#10: 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

Though Curlin has such a strong reputation as a sire of three-year-olds and older horses, the likes of Good Magic, Exaggerator, Off the Tracks, Solomini, and Valadorna have made clear that he can produce classy juveniles, as well. As soon as Curlin’s two-year-olds make it to the track, the question bubbles up: who will be the first one to make me throw my caution to the wind, if only for a moment, and envision their future at the highest levels?

This year, Ajaaweed (Asiya, by Daaher) earned that honour.

Ajaaweed debuted in a six-furlong maiden special weight at Saratoga, always chasing midfield and running fifth behind Tumbling Sky. Perhaps it was good that he had more of a prep race than a grand unveiling that day. It may have gotten lost in the shuffle: that debut came on August 10, the same day as the Arlington Million.

But, it gave Ajaaweed exactly what he needed to move forward a month later.

He stretched out to a mile in the first race at Belmont on September 11. The Kiaran McLaughlin trainee faced a field of seven and he wore the same #3 saddle towel he did on debut, the same blue and white colours that matched his Shadwell silks so well.

He got away more cleanly in start number two; though his start on debut wasn’t truly poor, it showed signs of roughness, inexperience. This time he came out smoothly.

He settled inside, a couple of lengths off the pace. Jockey Joel Rosario made no rush to challenge Brewmeister, half of the favored Chad Brown entry, though made sure not to drop him too far behind as Ox Bridge and briefly even Brewmeister’s stablemate Basie encroached to the leader’s outside.

Rosario pushed Ajaaweed along through the far turn, asking him to pounce. But, as the field approached the quarter pole, Ajaaweed searched for a hole. By that point Ox Bridge had capitulated, but Brewmeister, Starting Over, and Basie all lined up directly between Ajaaweed and the long Belmont stretch.

Approaching the three sixteenths, Ajaaweed got three wide and descended on Starting Over, the one going the best of the leading flight. He wasn’t the only one who loomed; 31/1 first-timer Forza Di Oro, despite dwelling at the start, had come rolling around the turn and sustained his run on the outside.

In the eighth and final furlong, Ajaaweed had the most. Forza Di Oro and Starting Over quibbled for the place, but Ajaaweed drove clear to win by four and a quarter gaping lengths over Forza Di Oro.

On a late-summer Wednesday, Ajaaweed looked like a Saturday afternoon horse. And, in two starts since, he has only raced on Saturday afternoons. He jumped straight from the maiden win to the top level, trying two turns for the first time in the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland. Though he never looked a threat to Maxfield, he was passing horses late, and checked in fourth. Next out, in the Remsen (G2), he did even better. On a day when speed was so good, he closed from well out of it to get within half a length of the always-forward Shotski.

And, being by Curlin out of a Daaher mare who won at two but was able to hold good form into her three-year-old year? Ajaaweed remains a horse to watch.

#11: the fifth 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 throughout 2018. Through all the hundreds of races in which they ran this year, these are the ones to which my mind keeps wandering back.

#12: Timeless Curls Marks Herself a Rising Star

#11: Secret Passage Comes Into His Own

In the fall of 2015, I got very excited about a two-year-old Curlin baby. By then Exaggerator had been on the radar for months, but there looked to be a rising star at Remington Park: Secret Passage (Sweet Eloise, by Sky Classic). After a pair of deep-closing victories that fall, I hoped to see him in the Springboard Mile and on the Derby trail.

Those things never happened.

Instead, he didn’t return until after the Triple Crown was over — August, in the Super Derby Prelude. In both that and the Oklahoma Derby (G3) he chased home Texas Chrome. He was fourth in the Super Derby Prelude and fifth in the Oklahoma Derby; though he never looked a winner in either, he did well for being thrown into the deep end immediately, better than splitting the field in both.

From there, his form went on and off. He did have an allowance win at Oaklawn in February of last year, but after Oaklawn his form flattened out a bit.

This year, I wasn’t sure what to expect. He finished off the board in a pair of allowance-optional races at Tampa for Pin Oak and trainer Malcolm Pierce, then was privately transferred to trainer Robertino Diodoro and new owners Lucky Dog Stables, Fitch Racing Stable LLC and Selman Shaby. His first start for those connections was also his first start in a straight claimer — a conditioned $50,000 race. If he was going to find his better form, it seemed like that would be the race where he would. But, he didn’t kick on quite enough and finished fourth beaten five lengths by Brerry.

Things went better two weeks later. Let off at 20/1 in an allowance-optional dirt mile at Oaklawn April 11, Secret Passage looked like the old Secret Passage. He settled back off a contested pace, kicked on in the lane, and scored by a head.

I hoped that race would be a harbinger of a better year, but I was cautious about my expectations, particularly since he had shown some horse-for-course tendencies at Oaklawn before. But, after his effort at Belmont on June 1, I let myself believe that he could have his breakout season this year.

The bettors in New York didn’t think much of his Oaklawn victory, or of his ability to win a two-other-than optional claimer outside of Hot Springs. (Secret Passage was in for the $62,500 tag.) He was hardly chalk at Oaklawn, but he went off over twice the price at Belmont: 41/1.

