#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!”

#6: 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

#10: Legit Proves Aptly Named in His Gulfstream Unveiling
#9: Bishop’s Pond Proves She Is a Dirt Horse, After All
#8: Good Magic Reasserts His Class in the Blue Grass
#7: Dixie Moon Never Quits in the Carotene

#6: Amiral Rallies, Stuns, and Begins a Banner Day for His Sire

Five sons or daughters of Curlin raced on September 22 at Churchill Downs. Three lined up in the third race, a maiden special weight for three-year-olds and up, going seven furlongs on the dirt. Two drew attention leading into the race. New Colossus (Stellar Atmosphere, by More than Ready), for trainer Larry Jones, was making his fourth start and had finished in the money in two of his three races to date. At 3/2 New Colossus was a slight favourite over 9/5 Destiny Awaits (Our Love Tap, by Tapit), a colt making his first start of the year, but who had finished second by a nose in his most recent start. That has been at Los Alamitos the previous December, but many hoped he could pick up where he left off.

Few paid mind to Amiral (Silva, by Anabaa), a first-time starter for trainer Ignacio Correas, IV and owner Ghislaine Head. They slept despite the class of the bay colt’s breeding: by Curlin, out of Silva, a mare by Alec Head’s multiple Group 1 winner Anabaa, who herself won for Ghislaine and Alec Head four times in eight starts (including on debut at Maisons-Laffitte).

Amiral left the gate at odds of 20/1 in a field of only seven. In the opening strides, those odds looked predictive: he inherited the tricky rail after a scratch inside of him, and came out a step slower than almost all of his foes.

But, jockey Adam Beschizza did not panic. He settled Amiral a path off the rail, just behind New Colossus and Tabia Bay, four or five lengths off the front-end fray four other foes provided. Even as both horses in the second-last flight got keen down the backstretch, Beschizza waited with Amiral, allowing him to inch close enough to remain in touch, but not unleashing a premature rally.

Through the turn, the time came. Tramore Bay, Destiny Awaits, and New Colossus continued to battle on the pace. Amiral cruised closer. The gap between him and the second flight evaporated. He slipped between Franknjymme and Tabia. He tipped four wide into the lane, joining the front flight.

Destiny Awaits and Tramore Bay faded out of contention, but New Colossus kept giving Amiral a challenge in upper stretch. Approaching the furlong pole, however, the race was won. Amiral had edged to a half-length lead with an eighth of a mile to go, New Colossus chased on well enough to hold the place, but Amiral widened to the wire, winning four and a quarter lengths clear.

Since then, Amiral has raced three more times, all in first-level allowances at extended one-turn trips. His best finish was a late-running second at Churchill Downs in November over a one-turn mile trip, suggesting Amiral may have a knack for running under the Twin Spires.

Not only did Amiral top off a Curlin exacta the day he broke his maiden, but he heralded the beginning of a great day in Louisville for Curlin babies. In the very next race two-year-old Carte Blanche (Kappa Gama, by Orientate) drew off to win a $30,000 maiden claiming dirt mile by three confident lengths. Later, in the ninth race, three-year-old Mylady Curlin (Ladyledue, by Slewdledo) made her first start against winners count. Testing the waters in a six-and-a-half-furlong N1X she stalked, pounced, and held on to win by a head.

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!


America’s Best Racing: Big-Race Showdown – A Kentucky Oaks-Derby Double

This is week twelve 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.

Heading into the Kentucky Derby, I’ve got a slim lead in bankroll, though Emily is right on my tail.  We tackle the Kentucky Oaks and the Kentucky Derby this week — so head over to ABR and see who we all like!

2018 Kentucky Derby Preview and Saturday Stakes Selections

We’ve been following the trail all the way, but now, the Kentucky Derby is finally here.  The field is drawn, with twenty main entries plus one also-eligible.  The field is competitive, with a little something for everybody: fountains of raw talent yet to be forged in the fire, hard-trying and plucky sorts who have yet to prove best against the big boys, and everything in between.  (Well, except for a filly, anyway…Rayya had 40 points on the strength of a second-place finish in the UAE Derby, but she’s off to Friday’s Kentucky Oaks instead.)

Below, we dive into the Kentucky Derby field, horse by horse, and let you know our top picks and longshot.  Below our Derby analysis, there is a chart with selections and longshots for all seven stakes races at Churchill on Saturday.

Read on in my latest at Picks and Ponderings, and let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Picks and Ponderings: 2018 Kentucky Oaks Preview

Kentucky Derby week is here.  As always, Picks and Ponderings is on top of it.

This piece focuses on Friday’s action.  We’ll have a horse-by-horse look at the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks, which drew a full field of fourteen.  The weather calls for some rain on Friday, so we’ll take that into account, and make notes on off-track acumen.  And, below, we’ll have our selections in all six stakes races on Friday’s card.

Head over to Picks and Ponderings, read my preview of the 2018 Kentucky Oaks, and let me know your thoughts in the comments!

ceci n’est pas une Handicap de Chicago

This afternoon, Finley’sluckycharm extended her four-year-old record to a perfect three-for-three with a win in the Chicago Handicap (G3).  The 3/10 betting favourite, she got to the lead quickly after the break and rated well despite Kathballu and Covey Trace pressing at her throatlatch early.  Kathballu dropped away; Covey Trace pressed the issue into the far turn.  No matter; Finley’sluckycharm moved easily through a 22.85 opening quarter, a 45.62 half.  Turning for home, nine riders implored their mounts to gain, as Brian Hernandez still had Finley’sluckycharm in hand.  He finally asked her; she maintained comfortable daylight to the wire.  Finley’sluckycharm finished the seven furlong main-track trip in 1:22.17, two and a quarter lengths clear of Ivy Bell.

The preceding paragraph made sense, in a way.  It has verbs with subjects and objects.  The names, times, distances, and grade all correspond to an actual race contested today.

On the other hand, it felt surreal to write that.

Read More »

Picks and Ponderings: Kentucky Derby Point/Counterpoint

Over at Picks and Ponderings, Paul Mazur and I have tackled the Kentucky Derby field!

As always we go horse-by-horse, point/counterpoint.  Some horses, we see fairly similarly.  Others, we disagree on.  As always, we’re full of both information and snark.

In addition, I share my picks — including longshots — in all the stakes races this Saturday at Churchill Downs.  Though, you’ll be hard pressed to find a longer shot than my top overall pick in the Churchill Downs Stakes (G2), a runner in perfect form to try a bit of an ambitious spot (particularly if the rain in the forecast comes to fruition).

So, head over to Picks and Ponderings, get to know the Derby field, and let us know your thoughts on Saturday’s Churchill Downs action in the comments!

Picks and Ponderings: 2017 Kentucky Oaks Preview

Kentucky Derby week is officially underway!

Friday’s card at Churchill Downs features the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks, as well as five other undercard stakes races.  I preview the Oaks in depth over at Picks and Ponderings, and will post my selections and longshots for the other stakes races as I finish handicapping them.  As always, if you have any questions about my logic on the undercard, leave a comment or send me a tweet.

Head over to Picks and Ponderings, read my preview of the Kentucky Oaks, and good luck on Oaks day!

Picks and Ponderings: 2016 Clark Handicap Preview

The weekend’s action continues Friday with the first Grade I of the weekend: the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs!

The race drew a field of ten this year…strong, top to bottom.  It should also be a good betting race, particularly because the morning line favourite is one of the most dependable “use underneath only!” horses in training.

Head over to Picks and Ponderings, read my preview of Friday’s Clark Handicap, and let me know your thoughts in the comments!