#4: 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

Kentucky Downs epitomizes the boutique meet: this year’s meet features six days of live racing sprinkled from September 1 through September 13.

Given modern racing schedules few horses try to race twice during the Kentucky Downs meet. But, if the horse can handle short rest, it makes sense to try: not only are the purses among the best of the year, but if a horse likes the undulating turf course, they won’t get anything like that stateside until Kentucky Downs reopens the next year.

Campaign (Arania, by Dynaformer) began the Kentucky Downs meet in a mile and a half maiden special weight: the first race on opening day. The three-year-old colt, trained by Steve Asmussen for Woodford Racing LLC, was making just his third start. As his pedigree would suggest, the longer distance brought out his best; he rallied from last to win by five and a half lengths.

A week later, Campaign returned to the paddock, ready to face winners in a first-level allowance. He cut back in trip to a mile and five sixteenths. Unlike the week before, the public sent him off as the favourite, trusting recent form and an affinity for the course over the experience edge that so many of his foes had.

That proved wise.

Campaign battles to the wire in an allowance on closing day at Kentucky Downs.

Once again, Campaign settled far back. He didn’t mark the rear as he had the week before, since Daringly Bold reared at the start, but he settled kindly between horses at the rear of the main field into the sharp first turn.

Down the back straight he continued about ten lengths off the head-and-head pace set by Run Tappy and King of Candy: well within the chart caller’s field of vision, though out of the camera’s lens.

Around the sweeping far turn, the same pair continued to vie for the front, but the cavalry loomed. Campaign returned to view, in touch along the fence, but still at the rear of the field. By the time the field turned into the long straight, Campaign was inching closer.

Jockey Ricardo Santana, Jr. implored him for more. Passing the three-sixteenths mark, it looked like the son of Curlin was shifting into his next gear. The complexion was changing in front of him, as King of Candy emptied out, Demolition had engaged the vanguard, and Zumurudee and Sir Sahib descended outside. But, Campaign still had about five lengths to make up.

Into the final furlong, Campaign shifted off the fence to let the fading Run Tappy past. In his best stride, he closed the gap quickly. He didn’t have to switch out too far: he found room to slip between Demolition and Zumurudee, struck the front two wide in that line of four, and hit the wire a widening half-length in front of Zumurudee.

Campaign has run just once since that victory. He leapt in class to contest the mile and a half Sycamore Stakes (G3) at Keeneland. However, he only managed tenth: speed held a bit better than in either of his Kentucky Downs races, and he ceded far more experience to his foes that day than he did in the allowance. However, he is back on the worktab at Santa Anita; he has posted three drills through the month of December. So, expect to see him mowing the lawn out west soon.

#5: 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

Though Dabster (On a Roll, by A. P. Indy) spent more of his three-year-old season on the bench than on the track, he had a full four-year-old season for trainer Bob Baffert and owner Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa al Maktoum. He became a stakes winner in the summer, winning the one-mile Harry F. Brubaker Stakes at Del Mar. He then showed his prowess going even longer with a comfortable score in the ten-furlong Los Alamitos Special, and then a gutsy second behind the nation’s top dirt stayer Rocketry in the Marathon Stakes (G2) at Churchill Downs.

After that, it was intriguing, almost surprising, to see him cut back to a mile and an eighth for the Native Diver Stakes (G3) on November 25 at Del Mar, especially when he would have to face Battle of Midway. Battle of Midway, one of the best two-turn middle-distance dirt horses by the end of 2017, had needed a few races after a subfertile season at stud, but he was finally coming back into his better form. If Dabster was going to get his first graded stakes win, he was going to have to get by one tough horse.

Dabster makes Battle of Midway work for victory in the 2018 Native Diver Stakes.

In a field scratched down to three, Battle of Midway had the inside, and was pushed along to the lead. Breaking out of the outermost gate, Joe Talamo got Dabster settled just outside of the pacesetting favourite, ahead of the chasing Isotherm. Dabster took the first turn affixed to Battle of Midway’s outside rear hip, and edged closer to even terms into the backstretch.

At the five-eighths pole, Dabster put his head in front, and kept it there utnil the half-mile mark. At that point, Battle of Midway drew even again, and the fight was on.