Once again, the Secret Passage I had known since 2015 came out to play.

J S Bach, half of an odds-on Michael Dubb entry, made the early pace. He set an uncontested yet heady clip for the mile and a sixteenth distance: 23.27 for the quarter, 45.90 for the half. Secret Passage dropped out the distant trailer, about a dozen lengths off the running, waiting for the pace to catch up to J S Bach and his closest pursuers, the likes of Realm and Driven to Compete.

The pack began to close in on J S Bach through the sweeping far turn. Secret Passage was still far back, but beginning to make up ground outside of fellow trailer Frammento. Approaching the stretch the pacesetter still had his lead, but just barely: Realm loomed to his outside, and Niigon’s Edge breathed down three wide.

Secret Passage was coming. Turning for home he blew through most of the pack and swung to the outside. Into the lane had dead aim on the leading trio, and something in the tank.

Into the final furlong J S Bach capitulated, but Niigon’s Edge and a game Realm made Secret Passage work for it. Under a drive, Secret Passage kept finding more; he wore down Niigon’s Edge to get up by a neck at the wire.

Secret Passage has raced three times since that victory at Belmont. He finished fourth in a field of five in an allowance-optional at Saratoga in August, where a dawdling pace did him no favours. The next month he reappeared at Belmont, in the same kind of race he won in June: N2X/$62,500, a mile and a sixteenth on the dirt. Secret Passage’s odds were 5.9/1 and not 41/1, but the win tickets were just as good: he swallowed up the field in the lane and won by a length and a quarter. From there, it was off to Listed stakes company in the Delta Mile — where he achieved the first stakes placing of his career, finishing third behind a forwardly-placed Mocito Rojo.

Though it happened a couple of years later that I had let myself think it would, Secret Passage finally found his stride at age five. As he is a gelding by Curlin, we can only hope he stays healthy, in training, and in that form for a while longer.

Saturday Stakes Action at Belmont and Arlington!

Over at Picks and Ponderings, I look at stakes action both here and out east!

Saturday’s card at Arlington features a pair of turf stakes, the Mike Spellman Memorial and the Black Tie Affair Handicap.  Both drew small yet classy fields, but the Illinois turf route division is still such a good group that both should be exciting, competitive contests.

Of course, Belmont’s card also grabs attention.  In addition to the Belmont Stakes — with Justify’s Triple Crown attempt — the card features a full day of stakes action.  At Picks and Ponderings, I look at the Belmont horse-by-horse as well as give picks for all the stakes races on the card.

Picks and Ponderings: 2018 Belmont Gold Cup Preview and Belmont Thursday-Friday Stakes Selections

Though the top racing story leading into the weekend is Justify’s bid for a Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival ensures that it is not the only one worth following.  With top-class stakes races across all ages and divisions, the weekend has established itself as American racing’s top midyear showcase, and the action begins this Thursday.

Picks and Ponderings will tackle both Friday and Saturday at Belmont this week.  In addition to fully previewing the Belmont Gold Cup here, Nicolle Neulist also provides selections and longshots for all three stakes at Belmont Park on Thursday, and all five on Friday.  A separate piece takes a horse-by-horse look at the Belmont field, and also provides stakes selections for Saturday at Belmont.

Head over to Picks and Ponderings, and let’s dive into one of the precious few two-milers we have!

Picks and Ponderings: 2017 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Preview

With five weeks until the Breeders’ Cup, many of the marquee prospects for our sport’s biggest weekend have penciled in their final prep races for this weekend.  Thanks to that, Saturday’s cards at both Belmont and Santa Anita are chock full of graded stakes.

This piece features a full preview of the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (G1) at Belmont, a Win and You’re In for the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1).  The contentious field of eleven includes Arlington Million (G1) exacta Beach Patrol and Fanciful Angel, three-year-old dynamo and Secretariat Stakes (G1) winner Oscar Nominated, and the American debut of globetrotter The Grey Gatsby.

Head over to Picks and Ponderings, read my preview of the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, and check back later this week for my selections for Saturday’s other major Breeders’ Cup preps at Belmont and Santa Anita!

another for the Keen Ice highlight reel

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).

Read More »

Picks and Ponderings: 2017 Belmont Stakes Point/Counterpoint

We’ve reached my favourite leg of the Triple Crown: the Belmont Stakes.

Perhaps the most consistent part of this year’s Triple Crown season has been Classic Empire’s path being so star-crossed.  Unfortunately, he is not one of the entrants into this year’s Belmont, as he came up with a foot abscess this morning.  However, twelve horses did pass the entry box.  Lookin at Lee will be the only horse to contest all three legs of the Triple Crown.  Irish War Cry takes one more Triple Crown before going back to Jersey for the Haskell.  A couple horses we saw at Hawthorne a month and a half ago, Multiplier and Hollywood Handsome, will try Big Sandy.

Who do Paul Mazur and I like?

Head over to Picks and Ponderings, read our preview of the Belmont Stakes, and let us know your thoughts in the comments!

Picks and Ponderings: 2017 Belmont Gold Cup Preview

Friday’s card at Belmont features the fourth edition one of my favourite races of the year: the Belmont Gold Cup (G3).

