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.
Whisper to Curlin (Whisperifyoudare, by Red Ransom) has long been one of my favourite Curlin babies. It was inevitable…Palace Malice was why I started following Curlin babies in the first place, and there’s no Curlin baby so closely related to him as Whisper to Curlin. Whisperifyoudare, his dam, is Palace Malice’s second dam.
Keen Ice (Medomak, by Awesome Again) hasn’t been the most consistent horse in his four seasons on the racetrack, but the son of Curlin has built a track record of blowing my mind once a year.
In 2014, when he was two, that came in the form of an impossible-looking maiden victory. The next year, his star performance came at Saratoga, where he ran past Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in the Travers. Though he did not win at age four, he amazed me by hitting the board in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, off just an allowance prep.
At five, that “wow” moment from Keen Ice came earlier in the year than ever before: in Saturday’s Suburban Stakes (G2).
Curlin babies have made eleven Breeders’ Cup starts so far. All eleven of those starts have come in two-turn races: the Classic, Distaff, Turf, Juvenile, and Juvenile Fillies.
But, Saturday at Gulfstream Park, Curlin’s Approval (Withmom’sapproval, by With Approval) secured her ticket to the end-of-year championships — specifically, the Filly and Mare Sprint — with a resounding score in the Grade 2 Princess Rooney Stakes.
Though squeezed tightly in a line of horses soon after the break, rider Luis Saez got Curlin’s Approval into gear, and quickly settled her in the second flight — behind leader Kinsley Kisses, and just to the outside of Dearest. She chased comfortably down the backstretch.
Approaching the half-mile pole, Curlin’s Approval began inching up on the leader’s outside. Through the far turn the lead became three quarters of a length, half a length, a neck…until they were head-and-head. Kinsley Kisses tried for several strides, but she had run against a better horse. At the quarter pole, Curlin’s Approval led by a head. Dearest and Distinta rallied to her outside, looming a threat. Turning for home, Saez told Curlin’s Approval it was time for business — and she responded by clearing off. Distinta kept chasing…but Curlin’s Approval was gone. She crossed the wire four and a half lengths clear of that foe, leaving no doubt about who was punching their ticket to the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint.
Of course…a bid is one thing. Making it to Del Mar this November will require her to stay healthy and fit over the next four months. Doing well, much less winning, will require a combination of shrewd management and good racing luck
It will also require Curlin’s Approval to answer the biggest question that remains about her form: can she replicate her best form outside of Hallandale Beach? So far she has run eleven times…all six of her wins have come at Gulfstream, and she finished off the board in tries at Keeneland and Churchill.
But, if she can take her form outside of Florida? She has repeatedly proven her love for the extended one-turn trip, so the specialist distance of the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint (seven furlongs) should suit Curlin’s Approval better than most. It will be interesting to see how she prepares…though if she stays healthy, she has her chance to become Curlin’s first one-turn Breeders’ Cup starter.
And, if she takes to Del Mar? She could become Curlin’s first ever Breeders’ Cup winner, in an unexpected division for such a stamina merchant of a sire.
Curlin has had a baby from each of his crops so far enter the Kentucky Derby, and this year is no different. Despite only 41 Curlin foals being reported in 2014, his babies beat the odds. Irish War Cry (Irish Sovereign, by Polish Numbers) has earned his way into the starting gate this Saturday.
Historically speaking, he did not draw the best post. Not only is Irish War Cry marooned out in the auxiliary gate, but he drew post 17. 38 horses have broken from post 17. None have prevailed. However, four winners have hailed from the 16 hole. The 18, 19, and 20 gates have produced a winner apiece, with the winners from 19 (I’ll Have Another) and 20 (Big Brown) both having come within the last ten years.
So, despite the inauspicious gate draw? Horses can win from outside, even farther outside than Irish War Cry drew, and other factors weigh well for the New Jersey-bred.
He proved in the Wood that his maiden race at Laurel last year was no fluke — he can rate and rally, even against class horses. Rajiv Maragh, who rode Irish War Cry in the Wood, gets the return call in the Derby. With Fast and Accurate, Always Dreaming, State of Honor, and Irap all drawn inside, Irish War Cry should be able to track from the outside, get a relatively clean trip, and make his move.
The forecast also calls for wet weather on Derby day and the days leading up to it. Irish War Cry has never raced in the mud, but his breeding gives him every right to thrive. Curlin’s affinity for a sloppy track, as he displayed in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, has passed along to his progeny. They win 18% of the time in the slop…most famously Exaggerator, who won the Santa Anita Derby (G1), Preakness (G1), and Haskell (G1) over off tracks. Damsire Polish Numbers is also a 18% mud influence, and Irish War Cry’s Tomlinson (a mud rating used in DRF past performances) is 443, the best rating in the field.
So, could both post 17 and Curlin get their first Kentucky Derby winners this year? If Irish War Cry brings his best on Saturday, chances look bright.
After he won the Holy Bull, I asked, almost hypothetically…”which Irish War Cry?”
That day, the answer seemed simple. Irish War Cry (Irish Sovereign, by Polish Numbers) sent to the front, and he won easily. The frontrunning one from the Marylander came back to play, as opposed to the late running Irish War Cry who broke his maiden so impressively at Laurel.
The picture got blurrier in the Fountain of Youth a month later.
The Doc hasn’t been in for a while.
Before today, Doc Curlin (Jasmine Jewel, by Mr. Greeley) hadn’t run since last April. The five-year-old gelding had raced eight times between ages three and four, earning his diploma in a $40,000 maiden claimer at Belmont in October 2015. That came for trainer Thomas Bush, though he was claimed for $50,000 out of his next start. That was the last start of his three-year-old year. He made two more for new trainer Kristen Mulhall, missing the board in both of them.
All of those starts had come out east. Today, not only did Doc Curlin emerge ten months older, but he got a change of course. He still ran under Mulhall’s care. But, instead of the old familiar strains of New York or Gulfstream, he tried the hill at Santa Anita.
Irish War Cry (Irish Sovereign, by Polish Numbers) had two wins in two starts going into today’s Holy Bull (G2).
Even though he had done everything asked of him, the question loomed: which Irish War Cry would show up to face more proven horses like champion Classic Empire and multiple graded stakes winner Gunnevera in his graded stakes debut?
The last few days have featured two big wins for Curlin babies: one by a filly rounding back into form at age four, and another by a three-year-old colt who is just getting started.
Breeding horses isn’t an exact science. After all, the adage involves breeding the best to the best and hoping for the best, not knowing you’ll get the best. But, if one stallion keeps providing solid horses when bred to a mare or her family, why not stick with what works?
Curlin’s Image (Image of Mom, by Halo’s Image) already has a few close relatives by Curlin.