Around the far turn, head next to head, neither gave an inch as they relegated Isotherm to spectator. Into the lane, Joe Talamo and Flavien Prat had their dueling horses under a drive, asking each for everything they could give.

With three sixteenths of a mile remaining, Battle of Midway pushed his nose in front. Past the furlong pole it became a head, a neck, a half length past Dabster.

Dabster wasn’t done.

Inside the final sixteenth the son of Curlin came back. Half a length became a neck again, then less. But, the wire came too soon. Battle of Midway held off the resurgent Dabster by a head.

Dabster faced Battle of Midway again on December 26 in the San Antonio (G2). Though many expected a renewal of the Native Diver, a new foe joined the fray. Though Battle of Midway got the best of Dabster in the lane once again, after Joe Talamo lost the whip in upper stretch, Gift Box swooped past both for top honours.

If the San Antonio is a harbinger for the west coast handicap division to come in 2019, then Dabster, Battle of Midway, and Gift Box should make for a thrilling season.

#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.

#7: 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

High hopes have always followed Dixie Moon (Dixie Chicken, by Rahy). The odds-on favourite in her debut at Woodbine in August of 2017, she won comfortably over another first-time starter named Avie’s Mineshaft.

Dixie Moon and Avie’s Mineshaft would not meet again at two. Dixie Moon, Catherine Day Phillips trainee who races as a homebred for Sean and Dorothy Fitzhenry, went on to become one of Canada’s leading juvenile fillies. She finished second in the Natalma (G1), beat males in the Cup and Saucer, finished a troubled yet competitive sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1), and ended her first season with a gutsy triumph in the Ontario Lassie.

But, the Ontario-bred pair would trade blows through their three-year-old season. Dixie Moon and Avie’s Mineshaft crossed paths again in the Selene (G3) in May, where both made their second start of the year. Though neither won, Dixie Moon was second by a neck to Miss Mo Mentum, whereas Avie’s Mineshaft chased home fourth.

Their paths diverged again through Oaks and Plate season. As Avie’s Mineshaft pursued other targets, Dixie Moon outslugged Wonder Gadot to prevail in the Woodbine Oaks, though it was Wonder Gadot who had her day three weeks later in the Queen’s Plate.

After a midsummer freshening, Dixie Moon and Avie’s Mineshaft took to the grass and crossed paths again in the Wonder Where Stakes. The pair formed the exacta — but that day, Avie’s Mineshaft drove past Dixie Moon to capture the top spot.

Leading into the Carotene Stakes on October 20, each filly had started one more time, and each filly was coming in off a September outing that wasn’t her best. Dixie Moon had flattened to sixth in the Ontario Damsel; Avie’s Mineshaft had tired to eighth in the La Lorgnette. They both sought to find their best when they renewed their rivalry, and they fought to the best finish of any of their races to date.

Dixie Moon wears down Avie’s Mineshaft in the 2018 Carotene Stakes.

Despite her class, Dixie Moon went off only the joint second choice in the field of five, behind Avie’s Mineshaft. Behind Avie’s Mineshaft is where she sat most off the race, too: the favourite came away sharply, with Dixie Moon settled just behind her, outside of the keen Desert Isle. Avie’s Mineshaft set a modest pace up front — neither slow nor fast, though the closest she had to comepetition came as jockey Eurico Rosa Da Silva ensured that Dixie Moon’s nose never got too far away from the leader’s outside rear hip.

Through Woodbine’s sweeping far turn, still outside, Dixie Moon inched closer. Avie’s Mineshaft’s advantage became three quarters of a length, half a length, a neck.

Into the lane, Avie’s Mineshaft dug in. Her advantage had dwindled to a head, but she channeled everything she could not to let Dixie Moon go by. Dixie Moon pressed on, even as more competition descended. Line of Vision and Desert Isle, settled further back through the turn, loomed in striking range to her outside.

Just past the furlong pole, the stamina that saturated Dixie Moon’s blood rushed to the surface. She turned back the foes to her outside, willed her head in front of Avie’s Mineshaft, and edged away to beat her by half a length.

The story of Dixie Moon’s career still unfolds. She has raced just once since the Carotene, finishing ninth in the My Charmer Stakes (G3) at Gulfstream Park. It was a new frontier for her, her first try against older fillies and mares. But, knowing her heart, her stamina, and the durability in her pedigree, the odds are good that we still haven’t seen the best of Dixie Moon yet.

