#1: 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
#5: Dabster Gives His All Against Battle of Midway
#4: Campaign Wins Twice at Kentucky Downs
#3: Vino Rosso Rediscovers His Best in the Wood
#2: Bam Bam Blu Rewards the Patience of His Connections

#1: Solar Maximus Returns to His Favourite Winners’ Circle

Solar Maximus (Solar Colony, by Pleasant Colony) has long been a favourite. When I was first gathering my list of racing-age Curlin babies in 2014, his last line just read “pulled up, vanned off”. I had no idea if he was alive, much less if he was going to race again.

Then, he returned to the worktab. Then, he returned to the track.

In the fall of 2014 Mahoning Valley Race Course opened, and Solar Maximus found his place to thrive. From November 2014 through February 2016 the first-crop Curlin gelding won eight times, with all of those wins coming in Youngstown, including a four-win streak in the winter of 2015-2016. Over the next two years he had a lot of competitive races — including four second-place finishes in a row over his favourite course in early 2017 — but the winners’ circle eluded him.

However, the sun began to shine again the next season.

Solar Maximus made his first start of the 2017-2018 Mahoning Valley season on December 27, finishing a close second behind odds-on favourite Tiznow R J in a $5,000 claimer at a mile over the dirt, for non-winners in the last six months. Running on late, he missed by only half a length. He made his 2018 debut on January 10 — his eight-year-old debut — at the same course, distance, and level as that outing. Without Tiznow R J in the picture, the public figured Solar Maximus would find his best again, sending him out the 9/5 favourite in the field of nine.

As usual, Solar Maximus dropped all the way to the rear, settling two wide almost a dozen lengths behind runaway pacesetter Artemus Coalmine. He continued without a particular hurry into the backstretch, gradually improving position as the field approached the half-mile mark though not yet being asked for a run.

Approaching the far turn, with Artemis Coalmine still winging it five lengths clear of the field, Solar Maximus could wait no longer. He dropped to the rail and fast improved to midpack.

Approaching the three eighths, Solar Maximus needed room. He bided his time in the midst of a traffic jam, waiting for a way out.

That came on the turn for home. Jockey Jaime Rodriguez swung Solar Maximus out side of a line of horses at the mouth of the lane, urging him to go four wide. By then, Artemus Coalmine was coming back to the field; Solar Maximus’s task was no longer to catch him, but to outkick everyone else in the chasing throng.

Into the final furlong, Strongbow had established himself as the one to catch. Three wide — directly inside of Solar Maximus — he carried a half-length advantage into the last eighth of a mile. Solar Maximus kept coming. Though they exchanged contact approaching the sixteenth mark, Solar Maximus did not lose momentum, and he powered on by. Strongbow continued on with grit, but Solar Maximus would not be denied. The son of Curlin crossed the wire a half-length in front.

After a stewards’ inquiry and a claim of foul by Strongbow’s rider, both involving the bumping approaching the sixteenth pole, the race went official. Solar Maximus stayed up. He posed for his ninth win picture at Mahoning Valley, and the tenth of his career.

This would be Solar Maximus’s last race for longtime trainer Joe Poole and owner Richard H. McCall. He was claimed out of the contest by owner Loooch Racing Stables and trainer Gary Johnson, for whom he has continued to race since.

He has won once more for his new connections — in his very next start, on February 12. Notched up to $10,000 company, Solar Maximus crossed the wire second that day, but only after being impeded by a drifting Colony Classic. It was enough to take Colony Classic down and award Solar Maximus the victory. Solar Maximus made ten more starts this year; though he has not won since that disqualification, he has finished second four more times — including in his most recent start, in which he finished second behind stablemate Another Source, who went gate to wire.

If previous years are any indication, watch out for Solar Maximus as the meet goes on. Watching him get good during the winter at Mahoning never gets old.

Solar Maximus can run all day

Not a lot of American horses nowadays are bred to run long distances well, particularly on dirt.

Solar Maximus (Solar Colony, by Pleasant Colony) is one of those horses.  The five-year-old gelding’s breeding screams stamina, and his recent performance had suggested he could run to that.  January 26 at Mahoning Valley, Solar Maximus had won a nine-furlong starter allowance over the dirt there by daylight.  It was the first race in the Half Moon Series, a series of increasingly long $5,000 starter allowances that go beyond the everyday distances run by most dirt horses here.

Solar Maximus had entered the second leg, a 1 1/4 mile race on February 25, but it was cancelled due to weather.  He re-entered March 3 a 1 3/16 mile race, but was a stewards’ scratch.  In that race, Brite Sabbeth scampered off to win by 16 3/4 lengths.  Brite Sabbeth had been in the first leg, too, but a blown start erased any chance of a real matchup between Brite Sabbeth and Solar Maximus that day.

That matchup happened Saturday, in the third leg of the Half Moon series.

