#1: the sixth annual Twelve Days of Curlin Babies

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.

Vino Rosso, resplendent in the days leading to the 2019 Breeders’ Cup.

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!”

Breeders’ Cup, All In One Place

Here’s where you can find links to all my Breeders’ Cup work!

My race previews, in detail, are over at Picks and Ponderings.  There are separate pieces for Friday and Saturday; between them, I discuss every race.

I also discuss my thoughts on several of the races, and several of the more general themes of Breeders’ Cup, in the latest issue of Horseplayer Monthly magazine.  My Q&A runs from pages 21-23, but make sure to read the entire issue for in-depth Breeders’ Cup analysis and opinions!

I’m also on several panels where we share our picks, including Big Race Showdown on America’s Best Racing, the TwinSpires Betting GuideThoroFan, and Hello Race Fans.

Enjoy them, good luck, and happy Breeders’ Cup!

 

building Catholic Boy’s foundation

When I think of Catholic Boy, I think of the unheralded hard work that goes into building a great horse’s foundation.  I think of running in circles, measured circles, incessant circles.

In the week and a half leading up to the Breeders’ Cup last year, I spent the mornings trackside, radio clipped to my side, spotting Breeders’ Cup horses and calling their names and positions up to the camera nest.  Most of the horses wouldn’t spend much time out on the track.  They’d come out, jog a circuit or two, three at the most, then go back to the barn.

Not Catholic Boy.  He’d come out, we’d spot him, they’d show him on the camera for a while.  Then, a flurry of activity.  Horses would come in through the backstretch gap, there would be five or six other superstars of our sport to cut between.  Then, another lull.

“Anyone out here?”, the camera spotter’s voice on the radio would crackle.

I’d look up, see a familiar bay horse with a familiar maroon Bridlewood Farm saddle pad draped over a towel numbered 803.

Was it because he debuted at Gulfstream long after the geese, the cranes, and the best horses in the nation had returned north for the summer?  Was it because he skipped the traditional final round of preps, training straight from the With Anticipation in August all the way to November, around and around and away from the shouting throngs gathered along the rail on Saturday afternoons?  Was it because the name Jonathan Thomas didn’t roll off the tongue as easily, from years of repetition, as Aidan O’Brien or Chad Brown or Charlie Appleby or Graham Motion?

I’d push my button.  “Just Catholic Boy, coming past the seven furlong gap now.  Everyone else left.”

final NTRA poll thoughts

I voted in the NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll for the first time this year.  Some weeks were more difficult than others, but this week’s was the most brain-busting of all.

I had assumed all year that it would be the easiest.  After all, Breeders’ Cup is the big ending, and it’s the last poll of the year.  Though Breeders’ Cup is not the last big racing week before the Eclipse Awards — let’s not sneeze at Thanksgiving weekend, with races like the Clark and the Cigar Mile — it’s the only one of this scale, and nothing between now and the end of the year comes quite to the level of a Derby undercard, Belmont undercard, or Travers Day.

Yet?  It was the hardest.  Though Breeders’ Cup answered a lot of questions in individual divisions, the fact that the Top Thoroughbred Poll requires a voter to rank the divisions against each other makes it more difficult.  Most of my questions involved assessing not only what each horse did in their own division this year, but also how that stacks up against what horses in other divisions did.  Even with a rather sharp limitation that I’ve chosen to apply, that of not using horses who have not faced older company at least once during the year, many of the rank judgments felt uncomfortably tight.

Here’s my final ballot, with short notes on my rationale.

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Good Magic for Curlin in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile

I would never have expected Curlin’s first Breeders’ Cup winner (or any, for that matter…) to come in a two-year-old race.  Not only did Curlin never race at two, but he has not emerged as a two-year-old sire so much as a sire of Classic horses and older horses.

goodmagicpaddock
Good Magic, with Jose Ortiz aboard, puts on his game face before the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.  He would win with authority, becoming the first of Curlin’s progeny to win a Breeders’ Cup race.