And, assuming Avie’s Mineshaft also returns at four, she’ll have to come with her best to take on Dixie Moon.

#8: 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

Good Magic went from maiden to juvenile champion in one fell swoop last fall when he won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

When a horse breaks their maiden on such a big stage, it’s no surprise that people start to dream big. But, especially, when a horse so young shows so much talent, it’s hard to shake the fear that they won’t progress with the best of their class into the coming year.

Good Magic’s sophomore season did not begin as hoped. Though he went off the favourite in the Fountain of Youth Stakes on March 3, he could only churn on for third as Promises Fulfilled dominated up front and Strike Power chased him every step of the way. Questions bubbled up. Was it just a really good day for speed, as so many days in Hallandale Beach are? Did Good Magic just need a race? Or, was he not training on as well as his fans and backers hoped he would at three?

He got the chance to rebut his doubters April 7 at Keeneland, in the Blue Grass Stakes (G2).

Good Magic forges clear of Flameaway to win the 2018 Blue Grass Stakes.

Hung in the 10 gate in the field of 14, jockey Jose Ortiz urged Good Magic to get a prominent spot. He did, but couldn’t slip inside — he entered the first turn three wide, and floated out slightly at its mouth. He did settle in a good spot through the bend, just outside of California Night, in the third flight.

He began to inch closer approaching the far turn, encroaching outside of Kanthaka and Sporting Chance. As Arawak began to drop away, leaving Flameaway alone on the lead, Good Magic continued his advance. At the five-sixteenths, Good Magic had drawn on even terms outside of Flameaway.

Into the lane, Good Magic seized the lead alone. Flameaway, game as he was throughout the Triple Crown season, pursued doggedly but couldn’t answer him. Sporting Chance and Free Drop Billy renewed their contentious rivalry on the outside, but neither could mount enough of a challenge.

The two-year-old champion was gone. He drove to the wire a length and a half clear of Flameaway. He was back on top, back in the winners’ circle, and on track just in time to face the rigors of the Triple Crown.

Though he never toppled Justify, Good Magic tried. He persistently chased the eventual Triple Crown winner home in the Kentucky Derby, holding second over rail-skimming Audible. Two weeks later, in the sloppy, foggy Preakness, he did the dirty work of ensuring that Justify had some pace pressure. Used up in that foolish yet necessary errand, he crossed the wire in fourth — but only a length behind the winner, closer than he came in Louisville.

Instead of pressing on to the Belmont, trainer Chad Brown and owners eFive Racing Thoroughbreds and Stonestreet Stables gave him a breather until the Haskell (G1) on July 29. The move paid off; Good Magic returned rested and ready to win in dominant fashion.

Unfortunately, that was the last time we would ever see Good Magic’s racetrack best. He finished a disappointing ninth as the favourite in the Travers (G1), went to the farm for a spell, and was retired to begin stud duties at Hill ‘n’ Dale Farm in 2019. Though it would have been nice to see what he could do as he aged — given that he is by Curlin out of a Ghostzapper mare! — what he did at Keeneland, Churchill, Pimlico, and Monmouth let us say with confidence that his Breeders’ Cup win at two was no one-off triumph.

#9: 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

Leading into 2018, the race record of Bishop’s Pond (More For Me, by More Than Ready) reads as one that belonged to a filly that connections always knew had talent, but had never quite lived the full potential of that talent.

Perhaps the beginning of her career tossed her connections a red herring. After a May 2015 maiden win at ten furlongs on grass and then a one-other-than win at ten and a half furlongs on grass, trainer Chad Brown and owners Michael Dubb, Bethlehem Stables LLC, and The Elkstone Group LLC figured they had a horse best suited as a turf router. That’s what she focused on from then on, finding on-and-off allowance and allowance optional claiming success without putting it together consistently enough to emerge as a real stakes horse. Even as her owners moved her to the barn of trainers Kelly Rubley and then Jason Servis, Bishop’s Pond kept racing on the grass. She ran competitively enough that she never dropped down from those nice east coast allowances — but as time went by, it didn’t look like she was going to advance from that, either.

