladiator King began to drift out. Yes I Am Free descended to his outside; Jackson sliced on through horses to his inside. Solorzano implored Gladiator King for everything he had. Gladiator King fought on.
In the final sixteenth of a mile,his all wasn’t enough to get him to the wire first. Yes I Am Free got past on the outside, Jackson on the inside. But, Gladiator King still held third over the rallying R Boy Bode, and was beaten only a length for the win. Despite a string of disappointing losses, a racehorse still lived under that chestnut coat.
After that bright spot in the Texas Glitter, Gladiator King made one more attempt going long: he entered the Fountain of Youth (G2), went off at 132/1, and finished last. But then? He cut back to one turn, and we got to see the real Gladiator King once more. In the seven-furlong Hutcheson Stakes (G3), he went off at 12/1, the longest shot in a field of four. He shot to the lead and never gave anyone else a chance. Next he won the Roar Stakes, another seven-furlong sprint, digging in to hold by a nose over the flying Garter and Tie.
He took another road trip, his first race outside of Florida since the Remsen, trying the Chick Lang (G3) at Pimlico on Preakness weekend. He disputed the pace, opened up, and missed by only a head behind the rallying Lexitonian.
His streak of big races ended in the Ocala Stakes on June 1, a six-and-a-half-furlong sprint at Gulfstream, in which Garter and Tie turned the tables and Gladiator King finished fifth. He hasn’t returned to the worktab toward a 2020 campaign…though if he does? Expect to see him shine at one turn.