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Picks and Ponderings: 2017 Breeders’ Cup Saturday Preview

Welcome to Day Two of the 2017 Breeders’ Cup!  Picks and Ponderings previewed Friday’s four Breeders’ Cup races in a separate piece.  Here, we look at Saturday’s nine Breeders’ Cup races, headlined by Arrogate’s attempt to join Tiznow among two-time winners of the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

The day features several links to the local circuit — many of which, to Arlington Million Day.  Arlington Million (G1) winner Beach Patrol will attempt to win a third straight Grade 1 race in the Breeders’ Cup Turf, and Secretariat Stakes (G1) winner Oscar Performance joins him in that field.  Dacita’s victory in the Beverly D Stakes (G1) this summer earned her a bid in the Beverly D, and she will attempt to join Dank in the exclusive club of mares who have swept the Beverly D – Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf double.

Head over to Picks and Ponderings, read my preview of Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup races, and let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Horseplayer Monthly: Breeders’ Cup Q&A!

Every year, Horseplayer Monthly does a Breeders’ Cup Q&A, a series in which they ask a host of smart and experienced handicappers some of the tough questions about handicapping the BC.  It’s always a great read — and this year, for the first time, I’m honoured to be a part of it!

My Q&A starts on page 28 — but make sure to read the entire issue, because it’s full of perspectives and race previews to make you a more informed Breeders’ Cup handicapper!

Picks and Ponderings: 2017 Breeders’ Cup Friday Preview

It’s that time of the year once more: the best horses in the world have descended on one place to settle their scores in the Breeders’ Cup.  For the first time, it takes place at beautiful Del Mar.  Also for the first time, Picks and Ponderings is there, so make sure to follow us on Twitter for photos, video, and observations!

Picks and Ponderings will have two separate Breeders’ Cup pieces: 0ne covering Friday, and one covering Saturday.  It will be a slightly different format than many of our recent big-race-day pieces.  Instead of doing an in-depth preview of a single race and then a picks spreadsheet for the rest, each piece will have shorter descriptions of rationale for each pick and longshot in each race.  Then, below, there will be a summary table with all selections and longshots.

Head over to Picks and Ponderings, read my latest, and get excited about the first day of the Breeders’ Cup!

2016 Breeders’ Cup Classic Preview and Saturday Analysis

Over at Picks and Ponderings, Paul Mazur and I have gone horse by horse through the field, discussing our picks, our place chances, and our tosses.  Head over to Picks and Ponderings and watch it!

In addition, don’t forget that my Saturday Breeders’ Cup analysis is available in the following places:

Good luck tomorrow, and enjoy the second day of the Breeders’ Cup!

Curlin babies at the Breeders’ Cup!

The Breeders’ Cup gets underway tomorrow.  Just like every year since 2013, when Palace Malice ran in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Curlin is represented.  In this year’s Breeders’ Cup, scheduled for November 4-5 at Santa Anita, five Curlin babies are slated to run.

Curlin is still looking for his first Breeders’ Cup winner.  He came close last year, when Stellar Wind finished just short of nine-furlong savant Stopchargingmaria in the Distaff.  That was Stellar Wind’s first attempt against older company.  A year later, Stellar Wind has grown better, faster, and stronger…and gives Curlin strong hope for his first Breeders’ Cup victory as a sire.

The following five progeny of Curlin will race in this year’s Breeders’ Cup:

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Breeders’ Cup previews on Horses for Courses

William Kedjanyi invited me to be a guest on the Horses for Courses podcast this week, and we talked Breeders’ Cup in depth!

We recorded two Breeders’ Cup episodes: one detailing Friday’s racing, and another detailing Saturday’s action. The show notes on each episode identify where we discuss each race, so you can zoom in to particular races if you’d like.

In addition to these SoundCloud links, you can also get Horses for Courses from iTunes.

Tune in for lively and detailed discussion of this weekend’s Breeders’ Cup action!

2016 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint Preview

The Breeders’ Cup preview action continues over at Danonymous Racing, where I have previewed this year’s competitive rendition of the Turf Sprint (GI)!

The Turf Sprint down the hill is a rara avis: a unique race on a unique course that often confounds true turf dash types.  With that being the case, it is a great opportunity for value, and I take a look at some horses who will be good prices — most of whom have some solid form going down the hill.

Head over to Danonymous Racing, and check out my preview of the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint!