#9: twelve days of Curlin babies

Welcome back to the twelve days of Curlin babies: a look back on twelve races during 2014 that stand out among races by Curlin’s progeny over the course of the year. They are races I keep returning to in my head, and ones that I am always excited to discuss. They will all have a story, a clear reason why they stand out among the hundreds of races in which I saw Curlin babies race this year.

#12: Federal Agent breaks his maiden
#11: Miss Frost wins the Tenski Stakes
#10: Curly Queen breaks her maiden

#9: Stopshoppingdebbie wins the Washington State Legislators Handicap

Seeing any favourite horse run is a moment of nervous excitement, but those nerves are only amplified if a horse is coming into the race undefeated.  Sometimes they are allayed quickly, when the undefeated horse trots home much the best.  Other times, they persist until the shadow of the wire.

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this week in Curlin babies: 10.6.14

Welcome to another installment of this week in Curlin babies: all the news that’s fit to print about Blinkers Off’s favourite sire.  It is another belated one, but it does cover all of the Curlin babies who have hit the track — or been slated to — in the last two and a half weeks.  Ol Donyo added another stakes win to her resume in the Musical Romance at Gulfstream, and two-year-olds Danette and Bold Conquest both achieved Grade I placing.  Highlights over the next few days include My Curby taking on maiden special company at Keeneland after a sharp debut at Kentucky Downs, and Federal Agent taking an ambitious jump in class after his runaway maiden win.

Without further ado, let’s see what Curlin’s runners have been doing on the track lately! Read More »

she came, she saw…

After nine wins in nine starts at Emerald Downs, four-year-old Curlin filly Stopshoppingdebbie ventured south.  Initially trainer Tom Wenzel was deciding between the Zenyatta Stakes (GI) and the L. A. Woman Stakes (GIII); he had options, since Stopshoppingdebbie had raced well at both sprint and route distances.  He opted for the sprint, and sent her out in Saturday’s L. A. Woman.  Sprint or route, win or lose, I was excited to see that she was shipping to Santa Anita and trying tougher company.

Things looked good for her.  She shipped down to Santa Anita the last week of September, and put up a sharp workout on September 30.  Still, it was a new surface for her, and a significant rise in class from the horses she had been facing in Washington.

Unfortunately, the race did not turn out as well for as her connections and fans hoped.

Even after her fifth place finish, the fact remains: Tom Wenzel and Northwest Farms did the right thing by going to Santa Anita to run her in the L. A. Woman.  It was the right thing for two reasons.

First, it was great to see her against tougher company.  If she had retired after only repeatedly winning at Emerald Downs, everyone would have been left to wonder what might have been.  Undefeated is fun, but untested leaves open so many questions.  She came to Santa Anita for a test.  It turned out she did not pass that test.  Why?  Jockey Rocco Bowen suggested she wasn’t getting a great handle of the track.  Trainer Tom Wenzel concurred about the surface as a possibility, and also said she bled some.  It could have been any of those things…and as long as she comes out of the race sound, whether she races again or joins Goin to the Window and Blueberry Smoothie in the broodmare band sometime soon, the fact remains that she had a chance against tougher runners.  Of course, there are always”what if” questions left: what if she didn’t bleed, or she handled the track better, or a million other things.  However, they’re the same “what if” questions that always pop up after races, the same questions that arise when any horse is raced or tested and may not have done as well as they had in the past.  They are questions that I, as a fan, would rather be pondering than “what if she ever actually ran outside Emerald?”

The second reason has to do with the race itself, the placement.  There has been Breeders’ Cup chatter from her connections since April, and yet she kept running at Emerald.  It seemed they were running out of time, but there was a plan.  Her connections considered both that race and the Zenyatta, and they chose properly.  The L. A. Woman allowed for an extra week of prep.  Also, even though neither race drew as tough as it could have, the one they chose drew some nice enough fillies but kept her out of the way of the likes of Beholder and Iotapa.  No matter what happened on race day, the plan was a good one: what she had done at Emerald fit the field in the L. A. Woman, and she came in with good enough sprint performances to justify it.  As much of a rise in class that race was compared to stakes at Emerald, either the Breeders’ Cup Distaff or the Breeders’ Cup Sprint would be an even more momentous class rise for her.

What’s next for Stopshoppingdebbie?  Trainer Wenzel has been quoted by Emerald Downs media as saying that it does not look like the Breeders’ Cup is in the cards now.  As much as I had been hoping she would sail through the L. A. Woman and on to the Breeders’ Cup…this is exactly why her connections did it right by sending her to the prep race first.  It let them see how she handled the track and the company before sending her to the hoopla and even tougher company of the last weekend in October.  Word is coming out that the race may have been her last…disappointing because I’d love to see her go out a winner, but likely the best thing for her in light of the fact that she bled after the race.

Santa Anita happened.  Stopshoppingdebbie came, and she saw.  She by no definition conquered, but that does nothing to take away from what she has done over the last three seasons.  Showing up and winning nine times in a row from ages two to four is an achievement, no matter where she did it.  She has talent, and she has consistency.  All we can hope is that she comes out of the race physically okay, and that her connections will make a reasoned choice as to what is next for her.  Knowing how they have handled her campaign to date, I have all faith that they will.

this week in Curlin babies: 8.28.14

Welcome to another installment of this week in Curlin babies: all the news that’s fit to print about Blinkers Off’s favourite sire.  This week, Stopshoppingdebbie extended her record to a perfect nine-for-nine, and plans have emerged for her to test her mettle outside Emerald Downs for the first time.  Two Curlin babies, Sookie and Une Cherise, broke their maidens in absolutely dazzling fashion.  Coming up this week, Curalina becomes the first of Curlin’s third crop to attempt a Grade I, as the once-raced maiden takes a swing at the Spinaway Stakes (GI): the race which will be Tom Durkin’s final call as the regular announcer at the Spa.  Miss Frost gets a rematch against Granny Mc’s Kitten in the Riskaverse Stakes at Saratoga, and both Woelf Den and Shiva Curlin plan to run in the Monarchos Stakes at Gulfstream.