Things began to look up early in her five-year-old year, 2017. She started the year with a second-place finish as the 34/1 longest shot on the board in the Plenty of Grace Stakes, a turf mile at Aqueduct. From there, a pair of Grade 3 tries on the grass proved just a little too much. In September of that year, though, a new horizon opened. She tried a top-shelf allowance going a mile and seventy yards at Delaware: on dirt. She led at every call.

Perhaps Bishop’s Pond was a dirt horse?

Going straight from that allowance win to the Grade 1 Beldame to face the likes of Elate and Money’soncharlotte was a little much to ask; she finished fifth in that outing. After one more turf try in November she was done for the year, but Servis brought her back on January 8, 2018 in the Thirty Eight Go Go Stakes at Laurel.

This time, she proclaimed even more loudly, “I am a dirt mare!”

Bishop’s Pond overcomes early pressure and leaves them all chasing her late in the 2018 Thirty Eight Go Go Stakes.

Jockey Rosario Montanez urged Bishop’s Pond to the lead; they battled between Chic Thrill and Tiz Rude to make the running. Chic Thrill, inside her, was particularly keen to go, but Bishop’s Pond would not let her pass.

Into the turn, Bishop’s Pond inched forward, turning Chic Thrill away for good. Tiz Rude, to her outside, kept up the pressure, with Street Surrender trying to join the fray three wide.

Into the lane Bishop’s Pond floated wide, with Street Surrender just to her outside, and Tiz Rude not far behind. Sky Flower, coming up the rail, loomed the biggest threat if she was good enough.

She wasn’t. The early pace pressure didn’t deplete the reserves of Bishop’s Pond, who responded when asked to pick it up near the three sixteenths mark. The daughter of Curlin drove clear, widening to a five-and-a-half-length advantage over Sky Flower come the wire.

Bishop’s Pond started five more times during her six-year-old year, with four of those coming on the dirt. Her one turf start went well enough, as she finished third behind Elysea’s World in the Violet Stakes (G3) at Monmouth. But, her one more victory this year came on her new favourite surface: she wired the Winter Melody Stakes at Delaware Park on October 10.

That victory in the Winter Melody will almost certainly be her last. After all, she did it while in foal: Bishop’s Pond sold to John Muir and Milburn Creek for $230,000 at Keeneland November, pregnant to Violence. Fortunately, she didn’t retire to the breeding shed before proving that she was a stakes horse after all — and getting the chance to show that despite those years on the grass, she wanted to run on the dirt.

#10: 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

When you pay $125,000 for a yearling, you hope he is going to be good. When you go on to name that horse Legit, you’re making a public proclamation that he will be.

Though the eyes of the racing world stopped focusing so sharply on Gulfstream after the Florida Derby on March 30, the season of promising three-year-olds wasn’t over in South Florida quite yet. On April 19, sophomore colt Legit (Logalina Pompina, by Corinthian) made his first start, debuting in a maiden special weight dirt mile.

Given the challenging rail draw for his debut, Legit lined up at the inside of a field of seven. At 8/5, the Todd Pletcher trainee carrying the Repole Stable silks was the second choice in the field, behind fifth-time starter Crafty Jack. He ceded experience to every foe in the field except for Our Honor, a son of Union Rags who didn’t follow trainer Chad Brown back to the Empire State.

Legit sparkles on debut at Gulfstream Park.

Down the chute, he settled kindly in the second flight, inside of Diplomatic Shaft, as the favourite vied for the lead inside of Our Honor and Glass Bridge. The chestnut son of Curlin chased, pushed along by jockey Tyler Gaffalione to keep in range of the battling trio.

Through the turn, Glass Bridge faded out, leaving Crafty Jack and Our Honor to fight up front. Legit drew closer through the turn, passing outside of the fading Glass Bridge, and reeled in that leading pair near the quarter pole. Crafty Jack stayed in close range until the three sixteenths pole — but from there, he only proved second best. Legit drove clear into the final furlong, and with Gaffalione only waving the whip a few times from there, he came home seven and a quarter lengths clear of the favourite.

Legit returned less than a month later, on May 17, in an allowance at Pimlico. Unlike in his debut, the public expected a dazzling effort, sending him off at 1/2 odds in the sloppy dirt route one-other-than. He lived up to his name by settling well off the pace, kicking on into the lane, and drawing away to win by four lengths.

