#9: 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

Through the early part of the 2018 two-year-old season, Lady Apple (Miss Mary Apples, by Clever Trick) was as good a filly as Curlin had. On debut, in a four-and-a-half-furlong baby race at Keeneland, she ran second behind Dragic, an odds-on favorite for the king of the Keeneland baby races, Wesley Ward. It was still a good enough effort for trainer Steve Asmussen and owners Phoenix Thoroughbred III and KatieRich Stables to route her into stakes company next out. She moved forward in the Astoria. She was always in range; she even led midstretch. But, Athens Queen came home just a neck better, and Wesley Ward carried another day.

After off-the-board finishes in the Schuylerville Stakes (G3) and a maiden special at Saratoga in August, both at one turn, Lady Apple went on the shelf. Despite her first flash of precocity, maybe it was once again time to let her grow up a bit.

After all, she is a Curlin baby. Her dam, Miss Mary Apples, won a Keeneland baby race and ran second in the Schuylerville, but held form at age three. Her close family is replete with horses who were like that, horses with two-year-old form who were able to train on: Miss Red Delicious, Dr. Diamond’s Prize, Parlor, even Euprhates — a Curlin half to Miss Mary Apples who ran in Turkey.

Lady Apple returned six months after that second Saratoga try, on February 7, in a maiden special weight at six furlongs over the Oaklawn dirt. One of only two experienced runners among the seven who went to the post, Lady Apple sparked the faith of the bettors, going off as the 1.1/1 favorite.

Longshot Listen Up settled on the lead, but Lady Apple did not let her slip far away. Handling the sloppy footing well, she settled just to the outside, nose at the leader’s outside flank.

Into the turn she still moved comfortably. Moving outside the leader, she drew steadily closer to even with each step. At the quarter, she drew even. Coming toward the three sixteenths, she began to separate herself. Only Summer Delivery — the only other experienced horse, and a Twirling Candy half to the dam of Promises Fulfilled, Marquee Miss, and Marquee Cal Gal — could keep pace. Even so, Lady Apple kept giving what jockey Ricardo Santana asked of her, holding a length and a half on Summer Delivery from the furlong to the wire.

Lady Apple had returned.

With the class she showed at two, the win was enough to suggest that she could be a stakes horse again at three. She ran to those hopes. After an allowance win in March at Oaklawn, her first attempt at two turns, she secured her ticket to the Kentucky Oaks (G1) with a 9/1 upset in the Fantasy (G3). She proved she belonged, running third behind Serengeti Empress. Lady Apple made three more starts after the Oaks, winning two of them: the Iowa Oaks (G3) and the Remington Park Oaks (G3).

All of that graded stakes glory had to start somewhere. Every precocious two-year-old who stays in training at three has to answer the question of whether they’ve progressed with their class. Lady Apple’s affirmative answer to that question began with victory on a sloppy February day at Oaklawn.

America’s Best Racing: Big Race Showdown, Arkansas Derby and Lexington Stakes

This is week eleven of Big Race Showdown at America’s Best Racing: where I clash heads with six awesome handicappers (Emily GulliksonCandice HareDan TordjmanBrian ZipseEric Bialek, and Mark DiLorenzo) to see who can stay the hottest through Derby prep season.

After a solid week last week, I’m leading in terms of bankroll!  Let’s see if I can keep it up this week, or if another handicapper is going to catch me with a nice exacta or trifecta.  We tackle both the Arkansas Derby (G1) and the Lexington Stakes (G3), the final two Derby points preps!

Picks and Ponderings: 2018 Arkansas Derby Preview

Oaklawn’s meet draws to a close with the Arkansas Derby — a $1,000,000, Grade 1 affair that is the final 100-40-20-10 point prep of the season.  Inaugurated in 1936 and run every year since except for 1945, it has always been run at nine furlongs.  It has vacillated between a Grade 1 and a Grade 2 since 1976, but held firm at a Grade 1 since 2010.  It does not look to be losing its top grade anytime soon, as its recent form has held well come Classic season.  Though last year’s winner Classic Empire finished fourth in the Kentucky Derby, he rebounded with a second-place finish in the Preakness.  2016’s winner, Creator, won the Belmont.  2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah won Hot Springs’s richest race before going to Kentucky.  2014’s longshot winner, Danza, franked that form by finishing third behind California Chrome in the Run for the Roses.

Head over to Picks and Ponderings, read my preview of the Arkansas Derby, and let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Picks and Ponderings: 2018 Fantasy Stakes Preview

This year marks the 46th running of the Fantasy Stakes at Oaklawn.  At stake this year are a share of a $400,000 purse, as well as 100-40-20-10 Road to the Kentucky Oaks points to the top four places.  The race has been run at 1 1/16 miles and restricted to three-year-old fillies since its inception in 1973.  It has been either a Grade 1 or a Grade 2 for most of its history, though it was downgraded to a Grade 3 starting in 2013.  Even so, this final prep race at Oaklawn has been a rich source of Kentucky Oaks winners.  It has produced eight to date: Davona Dale (1979), Bold ‘n Deterimined (1980), Heavenly Cause (1981), Tiffany Lass (1986), Lite Light (1991), Blushing K. D. (1997), Rachel Alexandra (2009), and Blind Luck (2010).  Rachel Alexandra would then go on to win the Preakness Stakes — the only Fantasy Stakes winner to then win a Triple Crown race.

