Anyone who doubted that two-time Horse of the Year Curlin was going to also be top notch as a sire must now be in full blown backtrack mode. The now ten-year-old chestnut son of Smart Strike is exploding out of the stallion starting gate, just as he did as a young runner in the winter of 2007. Standing for $25,000 at Lane’s End Farm, Curlin’s second crop has been lighting things up in the opening month of 2014.
I was so impressed with Top Billing’s debut performance at Laurel in early December, that I wrote about it that same day, and immediately got him into my Down and Derby Sweet 16 rankings. I thought his second race was about as good as a young sophomore could look in a losing performance, and that faith was rewarded last Saturday when Top Billing rolled from last to first in a Gulfstream Park allowance race. The easy victory, over the well thought of Surfing U S A, quickly moved Top Billing into everyone’s forefront in looking for a true 2014 Kentucky Derby contender. The Lane’s End homebred also impressed the defending Run for the Roses winning trainer, Shug McGaughey, who says a stakes race will most assuredly be next for the son of Curlin.
If Top Billing did Curlin proud last weekend, then Please Explain surely did more of the same today. Making her first start at Tampa Bay Downs, the dark bay daughter of the Preakness, Breeders’ Cup Classic, and Dubai World Cup champion, took her time on the rail in today’s Suncoast Stakes. As soon as that rail position opened up just a little coming off the far turn, the favored filly exploded through it, under Julien Leparoux. From there, she demonstrated her clear superiority over the other three-year-old fillies in the field, ultimately prancing to a sublime six-length score.
The Suncoast victory was the second in a row for the Tom Proctor trained miss. She ran away from a field of Gulfstream Park maidens by 5 ½ lengths to close her juvenile season. It will no doubt be bigger and better things for Please Explain from here, and I would not be surprised at all to see her in the Kentucky Oaks starting gate in three months.
And the 2014 hits keep coming from a crop that already included the 3rd place finisher in the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes, Ride On Curlin. Adding to his extremely impressive start to the new year, Curlin had two recent first-time starters make impressive runs on the Santa Anita turf. First on January 20, Texas Ryano had to wait and wait for room before unleashing a devastating late kick to win a one-mile maiden affair going away for trainer, Carla Gaines.
Speaking of devastating late runs, it was Diversy Harbor six days later who was probably even more impressive than her male counterpart. Also making her career debut, the Glen Hill Farm runner lagged at the back of a large field in a 6 ½ furlong maiden event down the hill before beginning her rally on the far turn. Spun out way wide for the stretch run, she rocketed down the center of track to sail by her competition and roll home by three eye-catching lengths. By Curlin, and a half sister to the classy Keertana, Diversey Harbor is definitely one to keep an eye on, for trainer, Tom Proctor.
While Curlin’s new three-year-olds are hot, his older runners are not too shabby either. As for that first crop, Curlin has now sired six stakes winners that are now four years of age, including the Pacific Northwest sensation, Stopshoppingdebbie, and the recent winner of the Native Dancer Stakes at Laurel, Bold Curlin. The Michael Trombetta trainee earned his first stakes victory impressively last week while scoring by two lengths and earning a solid 98 Beyer figure.
And of course, the cornerstone of Curlin’s first crop was the Belmont Stakes winner, Palace Malice. The four-year-old Dogwood runner also added a score in Saratoga’s Jim Dandy over Will Take Charge to his resume, on the way to being voted an Eclipse Award finalist for 3yo male champion. As good as Palace Malice has been so far, I am likely not the only one who believes we still may have not seen the best yet of the colt, who recently began training again for Todd Pletcher down in Florida.
As a twice named champion of American racing, Curlin the stallion has a lot to prove if he is going to live up to the Curlin the race horse. So far, so good.