#12: the sixth annual Twelve Days of Curlin Babies

It’s the second half of December. As chaotic as things may get, I try to keep one thing constant in this corner of the Internet: the last twelve days of the year are the time to count down the highlights from Curlin’s progeny on the track.

For the sixth year in a row, highlights don’t always mean the richest or highest-profile races. They don’t mean the largest margins of victory, nor the narrowest. The list features horses at every level of the game, from maiden claimers to millionaires. It features horses of all ages, from up-and-coming juvenile stars in his eighth crop, to durable nine-year-olds in his first.

Let’s look back on the highlights of another great year in Curlin babies.

#12: Curlina Curlina Finds the Wire

On May 20, 2015, I bid hello to Curlin’s fourth crop. Curlina Curlina (Helen’s Echo, by Swiss Yodeler) was entered in a maiden special weight at Santa Anita the next day. I tempered my expectations; four-and-a-half-furlong baby races don’t tend to be where Curlin’s progeny shine. In a field of eight, she ran an even fifth.

Alien Giant won by three and a half lengths. Right There, who crossed the wire three and a half lengths behind, broke her maiden a month later in the Landaluce Stakes. As the year passed, one by one, the runners from Curlina Curlina’s debut broke their maidens. My Mom, who finished eighth and last, broke her maiden in August at Emerald Downs. Joan of Arch, sixth, came next, in October. November brought seventh-place Rich Girl a victory. Fourth-place She’s On the Line needed until two days before the year turned, but even she won as a juvenile.

That left Fast Escape and Curlina Curlina. Third-place Fast Escape never won; in four starts at age two and one at three, she never ran better than third. But, by the time 2019 blew in, Fast Escape had a filly on the ground, a Smiling Tiger yearling.

Curlina Curlina was still racing.

She only raced three times as a two-year-old. She sat out for ten months, from September 2015 through July 2016, but ran five times before the end of the season. Her best finish was fourth.

At four, she raced twelve times. She came as close as ever, missing by only a neck in a maiden claimer at Los Alamitos on July 9, 2017. But, Adaptability got her picture taken. For Curlina Curlina, the result was the same. Her saddle came off. She walked back home.

She tried eleven more times at age five. She ran second another three times, twice in California and once on November 26, 2018 at Zia. That maiden special weight sprint was her first start since moving from the barn of Mike Harrington to that of Justin Evans, her first try in New Mexico. Despite the new scenery, the result rang familiar.

Curlina Curlina turned six. She had run 31 times. She had run second five times, third four times. She kept trying.

January 12, she dropped into a claimer at Sunland, went off the odds-on favorite…and ran second of eleven. January 27? Another maiden claimer at Sunland, another wave of odds-on enthusiasm from the bettors, another second.

And, on the crisp, clear afternoon of February 17, her 34th start? Curlina Curlina went off in a six-and-a-half-furlong maiden claimer at as short a price as ever, 1/5, despite so many tries. She settled midfield as Easy Target and Sometimes a Rebel battled on the pace. Past the half mile mark, Sometimes a Rebel began to flatten. Curlina Curlina went around her, easily, with Easy Target in her sights.

At the quarter Curlina Curlina was clear of Sometimes a Rebel and back on the inside. Into the lane, there was a hole between Easy Target and the rail. Jockey Luis Contreras put Curlina Curlina to a drive, asking her what she had.

Enough. For once, she had enough.

She didn’t slip away quickly and easily; Prairie Dog had made a three-wide rally into the lane, and battled outside Curlina Curlina to midstretch. But, in the final furlong, Contreras no longer had to ask Curlina Curlina what she had. He let her go; they drew off by four and a half easy lengths.

That ease belied the long road Curlina Curlina took to get there.

Curlina Curlina has raced seven times since that maiden win. It may have taken her five racing seasons to win for the first time, but it only took her three starts to beat winners; she won by four and a half lengths again on March 31 at Sunland.

It took Curlina Curlina a little longer to find the wire than some of the others in her crop — a crop that featured shining stars like Exaggerator, Off the Tracks, Connect, and Curlin’s Approval. But, that only made it all the more sweet when she finally did.

Picks and Ponderings: 2018 Sunland Derby and Sunland Park Oaks preview

Sunday’s card at the New Mexico racetrack features a pair of points races: the Grade 3, $800,000 Sunland Derby for open company, and the $200,000 Sunland Park Oaks for fillies and mares.  The races aren’t 100-point preps like the ones in Louisiana the day before, but with 50, 20, 10, and 5 points available to their top four finishers, they still award enough points to constructively guarantee their winners a spot in Kentucky come May, and should get their second-place finishers most of the way to a berth.

Head over to Picks and Ponderings, read my preview of Sunday’s three-year-old points races at Sunland Park, and let me know your thoughts in the comments!

making the most of the Conquest Mo Money story

We talk so often of horse racing needing to try new things to bring attention to the sport.  Less often, I see novel measures actually taken.

In this spirit, I tip my cap to Sunland Park and Judge Lanier Racing, for taking an affirmative step to build more buzz around an already engaging story.

CONQUEST-MO-MONEY-Mine-That-Bird-Derby-02-26-17-Finish.jpg
Conquest Mo Money gallops clear of Irap to win the Mine That Bird Derby.  (Photo Credit: Coady Photography)

Read More »

Sunland Park video preview

I shared my thoughts on today’s pair of three-year-old stakes races at Sunland here yesterday, but as we all know, handicapping is a game of opinions.  Mine are what I will be playing today, but they’re not the only ones out there.

In today’s video from Sunland Park, I join Jim Miller, Rachel McLaughlin, Penelope Miller, Ryan Dickey, and Zac Coffman in giving my opinions on the Sunland Park Festival of Racing Stakes and the Plum Pretty Stakes.

Take a look, and let us help you figure out who you like today!

Thank you so much, Molly Jo Rosen and Sunland Park, for doing this video and having me on it.  I had a great time!

P. S.: For those who love Curlin babies?  Though I did not land on Walk Out in the Sunland Park Festival of Racing Stakes, there are a few folks on here who give him a chance to become the next stakes-winning Curlin baby!

Sunday’s Sunland three-year-old stakes

This weekend is Fiesta del Sol weekend at Sunland Park, and the festivities include stakes-laden weekend cards.  Sunday’s card features a pair of rich races for three-year-olds: the Sunland Park Festival of Racing Stakes for open sophomores, and the Plum Pretty Stakes for fillies.  Both of them drew contentious fields, with good mixes of sharp locals and intriguing shippers.

They should make for fun betting races, so let’s take a look!

Read More »

Mine That Bird Stakes Preview

This Friday, racing gets back underway at Sunland for the first time since January 22.

The nine-race card ends with a chance for three-year-olds to shine in the Mine That Bird Stakes.  The local prep for the Sunland Derby, this year it is being run under overnight stakes conditions.  It drew a field of ten colts and geldings to run a mile on the dirt for a $100,000 purse.  Of the ten, eight have raced on the New Mexico circuit before.  The only new faces are first-time starter Volley and mid-Atlantic shipper Dad.  Though this two-start maiden has only raced at Delaware Park, he already has an indelible connection to the circuit: his dam is none other than undefeated New Mexico-bred Peppers Pride.  Dad is an easy sentimental choice here.

But, we are looking for winners today, not necessarily rooting interests.  For that, we go elsewhere.

Selections:  Deputy’s Echo (7), Hemakesmyheartsing (10), Bruntino (8)

Longshot:  Volley (2)

Read More »