Head over to Picks and Ponderings, read my preview of Friday’s Grade 3 Fantasy Stakes, and let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Picks and Ponderings: 2018 Rebel Stakes Preview

Oaklawn’s spur of the Derby trail continues this Saturday with the Rebel Stakes.  The race offers a purse of $900,000, in addition to Road to the Kentucky Derby points (50-20-10-5) for its top four finishers.

Inaugurated in 1961, the Rebel Stakes currently serves as the third of four steps on Oaklawn’s road to the Kentucky Derby.  The race has constantly featured top-class horses.  American Pharoah (2015) began his sophomore campaign in the race — a year that continued with a Triple Crown win, a Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) win, and both Champion Three Year Old Male and Horse of the Year honours.  Though he is the only Triple Crown winner to have won the Rebel Stakes, a host of other three-year-old champions have won this race, including Temperence Hill (1980), Smarty Jones (2004), Curlin (2007), Lookin at Lucky (2010), and Will Take Charge (2013).

Head over to Picks and Ponderings, read my preview of the Rebel Stakes, and let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Picks and Ponderings: 2018 Honeybee Stakes Preview

This year marks the 30th running of the Honeybee Stakes at Oaklawn Park.  It has always been a 1 1/16 mile race for three-year-old fillies.  It first earned a grade 3 rating in 1990, and has carried that status every year except for 2003-2007, during which it was once again ungraded.  This year’s renewal offers a $200,000 purse, as well as Road to the Kentucky Oaks points (50-20-10-5) for fillies in the top four places.

Head over to Picks and Ponderings, read my preview of Saturday’s Honeybee Stakes (G3), and let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Picks and Ponderings: 2018 Southwest Stakes Preview

We’ve already visited the Big Easy and the City by the Bay this weekend — but with Presidents’ Day on Monday, the Derby trail winds to Oaklawn Park for the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes, the second of four preps during this winter’s Hot Springs meet.  Though the Kentucky Derby points haul isn’t huge — it’s the final 10-4-2-1 — the $500,000 purse is massive for a Grade 3.

The Southwest Stakes will be run for the fifty-third time this year.  The race was run in 1959, 1962, and then every year from 1968 to the present day.  Originally a sprint, the race was extended to a mile in 1984, and then to its current 1 1/16 mile distance in 2013.  The first year in which it was a key Derby prep was 1992: though 17/1 D. Wayne Lukas bomb Big Sur wired the field that day, second-place Pine Bluff won the Preakness, and third-place Lil E. Tee took home the roses on the first Saturday in May.

Head over to Picks and Ponderings, read my preview of the Southwest Stakes, and let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Picks and Ponderings: 2018 Martha Washington Stakes Preview

Saturday’s card at Oaklawn features the second stakes of the season for three-year-old fillies: the $125,000 Martha Washington Stakes.  Opening day featured the six-furlong Dixie Belle, but the Martha Washington’s one-mile distance begins to bring out those fillies who may be able to stretch out for later preps, or even the nine-furlong Oaks itself. In addition to the purse money, the top four finishers of the Martha Washington receive Road to the Kentucky Oaks points (10-4-2-1).  It is the first of three Oaks points races in Hot Springs.  The series continues with the Honeybee (G3) on March 10, and concludes with the Fantasy (G3) on April 13.

Head over to Picks and Ponderings, read my preview of this Saturday’s Martha Washington Stakes, and let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Picks and Ponderings: 2018 Smarty Jones Stakes

The Smarty Jones is a one-mile dirt race, the first in a series of Kentucky Derby preps over the Hot Springs oval.  The series continues with the Southwest Stakes (G3) on February 19, the Rebel Stakes (G2) on March 17, and the Arkansas Derby (G1) on the final day of the meet, April 14.  The Smarty Jones is the newest addition to Oaklawn’s series of Kentucky Derby preps.  The race has always been at a flat mile, but has only been run since 2008.  This year’s edition offers a $150,000 purse, as well as Road to the Kentucky Derby points (10-4-2-1) to the top four finishers.

Head over to Picks and Ponderings, read my preview of Monday’s Smarty Jones Stakes, and let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Picks and Ponderings: Arkansas Derby and Fantasy Stakes Preview

This weekend, the Derby Trail and the Oaks Trail both draw to a close.  Over at Picks and Ponderings, I look at the pair of marquee three-year-old preps in Hot Springs: the Fantasy Stakes (G3) and the Arkansas Derby (G1).

Friday’s card at Oaklawn features the Fantasy Stakes.  The race drew a competitive field of twelve — there has not been anyone like Farrell, Miss Sky Warrior, Paradise Woods, or Unique Bella in Arkansas this year, so the Fantasy is wide open.

Saturday, Oaklawn features the $1 million Arkansas Derby.  It’s do or die for Classic Empire, an intermediate distance goal for Malagacy…and ten others hope to spoil the party.

Head over to Picks and Ponderings, read my previews of the Fantasy Stakes and Arkansas Derby, and let me know your thoughts in the comments!