It’s graded for the first time this year, and it drew a deep field of 13: seven Americans, and six international horses.  It’s exciting to see how far this race has come in just four years.  The race has more proven stayers than ever before, and classier contestants as well.

In addition to a full preview of the Belmont Gold Cup, I also share my picks for all of Friday’s stakes races.

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

Picks and Ponderings: 2017 Elusive Quality Stakes Preview

Belmont gets underway this weekend, and Saturday’s card finds its anchor in the Elusive Quality Stakes.  The race is one few American tracks can hold: a one-turn, seven-furlong grass race.  Belmont’s sweeping course offers that option, and a field of seven (plus two main-track only entries, though rain is unlikely) have entered to contest the race.  It should be a good one to play — though the field is not large, it is sufficiently evenly matched to be a fun betting race.

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

to Lady Eli

a bold display of power, strength, and grace
a difficult debut, she found the wire
ears up, and proud peace beaming from her face

she stronger grew, her deeds pronounced the case
for champion’s laurels — in each start did transpire
a bold display of power, strength, and grace

our nation’s fastest could not keep her pace
as on the Fourth she set her standard higher
ears up, and proud peace beaming from her face

a nail, her foot, the wrong time, the wrong place
from turf to ice she carried her heart’s fire
a bold display of power, strength, and grace

she sounder grew, in her team’s strong embrace
through morning gallops, fitness reacquired
ears up, and proud peace beaming from her face

the Spa proved she still lives and breathes to race
the Flower Bowl, once more, time to admire
a bold display of power, strength, and grace
ears up, and proud peace beaming from her face

a day in verse

Today is the first of two major weekends for final Breeders’ Cup preps.  It is also the first weekend since early March that there has not been racing action in Chicago, so it gives me some time to focus on just the out of town preps.

It also gives me some time to play with words: one cherita for each of the day’s ten graded stakes races at Belmont and Santa Anita.  I chose the form because it is short, flexible, and lends itself to imagery and narrative.

If you’re not into poetry, my next post will be back to my (normal) prose.  If you do read poetry, come in.Read More »

Picks and Ponderings: 2016 Rodeo Drive Stakes Preview

This weekend there may not be any racing in Chicago, but Breeders’ Cup preps are getting serious.

Over at Picks and Ponderings, I preview the weekend’s action.  I have an in-depth preview of the Rodeo Drive Stakes (GI), and will also have selections for all of the stakes action at both Santa Anita and Belmont for Saturday as I finish getting all the races handicapped.

As always, I’m happy to discuss the logic of the selections in my grid in the comments there, in the comments here, or on Twitter.

So, head over to Picks and Ponderings, read my preview of the Rodeo Drive Stakes, and start getting ready for a fantastic week of racing!

another excellent week for Curlin babies!

Connect (Bullville Belle, by Holy Bull) carried the banner for Curlin Babies Saturday, winning a loaded edition of the Pennsylvania Derby (GII).  Already a stakes winner after winning the Curlin at Saratoga, he rebounded from a sixth-place finish in the Travers Stakes (GI).  He tracked inside and midpack through much of the race, was finally asked approaching the turn for home, and stoutly held Gun Runner at bay.  It was Connect’s fourth win in six starts, and his first graded victory.

Still, since Thursday, Connect is not the only Curlin baby who has made his mark.  He is one of eight winners by Curlin over that time, in addition to three more stakes placings.

Read More »

handicapping contest this Saturday for Galloping Out!

Million Preview Day is this Saturday at Arlington…and Danonymous Racing and I are doing a contest!

The contest will benefit Galloping Out, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that helps rehabilitate, retrain, and rehome thoroughbreds who are retiring from Chicago-area racetracks.

Contest races will be posted once the weekend’s races are drawn.  But, they will definitely include all four graded stakes on Saturday’s Arlington card, the Belmont Derby and Belmont Oaks, and two other stakes races on Belmont’s Saturday card.

The rules are simple: pick a horse in each race.  You get a mythical $2 win/place wager on each of your picks.  The biggest total at the end of the day wins a picture of Sarah Sis from the 2016 Chicago Handicap, signed by rider Jose Valdivia, Jr.!

Anyone can play, but to be able to win the prize, you have to make a donation of $10 or more to Galloping Out, and send Dan Tordjman (info@danonymousracing.com) a receipt from your donation.

So, make sure to head over to Danonymous Racing and get all the details for the contest!

Picks and Ponderings: Met Mile Preview

Yesterday Picks and Ponderings attacked the Belmont in point/counterpoint fashion…but given Belmont’s move to the big race day model, it is nowhere near the only major race on the day’s card.

In my latest piece for Picks and Ponderings, I take a look at the Met Mile.  The race drew a huge and classy field…but in the end, one horse who has been knocking at the door in Grade I company for a while looks well suited by the distance and the pace scenario to make his breakthrough.

The piece also contains stakes selections from both me and Paul Mazur — our top three and longshot in each race.

Head over to Picks and Ponderings, read my preview of the Met Mile, and leave a comment to let me know what you think!