On the strength of his last-out victory, Brite Sabbeth was sent off as the 3/5 favourite in the 1 1/2 mile test.  Solar Maximus, who finished fifth going a flat mile in his most recent start, was the 5/2 second choice.  Brite Sabbeth broke better than he did two starts back, though he did not get the easy lead that he had in his previous outing.  Angelic Mia tried to give him pressure as the field headed into the first of three turns.  Solar Maximus had broken well, but settled a few lengths back in third.  Down the stretch for the first time Angelic Mia dropped out, and Solar Maximus inched closer to Brite Sabbeth.  He gained the lead through the far turn, and struck the front by the time the field entered the backstretch.

Solar Maximus did not get an easy lead.  Though Brite Sabbeth had dropped out, he faced a new foe in Freud’s Vale.  Freud’s Vale came up on outside, getting as close as a neck behind Solar Maximus, but never got closer to the front.  Going into the third and final turn, rider Luis Martinez, Jr. finally asked Solar Maximus for some run.  He had plenty left to give.  He asserted his lead, kicked away, and won in hand.  The final margin was 7 3/4 lengths ahead of Brite Sabbeth, who had eclipsed the fading Freud’s Vale late.  Solar Maximus’s victory was just as commanding as that margin would suggest.

This sets him up well to go long again, and he could get that chance: there is one more race in the Half Moon Starter Series.  The Mahoning Valley meet closes on April 25, and the card that day features a two-mile race.  Hopefully Solar Maximus will run in it and show his distance abilities once again.

Solar Maximus stretches out

After a sixteen-month layoff, Solar Maximus (Solar Colony, by Pleasant Colony) has found his stride at Mahoning Valley Race Course.  He cleared N2L second off that layoff going in $5,000 claiming company, and went to the barn of Joseph Poole.  After a sixth-place finish at six furlongs against straight N3L allowance company, he dropped back to $5,000 N3L on January 12, stretched back , winning by open lengths while setting a new track record.

Mahoning Valley has a series of starter allowances they call the Half Moon Starter Series, for route horses who have started for a price of $5,000 or less.  (There is also a Full Moon Starter Series, with the same conditions, for the sprinting set.)  Today’s race covered a mile and an eighth.  The next race in the series, marked in the condition book for February 25, spans a mile and a quarter.

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the greatest three minutes in sports

Today at 3:34 EST, the gates flung open for the 7th race at Mahoning Valley Racecourse, a $5,000 N3L claiming race at a mile over the dirt.

Solar Maximus (Solar Colony, by Pleasant Colony) raced wide into the clubhouse turn after breaking from the 8 hole.  Despite being hung wide, the five-year-old gelding got to the front and entered into a three-way pace battle with Sonerford and Burst of Fire.  50/1 outsider Sonerford tried to get away midway through the backstretch, but could not sustain that run.  As he was dropping back past Burst of Fire, Solar Maximus was decoupling as well — but in the other direction.  Midway through the far turn, Solar Maximus opened a three-length lead in push-button fashion.  Early-money darling Montbrook Storm tried to give chase, but could get nowhere near.  Retaliator made a late closing run, but could only contend for place.  Solar Maximus stayed decisively in front, crossing the wire five lengths clear of Retaliator.

Just as Solar Maximus crossed the wire at Mahoning Valley, the field broke at Parx for the 8th race, a one-mile N1X allowance.

Waynesborough (Bloomy, by Polish Numbers) had shown two starts back that he could splash home nicely in the mud at Parx, so the sloppy track today hardly seemed a worry.  Odds-on Chad Brown trainee Bond Vigilante and 12/1 outsider He’s a Slam Dunk shot out of the gate early, taking the front end.  Waynesborough was more than happy to take back early.  He usually comes from off the pace, but this time he dropped over a dozen lengths back.  He got the rail in early back stretch, and loped along as the leading pair duelled.  Waynesborough started making up ground through the far turn, angled off the rail to evade Behr in the Woods, and came right back inside to run at the leaders.  The five-year-old gelding rolled by easily, prevailing by a widening length over Bond Vigilante.

Waynesborough crossed the wire at 3:37 EST.

Multiple Curlin babies have won on the same day before, but within three minutes of each other?  This is a new one.

To make this even sweeter, Solar Maximus set a track record with his win, stopping the clock in 1:41.44 for a mile.  When I started researching all of the Curlin babies, I feared Solar Maximus might not even still be alive.  He had broken his maiden at Indiana Grand in June of 2013, and returned a month later.  He trailed early, and was eventually pulled up and vanned off the course.  I could find no further information about him…until September 1, 2014, when he returned to the worktab.  I wondered how well he would take to racing again, but was already over the moon that he was still alive and running.  He won second off that layoff, back on November 26.  After a sixth-place outing in allowance company on December 29, he stepped back into claiming company today…won by daylight, and set a new track record.  Even in light of the fact that Mahoning Valley is such a new racetrack?  The fact that Solar Maximus raced again was exciting enough, but the fact that he is racing where he is competitive and winning makes his return all the more fulfilling.