#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!”

America’s Best Racing: Big Race Showdown, Wood Memorial, Blue Grass Stakes, and Santa Anita Derby

This is week ten 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.

We tackle all three Kentucky Derby preps on Saturday: the Blue Grass (G2) at Keeneland, the Wood (G1) at Aqueduct, and the Santa Anita Derby (G1) at Santa Anita.  Since the first half of this year’s Big Race Showdown is the Triple Crown trail, it’s a great week to make some moves…I’m holding my own so far, so let’s hope I can keep it going this week!

Picks and Ponderings: 2018 Santa Anita Derby and Santa Anita Oaks Preview

When one door closes, another opens.  Originally billed as a rematch between McKinzie and Bolt d’Oro, McKinzie has bowed out of the Santa Anita Derby — but his stablemate in the Bob Baffert barn, Justify, will be entered instead.  So, the race will be a showdown between Bolt d’Oro, so proven at two, and the promising Justify, making his stakes debut.

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

for McKinzie, poetic justice

Sometimes, the only justice you find is poetic justice.

And, so it is with McKinzie.  He came into the San Felipe Stakes with an undefeated record, clouded by a great big asterisk.  After all, he didn’t cross the wire first in the Los Alamitos Futurity (G1) last year.  He ran on well enough inside in the stretch that day, but could not , but got bumped up after Solomini was taken down for interfering with third-place Instilled Regard.  Solomini wasn’t losing that race no matter what, and would Instilled Regard have been second and not third after Solomini bumped past?  Though he was no match for the first horse across the wire, McKinzie was going well enough that I’m not convinced he would have.  Caught in the middle of a dubious disqualification, McKinzie got lucky.

Three months and a day later, McKinzie got unlucky.

He turned for home inside Bolt d’Oro.  They bumped once.  Perhaps McKinzie went out a touch, but Bolt d’Oro perceptibly came in.  Their withers met, but it looked a product of racing in tight quarters, more than anything.  It diminished the fight of neither.  Bolt d’Oro forced his head in front; McKinzie came back.  As the field neared the wire, McKinzie did come out, pushing Bolt d’Oro out with him.  But — did it cost him a better placing?  Inconclusive, and judging from how McKinzie and Bolt d’Oro were each going late, unlikely.

A photo showed McKinzie’s nose across the wire first in the San Felipe, but the inquiry light blinked.  4-1 blinked.  And blinked, and blinked, and blinked.  Then, it became 1-4.  The blinking ceased.  McKinzie, so lucky three months back, ran out of luck this time around.

We can call Bolt d’Oro the big winner here, and Solomini the big loser.  But, as it shakes out, McKinzie is exactly where he should be: three-for-four lifetime.  Poetic justice.

America’s Best Racing: Big Race Showdown, Gotham/San Felipe/Tampa Bay Derby

This is week six 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.

This week is a huge one, with three stateside Kentucky Derby preps: the Gotham (G3) at Aqueduct, the San Felipe (G2) at Santa Anita, and the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) at Tampa Bay Downs.  Come see what we all think…and let’s see if I can add to my win, exacta, and trifecta tallies!

Picks and Ponderings: 2018 San Felipe Stakes Preview

The San Felipe Stakes (G2) will be run for the 81st time this year.  It is a Road to the Kentucky Derby race, with not only a $400,000 purse up for grabs but also 50, 20, 10, and 5 Kentucky Derby points available to the top four finishers.  Originally inaugurated in 1935 for colts and geldings aged three and up, the race was restricted to three-year-olds starting in 1941, and opened up to fillies as well starting in 1952.  Run at distances as short at six furlongs during its history, it has held steady at its current 1 1/16 mile distance since 1952.  Over the history of the San Felipe Stakes, five winners have gone on to win the Kentucky Derby later that year: Determine (1954), Affirmed (1978), Sunday Silence (1989), Fusaichi Pegasus (2000), and California Chrome (2014).  Bob Baffert has been the most successful trainer of all time in the San Felipe.  He has won the race six times, most recently with Mastery (2017).

Keep reading at Picks and Ponderings, and let me know your thoughts on the San Felipe (G2) in the comments!

Picks and Ponderings: a busy week on the Oaks trail

This Saturday features four different three-year-old preps at three different tracks: three Kentucky Oaks prep, and a Kentucky Derby prep as well.

Over at Picks and Ponderings, I preview all four of the points races:  the Fountain of Youth (G2) and the Davona Dale (G2) at Gulfstream, the Busher Stakes at Aqueduct, and the Santa Ysabel (G3) at Santa Anita.

Read my previews, and let me know your thoughts in the comments.  Good luck this weekend!

America’s Best Racing: Big Race Showdown, Holy Bull S. and Robert B. Lewis S.

It’s time for the second week of Big Race Showdown at America’s Best Racing!  The panel is full of sharp horse racing minds: Emily GulliksonCandice HareDan TordjmanBrian ZipseEric Bialek, and Mark DiLorenzo.

This week, we take a look at a pair of Kentucky Derby preps, one on each coast.  Head over to ABR, and see who we like for the Holy Bull and the Lewis!

Picks and Ponderings: 2018 Las Virgenes Stakes Preview

In a week of three-year-old preps that already took us to AqueductGulfstream, and Santa Anita on Saturday, we return to Santa Anita on Sunday for the day’s lone sophomore points race, the Grade 2 Las Virgenes Stakes.  The dirt mile drew a field of six fillies to contend for their share of a $200,000 purse, as well as the typical early-season complement of Road to the Kentucky Oaks points (10-4-2-1) for the top four finishers.

The Las Virgenes has been run at a mile on the main track at Santa Anita since its inception in 1983.  It was first graded in 1985, upgraded to a Grade 2 in 1987, a Grade 1 from 1988 through 2015, then has since been run as a Grade 2.  Its winners have gone on to the heights of success over the years — even since the race’s recent downgrade.

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

Picks and Ponderings: 2018 Robert B. Lewis Stakes Preview

Picks and Ponderings‘s coast-to-coast coverage of three-year-old points races continues here, with the Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita.

This year marks the 80th running of the Robert B. Lewis Stakes.  Previously the Santa Catalina Stakes, it was renamed in 2007 for Robert B. Lewis (1924-2006).

The race has been restricted to three-year-olds since 1964.  It has produced two Kentucky Derby winners: Ferdinand (1986) and I’ll Have Another (2012).  This race was also the first stakes win for both Sham (1973), famously second behind Secretariat in both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, as well as 1999 Champion Sprinter Artax (1998).

Read my latest at Picks and Ponderings, see my thoughts about the Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita, and let me know your thoughts in the comments!