Unfortunately, that is the last we have seen from Legit on the track. He has yet to race since that May allowance win. But, if we see him again, he will be a welcome presence…and if we don’t, we have these two dazzling efforts to remember, a month during which he looked like a legitimate rising star in the three-year-old ranks.

#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.

#12: the fifth annual Twelve Days of Curlin Babies

The end of December has come around, and unless you have been living under a rock these last five (!) years, you know what that means: it’s time for the Twelve Days of Curlin Babies!

As always, the Twelve Days of Curlin Babies features memorable races by Curlin’s progeny at every level of the game. From graded stakes races to lunch-pail claimers, from up-and-coming young horses to durable first-crop runners who are still finding the winners’ circle, Curlin babies once again brought excitement to the racetrack.

For the next twelve days, we remember the highlights.

#12: Timeless Curls Marks Herself a Rising Star

Timeless Curls (Lookinforchange, by Gilded Time) is the first foal out of stakes-winning sprinter Lookinforchange. Her dam isn’t the only indication that she was meant to be a racehorse: Lookinforchange is a half-sister to both star New Jersey-bred Geeky Gorgeous (Devil His Due), a multiple stakes winner, as well as stakes winner Chubble Maker (Hey Chub).

Despite this, she slid under the radar as a yearling. It runs in the family: her dam sold for $5,700 as a two-year-old, and ended up winning over $200,000 on the track. Cataloged as hip 2115 in the Keeneland September 2016 yearling sale, Timeless Curls sold to owner Sookdeen Pasram for just $35,000.

It took some time for the Dale Capuano trainee to make it to the track. Timeless Curls made her debut over a sloppy Pimlico track on May 18, in a maiden special weight to kick off Black-Eyed Susan Day. Sent off the chalk, she finished second beaten a head. She kept trying, and not quite getting there, in a pair of starts at Laurel in June: she finished third, then second.

As fall approached, she caught fire. August 2 at Laurel she stretched out to two turns for the first time, and responded with a frontrunning four and a quarter-length victory. Though she finished three-quarters of a length second in her first try against winners, September 1 at Delaware, she quickly rediscovered her winning ways. She shed her one-other-than condition over a mile at Delaware on October 3. She then quickly dispensed with her second-level condition on November 9, over a one-turn mile at Laurel.

Timeless Curls was favoured in her N1X victory, and went off a shade below 5/2 in her N2X victory. The board told a different story November 29 at Laurel, when she lined up for a three-other-than going seven furlongs over the Laurel dirt. The lightly-raced three-year-old filly went off at 10/1 against a salty group of fillies and mares. Favoured Isotope, like Timeless Curls also riding a two-race win streak, was a year older and making her 18th career start. Four-year-old Sine Wave had a pair of money finishes in graded stakes, five-year-old Imply already had four Pennsylvania-bred stakes wins to her name, and Trace of Grace had one.

The daughter of Curlin ceded experience to every single one of her foes that day. At the wire, that didn’t matter.

Timeless Curls came out sharply, but as Sine Wave and Lady by Choice made the running, she responded when the hands of jockey Weston Hamilton implored her to wait. Favoured Isotope made a move on the leading pair from just outside of Timeless Curls on the turn, but settled more kindly than she was on the backstretch, she waited her turn.

Shaken up into the lane, Timeless Curls took a moment to get going. But, in the final furlong, she stopped spinning her wheels and shifted into the next gear. She joined the fray between Isotope and Lady by Choice, had aim on Isotope with a sixteenth of a mile remaining, and willed herself a head in front at the wire.

Timeless Curls returned to the worktab on December 13, and worked again today. Keep an eye through the winter and into her four-year-old year; the Mid-Atlantic may be home to Curlin’s newest rising star.

#2: the fourth 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 2017.  Through all the hundreds of races in which they ran this year, these are the ones that keep reappearing in my mind.

