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
#2 Solar Maximus Finally Conquers Cleveland
If you’ve been reading the Twelve Days of Curlin Babies over the years, you’ve probably come to ask not whether Solar Maximus (Solar Colony, by Pleasant Colony) will show up somewhere, but where he will show up on the list. After all, he showed up on the list in 2015, 2016, and 2018. All of those most memorable victories came at Mahoning Valley.
In fact, leading into 2019, he had ten wins: all but one at Mahoning. The only exception? His maiden win at Indiana Grand in June of 2013, before Mahoning Valley Race Course even existed.
Over the years Solar Maximus ran into the money his share of times elsewhere: at Thistledown, Belterra, Mountaineer. But, he always saved his winning form for Youngstown, Ohio. The Mahoning off-season meant Solar Maximus off-season, too.
This year, the Solar Maximus off-season ran longer than usual. It was still exciting, in a way; he spent the first five months of his nine-year-old year trying tougher racetracks, Oaklawn and Keeneland and Churchill, much of which while his home track was still running his winter meet. He ran like Solar Maximus away from Mahoning, sometimes rallying on, but never winning. His best finishes in that time were a pair of fourth-place runs at Oaklawn, coming from the clouds.
After that, it was back to normal for Solar Maximus, his usual summertime visit to Thistledown in North Randall, Ohio, just outside of Cleveland. June 4, he rallied, battled, but came home second best behind runaway winner Clyde Park.
A month later, he returned to action at Thistledown for trainer Gary Johnson and owner Ron Paolucci Racing. It was the same level as his last race, a $5,000 claimer for non-winners in a year, going a mile and seventy yards on the dirt.
Jockey Jose Bracho got Solar Maximus out of the gate smoothly and placed him toward the rear. Not all the way back — two others trailed him — but still comfortably off the pace, confident that enough pace would unfold.
Into the first turn, longshots Haywired and Bryndies Jewel disputed the pace, with Bryndies Jewel shaking clear into the back straight. Solar Maximus continued cozily in third-to-last, on his own between the main pack and the trailing pair.
Haywired pressed the pace again from the five eighths; he didn’t make Bryndies Jewel fly, given the 23.20 opening quarter and 48.04 opening half, but at least gave him some pressure, making things better for anyone who wanted to get a run later.
Near the half, Solar Maximus got going three wide, making a circling bid around the far turn.
“Here comes Solar Maximus now! As Max begins to gear up, and he’s travelling well on the outside…”
The familiarity in the voice of announcer Matt Hook, who also calls the races at Mahoning Valley, made it feel like an hour southeast, in the middle of winter.
Bryndies Jewel was all out to keep his lead into the lane, but Solar Maximus was rolling. The pacesetter dug in, but nearing the furlong pole, it had become a one-horse race.
“It’ll be a win for Max, here…”
He drew off by five and three quarters lengths, his first victory in eleven career starts at Thistledown.
After one more start at Thistledown in the summer, a sixth-place run on July 27, he got a break. He returned to his home track on November 13, rallying from last to win an open $8,000 claimer by a gutsy nose in a blanket finish. He ended his nine-year-old year with a fifth-place finish in starter company there on November 30.
Solar Maximus is already scheduled to kick off his ten-year-old year: he is entered at Mahoning Valley on January 4, back in the claiming ranks. He is one of the few in Curlin’s first crop still actively racing. Only four of his first crop raced in North America in 2019: Solar Maximus, Bold Shot, Imyfathersimage, and Federal Agent. Another, A Shin Epona, raced in Japan. Among those, Federal Agent, A Shin Epona, and Solar Maximus were the only ones who won at nine, with Solar Maximus the only two-time winner this year.
Though Solar Maximus’s career is certain to wind down over the next few years, I’m in no hurry to see it end, and would love to see him keep training and winning — at Mahoning and elsewhere! — as long as he loves his job.