Without further ado, let’s see what Curlin’s runners have been doing on the track lately! Read More »

Stopshoppingdebbie: hoping nine is just the beginning

This year’s stakes races for older fillies and mares at Emerald Downs have taken a bit of a familiar rhythm, one that began last year.  Stopshoppingdebbie, a daughter of Curlin out of the Wild Again mare Taste the Passion, swept the four stakes races for three-year-olds last year.  Her stablemates from the Tom Wenzel barn, Goin to the Window and Blueberry Smoothie, filled out the trifectas in all four of those races.  This year all three fillies returned to the stakes ranks at Emerald, with similar results.  A rotating cast of characters, shrinking as Stopshoppingdebbie has continued to assert her dominance over the division, has gone with.  In the Hastings Handicap, her first race of the season, a field of eight headed postward.  The Washington State Legislators’ featured six.  In the Boeing Handicap, only Madame Pele — who had finished second in the Hastings — took on the Wenzel trio.

Of anyone who had faced her at all this year, the only one who ever came close to making Stopshoppingdebbie sweat was Goin to the Window.  She came charging late in the Washington State Legislators’ Handicap on June 8.  Coming into the final sixteenth, she was narrowing her undefeated stablemate’s lead with every stride.  Stopshoppingdebbie refused to lose.  She dug in, maintained her half-length advantage in the last few jumps, and kept her record spotless.

The way the year was going, even the way the last two years were going, one had to wonder whether Sunday’s Emerald Distaff would be a three-filly affair.  Read More »

you can’t stop Stopshoppingdebbie!

Curlin baby Stopshoppingdebbie (Taste the Passion, by Wild Again) improved to a career eight-for-eight in the Boeing Handicap at Emerald Downs tonight.

The four-year-old filly last raced in the Washington State Legislators Handicap on June 8, at six and a half furlongs over the Emerald Downs dirt.  She prevailed by half a lengths against a field of six, rebuffing a late charge by stablemate Goin to the Window.  This time out she stretched to a mile in that dirt.  It was her longest race of the year, but she had shown her ability to go longer last year.  She won the 2013 Irish Day Handicap at Emerald at that distance, and also has stakes wins at 1 1/16 miles and 1 1/8 miles.

The load into the gate took longer than the race did.  Goin to the Window, her closest rival last time, wanted no part in loading, and eventually had to be front loaded.  Then, Stopshoppingdebbie gave her fans and backers a scare by acting up while loading; jockey Rocco Bowen even had to bail and re-mount.  Even stablemate Blueberry Smoothie was hesitant to get into the gate; the only horse who behaved during the load was Madame Pele.

Breaking from the rail, Stopshoppingdebbie was the slowest out of the gate.  She quickly made that distance up along the rail, and engaged Blueberry Smoothie on the front end as the field entered the clubhouse turn.  As the field entered the backstretch, Stopshoppingdebbie had the lead by a length, and led the field on some honest fractions for a mile: the quarter in 23.80, the half in 47.25.  Through the far turn both Goin to the Window and Madame Pele made their moves from behind, and the former got within about a neck of the leader.  Rocco Bowen asked Stopshoppingdebbie for some more run, and she showed that she had plenty left to give.  She was ahead by a length again by the three-sixteenths pole, and that only widened.  Again Goin to the Window was the closest of the rest, but it wasn’t the nail-biter it was last out: she was 2 3/4 lengths back at the wire.  Blueberry Smoothie had dropped back to last when the others made their run, but had enough energy down the stretch to close up a bit of distance, and cross the wire third, 3 1/2 back.  Just as in the Washington State Legislators Handicap, these three Wenzel trainees finished 1, 2, 3 — in the very same order.  Madame Pele could not sustain the run she attempted on the far turn, and finished 5 1/4 lengths back in fourth.

Stopshoppingdebbie now has eight wins in eight starts, all of which have been at Emerald Downs and seven of which have been in stakes.  Trainer Tom Wenzel has been mum, but at least one member of her ownership group has suggested a run at the Breeders’ Cup.  If that’s the goal, she needs to start running against some tougher company soon: it is a safe assessment that Princess of Sylmar, Close Hatches, and Beholder will be tougher company than Goin to the Window, Blueberry Smoothie, and Madame Pele.  It would be madness to send her straight from stakes at Emerald Downs to the Breeders’ Cup Distaff without any intermediate gradations in class.

Whether she ends up going to the Breeders’ Cup or not, though, it would be great to see Wenzel aim her toward some different company, some tougher company.  She has already proven herself to be the best filly racing at Emerald Downs.  It would be exciting to see how she stacks up against tougher company, but starting in a Grade III somewhere on the west coast would be a great first step.  If she fares well there, then they could put even tougher company in her sights.  Such a move would put her undefeated record in more jeopardy than running her in the Emerald Distaff on August 24, but fans will never know quite how high she can fly until she is tested.  Win or lose, she will still be the queen of Emerald Downs, and a good racehorse.