#12: Stellar Wind Wins the First Beholder Mile
#11: Fireball Merlin Carries His Class to Fort Erie
#10: Irish War Cry Rolls Onto the Derby Trail
#9: Federal Agent Makes It Five Straight
#8: Horse-for-Course Captured Slips Under the Radar
#7: Good Magic Gives Curlin a Breeders’ Cup Win — and Solomini, an Exacta
#6: Handsome Franco Weathers Hurricane Maria
#5: Iredell Romps over Majestic Hussar at Laurel
#4: Curlinup and I Try Stakes Company
#3: Volgograd Debuts — Finally

#2: Whisper to Curlin Fights On In Chicago

I’ve loved Whisper to Curlin (Whisperifyoudare, by Red Ransom) as long as I’ve known who he was — and, why wouldn’t I?  After all, Palace Malice got me into Curlin’s progeny in the first place, and there’s no Curlin baby so closely related to him as this Iowa-bred bay.  Whisper to Curlin’s dam, Whisperifyoudare, also produced Palace Malice’s dam Palace Rumor.

It took a while for him to break his maiden, but once he did, he had an excellent three-year-old summer culminating with a win in the 2014 Iowa Breeders’ Derby.  After one more start that year, however, he dropped off the map for over a year and a half.  He struggled in allowance and stakes ranks last year, but during his seven-year-old year he showed some moments of form in the claiming ranks, including a win and a second at Prairie Meadows.

This fall, he came to my home track.

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Whisper to Curlin in the paddock before his race on October 18, 2017

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#3: the fourth 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 2017.  Through all the hundreds of races in which they ran this year, these are the ones that keep reappearing in my mind.

#12: Stellar Wind Wins the First Beholder Mile
#11: Fireball Merlin Carries His Class to Fort Erie
#10: Irish War Cry Rolls Onto the Derby Trail
#9: Federal Agent Makes It Five Straight
#8: Horse-for-Course Captured Slips Under the Radar
#7: Good Magic Gives Curlin a Breeders’ Cup Win — and Solomini, an Exacta
#6: Handsome Franco Weathers Hurricane Maria
#5: Iredell Romps over Majestic Hussar at Laurel
#4: Curlinup and I Try Stakes Company

#3: Volgograd Debuts — Finally

To say I had been looking forward to Volgograd’s debut for a while is an understatement.  Back in 2013, I stumbled across a picture on Facebook of a Curlin foal.  I did a little sleuthing about the dam, and found out she was someone I could get excited about, too.  Though she raced before I began to follow the races, Magnetic Miss was a local: an Illinois-bred who made 24 of her 36 lifetime starts in the state of Illinois.  She was also a good one, a six-time stakes winner.  Finally, she was an interesting match for Curlin: as Curlin had classic stamina, Magnetic Miss (like her sire Artax) did her best work going around one turn.

I waited, and waited, and waited for Volgograd to appear in the entry box, and hoped that would happen here.  His two-year-old year passed quietly.  His three-year-old year passed quietly.

In September of his four-year-old year, closing week at Arlington, he finally passed the entry box.

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Up close with Volgograd after a third-place finish at Hawthorne.

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#4: the fourth 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 2017.  Through all the hundreds of races in which they ran this year, these are the ones that keep reappearing in my mind.

#12: Stellar Wind Wins the First Beholder Mile
#11: Fireball Merlin Carries His Class to Fort Erie
#10: Irish War Cry Rolls Onto the Derby Trail
#9: Federal Agent Makes It Five Straight
#8: Horse-for-Course Captured Slips Under the Radar
#7: Good Magic Gives Curlin a Breeders’ Cup Win — and Solomini, an Exacta
#6: Handsome Franco Weathers Hurricane Maria
#5: Iredell Romps over Majestic Hussar at Laurel

#4: Curlinup and I Try Stakes Company

Races I feature in the Twelve Days of Curlin Babies range from races of national interest to races of personal interest.  Curlinup’s run in the Avers Wexler Memorial Stakes falls as squarely in the latter category as a race ever can.

For one, I’ve always taken a special interest in her due to her breeding.  I’ve followed Curlinup (Almost Sma, by Cure the Blues) since first she showed up on the worktab.  After all, she is an Illinois-bred Curlin baby, and you can still count the Curlin babies born here on one hand.  Secondly, she played a role in a career milestone of mine: she saw the starter in the first stakes race for which I ever wrote chart notes.

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Curlinup heads back to the barns after finishing second at Hawthorne on April 9, 2016.

