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
#1 Raise a Toast to a Banner Day
November 2 was as as good a day as Curlin’s progeny have ever had, no mean feat. After all, on May 17 of this year, Tenfold, Point of Honor, and Mylady Curlin all won graded stakes races at Pimlico. On November 4, 2017, Good Magic and Solomini formed the exacta of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1). But, on November 2 of this year, Curlin babies were winning all over the country, at every rung on the class ladder.
The day began in modest yet thrilling fashion. In the second race at Finger Lakes, a $7,500 claimer for non-winners of three, going a mile and seventy yards on dirt. Four-year-old gelding Construct (Blue Catillac, by Bluegrass Cat) made the top, was confronted near the half, battled from there to the wire under the urging of rider Joel Cruz, and got his nose down between horses to win the photo. Trained by Julie Smith and owned by his trainer and Deborah M. Cornell, Construct posed for his second win picture in a row after that game effort.
A little over an hour later, Flip (Malibu Moon Dance, by Malibu Moon) took the spotlight in the Laurel fourth, a seven-furlong waiver maiden claimer on the dirt. The three-year-old gelding, trained by Dale Capuano and owned by Edward F. Schuler at the time, was trying for the third time to break his maiden. Breaking second to the outside in the field of eleven, jockey Sheldon Russell sat just off a three-way pace battle, encroached around the far turn, led near the furlong mark, and drove clear to a two-length victory. Flip went home to a different stall after that race; trainer Cathal Lynch and owner Lynch Racing LLC dropped the $35,000 slip. The move paid fast dividends; Flip returned on November 27 to win a starter optional claimer at Laurel for his new connections.
Next came Rocknroll Rocket (Rocket Twentyone, by Indian Charlie). Trained by Robertino Diodoro for owners Rick Wiest, Clayton Wiest, and Charlie Butz, he raced in a maiden optional claimer at a mile on the Turf Paradise grass, the track’s eighth race of the day. Just like Flip, he was three. Unlike Flip, he was in no way new to the racetrack. He was making his thirteenth start. He had already hit the board nine times, including a Listed-level placing: he ran third behind his odds-on stablemate Oil Money in the Manitoba Derby back in August. But, November 2, Rocknroll Rocket’s day finally came under the Arizona sun. He settled at the middle of a well-strung field, jockey Denny Velazquez loose with a circling move from the three furlong pole, and he blasted off to win by five and a quarter lengths. It may have taken him thirteen starts to break his maiden, but his first-level allowance win came far more quickly: just two starts later, on December 2, that time at a mile on the dirt.
The stakes rose for Curlin’s next big moment, in the Chilukki Stakes (G3) at Churchill Downs. The race drew a field of six to go a mile on the dirt, and the favourites were both daughters of Curlin: Mylady Curlin (Ladyledue, by Slewdledo) and Sally’s Curlin (Cabo Queen, by More Than Ready). Four-year-old Mylady Curlin, trained by Brad Cox and owned by Sather Family LLC, was the proven stakes horse: she was a three-time stakes winner, including her Grade 3 win on Curlin’s big day at Pimlico back in May. Trainer Dale Romans and owners CJ Thoroughbreds, Left Turn Racing LLC, and Casner Racing, LP had high hopes for Sally’s Curlin, but she was still unproven at the stakes level. She came into the Chilukki flying high off of two consecutive allowance wins, but the three-year-old’s only previous stakes attempt had been an eleventh-place finish in the Indiana Oaks (G3).
Mylady Curlin stalked just behind pacesetter Cairenn, and outside of Divine Queen. Sally’s Curlin, on the other hand, settled to the rear, just inside of Chocolate Martini. Near three furlongs out, both daughters of Curlin began their moves. Jockey Shaun Bridgmohan urged Mylady Curlin to encroach to Cairenn’s outside. Meanwhile, Corey Lanerie switched Sally’s Curlin outside of Chocolate Martini, giving her clear running room to show her closing kick. At the three sixteenths, Mylady Curlin took the lead; Sally’s Curlin rolled up the far outside, still two and a half lengths off the lead.
No one else in the field could match the two daughters of Curlin, but the late run proved the best run. Sally’s Curlin got to Mylady Curlin in time, winning by three quarters of a length.
Curlin was already having an excellent day, but his biggest moment still awaited. After all, his son Vino Rosso (Mythical Bride, by Street Cry) was making his final start before retiring to stud at Spendthrift Farm, and was doing so in his division’s biggest race of the year. He was trying to become the first of Curlin’s foals to match their sire’s feat of winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1). Trainer Todd Pletcher and owners Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable had planned for it all year, going so far as to send him west for the Gold Cup at Santa Anita (G1) to test him over the track. He passed that test in May, and was coming into the Breeders’ Cup Classic off of a gritty race and a disappointing disqualification in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1).
Drawn second to the outside in the field of eleven, Vino Rosso was prominent, just behind the leading flight, down the first stretch run. With War of Will and his closest pursuers, McKinzie and Mongolian Groom, going as fast as they were — 23.09 for the opening quarter — he settled back closer to midfield around the first turn, three wide but with clear sights. Down the backstretch, he kept on a clear fourth, well behind the leading trio, through a half in 47.16 and three quarters in a lively 1:10.71.
Near the seven sixteenths, jockey Irad Ortiz asked Vino Rosso to get going. He responded, swallowing the gap on the leading group. McKinzie struck the front nearing the quarter pole, but he had company. Just past that point, Vino Rosso looked McKinzie in the eye. A class horse, McKinzie didn’t give up easily, battling Vino Rosso to the furlong mark. However, past the sixteenth, as Vino Rosso drew off to win by four and a quarter lengths over McKinzie, announcer Frank Mirahmadi punctuated the end of the greatest day in the history of Curlin babies.
“Vino Rosso: like father, like son! The son of Curlin romps in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic!”