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#6: the fourth 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 2017.  Through all the hundreds of races in which they ran this year, these are the ones that keep reappearing in my mind.

#12: Stellar Wind Wins the First Beholder Mile
#11: Fireball Merlin Carries His Class to Fort Erie
#10: Irish War Cry Rolls Onto the Derby Trail
#9: Federal Agent Makes It Five Straight
#8: Horse-for-Course Captured Slips Under the Radar
#7: Good Magic Gives Curlin a Breeders’ Cup Win — and Solomini, an Exacta

#6: Handsome Franco Weathers Hurricane Maria

This summer, things looked great for Handsome Franco (Overnightsensation, by Bertrando).  After being beaten by wire-to-wire winner Tensas Secret on his June 30 debut, his fortunes reversed on his second start.  Though he crossed the wire second once again on July 15, he was impeded by Son Son Son — to the advantage of Son Son Son’s stablemate Sykologist.  Sykologist was belatedly disqualified as a result, giving Handsome Franco his maiden win.  Handsome Franco followed that up with an allowance win the next month, no disqualification needed.

September 3, Handsome Franco became the first of Curlin’s sixth two-year-old crop to win a graded stakes.  In the Clásico José Coll Vidal (G3) Handsome Franco relished the sloppy conditions, rallied from last along the rail, and forged clear to beat longshot Mi Amigo Pablo home by a length and a half.

Later that month, Hurricane Maria made landfall.  The storm devastated the island of Puerto Rico.  Hipódromo Camarero was not spared: the storm ripped roofs from the barns, and left hundreds of horses stabled on the premises without clean water or hay.  I hoped for the best of all the horses…but I wondered most intently about the son of Curlin.  How was Handsome Franco doing?  Did he make it?

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#7: the fourth 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 2017.  Through all the hundreds of races in which they ran this year, these are the ones that keep reappearing in my mind.

#12: Stellar Wind Wins the First Beholder Mile
#11: Fireball Merlin Carries His Class to Fort Erie
#10: Irish War Cry Rolls Onto the Derby Trail
#9: Federal Agent Makes It Five Straight
#8: Horse-for-Course Captured Slips Under the Radar

#7: Good Magic Gives Curlin a Breeders’ Cup Win — and Solomini, an Exacta

Curlin himself became a Breeders’ Cup champion on a sloppy day at Monmouth, winning the 2007 Breeders’ Cup Classic.  His progeny had made eleven Breeders’ Cup starts before 2017.  Several had found the podium.  Stellar Wind and Curalina finished 2-3 behind Stopchargingmaria in the 2015 Distaff.  Last year Valadorna finished second behind Champagne Room in the Juvenile Fillies, and Keen Ice rallied for third behind Arrogate and California Chrome in the Classic.

Though Keen Ice’s ankle injury leading into the Classic robbed him of a chance to do his 2016 finish two better, five sons and daughters of Curlin carried the mantle at Del Mar.  Oddly for a sire whose babies get so much better with age, just two of the five were older horses: Stellar Wind in the Distaff, and Curlin’s Approval in the Filly and Mare Sprint.  Three were juveniles.  Dixie Moon tried the Juvenile Fillies Turf, and both Good Magic and Solomini lined up for the Juvenile.

It was the latter pair, Good Magic (Glinda the Good, by Hard Spun) and Solomini (Surf Song, by Storm Cat), who would make Breeders’ Cup Saturday a banner day for Curlin.

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#8: the fourth 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 2017.  Through all the hundreds of races in which they ran this year, these are the ones that keep reappearing in my mind.

#12: Stellar Wind Wins the First Beholder Mile
#11: Fireball Merlin Carries His Class to Fort Erie
#10: Irish War Cry Rolls Onto the Derby Trail
#9: Federal Agent Makes It Five Straight

#8: Horse-for-Course Captured Slips Under the Radar

Sometimes, a race becomes memorable just because it fell at the right time.  So it was on February 10, when Captured (Alluring, by A. P. Indy) took to the track at Penn National.  Since Penn National runs in the evenings, I usually catch races by the Curlin babies there — him, Traveling Afoot, Scurlin, Measured, even recently Whisper to Curlin — on replay.

But, that evening, I caught him live.

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