Thoroughbred Daily News
Commissioner A.P. Indy - Flaming Heart, by Touch Gold
WinStar Farm Versailles, KY | 2011 | Entered Stud 2016 | 2019 Fee $7,500

Bridging The Gap: Curlin’s Turf Frontier

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Curlin has been chosen as the first mate for Lady Aurelia | Sarah Andrew

By Kelsey Riley

When Barbara Banke bought out partner Peter Leidel to take home Lady Aurelia (Scat Daddy) for $7.5-million at Fasig-Tipton in November, she admitted she was considering stallions in both Europe and closer to home in Kentucky for her dual Royal Ascot and G1 Prix Morny winner.

The fact that Curlin was last month revealed as the G2 Queen Mary and G1 King’s Stand S. winner’s first mate shouldn’t have come as a great surprise-not only did he also race in Stonestreet’s red and gold silks, but he has shaped into one of America’s very best sires.

On the surface the mating looks like a cross between a middle-distance dirt sire and a turf sprint specialist. On closer inspection, however, the pedigrees and performances of both Lady Aurelia and Curlin bring plenty more to the table.

Everyone remembers Lady Aurelia’s demolition displays at Royal Ascot in 2016 and 2017. Fewer probably recall that, prior to winning the Queen Mary by seven lengths, Lady Aurelia won on debut at Keeneland on the dirt by 7 1/2 lengths, becoming a ‘TDN Rising Star’.

Lady Aurelia’s dam, D’Wildcat Speed (Forest Wildcat), was Horse of the Year in Puerto Rico and won seven stakes on the dirt on the island before being sent to the mainland, where she won Gulfstream Park’s 1 1/8-mile G2 Rampart S. on the dirt by six lengths. D’Wildcat Speed won at up to 1 3/16 miles (and as little as six furlongs, on three occasions), but interestingly none of her five progeny to race has won beyond seven furlongs-rarely, however, have they been tried. From those five, Lady Aurelia aside, two others did their best running on dirt (including the stakes-placed Titletown Five), one on the turf and one on the all-weather. Sprinting is a trait of broodmare sire Forest Wildcat, who never raced beyond six furlongs and sired mostly sprinters.

There are thus far just two foals of racing age by Curlin out of Scat Daddy mares and one winner, but the cross of Curlin over Scat Daddy’s grandsire Hennessy has produced a stakes winner. Daughters of Hennessy’s sire Storm Cat have produced five stakes winners when bred to Curlin, and Storm Cat-line stallions that are broodmare sires to Curlin stakes winners include Giant’s Causeway, Stormy Atlantic and Tale of the Cat.

As I write this, Curlin, a son of the versatile sire Smart Strike out of a Deputy Minister mare, is coming off a big weekend led by new stakes-winning 3-year-old filly Point of Honor and new ‘TDN Rising Star’ Global Campaign, who led home a trifecta by his sire at Gulfstream. Curlin’s newly turned 3-year-olds are hitting the ground running, and the intriguing thing is that this is his last crop bred at a five-figure fee. His 3-year-olds of 2019, conceived in 2015, were bred at $35,000, his second-lowest fee since he retired to stud 10 years ago. Curlin went on to have an outstanding year on the track in 2015, his headliners including champion 3-year-old filly Stellar Wind, GI Travers S. winner Keen Ice, dual Grade I-winning filly Curalina and graded-winning 2-year-olds Exaggerator and Off the Tracks-the former would go on to win the GI Preakness S. the following year. In the fall of 2015, John Sikura’s Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms and partners purchased 20% of Curlin for $6.2-million as part of the asset liquidation of his former part owner, the embattled Midnight Cry Stables, and he was relocated from Lane’s End Farm to Hill ‘n’ Dale for 2016 and given a fee hike to $100,000. Banke owns the other 80% of Curlin.

Curlin’s stock has only continued to rise since his relocation. Stellar Wind added five more Grade Is before selling to Coolmore for $6-million at Keeneland November; Exaggerator won the Preakness, Off the Tracks won the GI Mother Goose S., Good Magic was the 2017 champion 2-year-old and won the GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and GI Haskell, and Connect won the GI Cigar Mile. His fee climbed to $150,000 in 2017 and 2018 and is set at a career-high $175,000 this year.

Stonestreet has staunchly supported Curlin from the start, and has been rewarded as the breeder or co-breeder of Good Magic and Stellar Wind, among others, while Sikura has now thrown his weight behind the horse.

“His books have been tremendous,” said Hill ‘n’ Dale General Manager Jared Burdine. “Since Curlin came to Hill ‘n’ Dale, we have supported him heavily with our top families and mares. Stonestreet has continued their strong support with their world-class broodmare band and most of the top breeders in the world have sent mares to him. His books have been a who’s-who of broodmares filled with high-class race mares and producers.”

In the last three years Curlin’s books have included the 11-time Grade I winner and multiple champion Beholder (Henny Hughes); GI Queen Anne S. winner Tepin (Bernstein), bought by Coolmore at Fasig-Tipton for $8-million; GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner and champion Take Charge Brandi (Giant’s Causeway), Grade I-winning sprinters Indian Blessing (Indian Charlie), Judy The Beauty (Ghostzapper) and Taris (Flatter); GI Acorn S. winner Carina Mia (Malibu Moon), GI Kentucky Oaks winner Blind Luck (Pollard’s Vision) and GI Belmont S. winner Rags To Riches (A.P. Indy). The dams of champions Drefong (Gio Ponti), Accelerate (Lookin At Lucky) and Gun Runner (Candy Ride {Arg}), GI Kentucky Derby winners Always Dreaming (Bodemeister) and Super Saver (Maria’s Mon) and Grade I winner Honor Code (A.P. Indy) have visited Curlin at Hill ‘n’ Dale, and he was selected as the mate this year for Stage Magic (Ghostzapper), the dam of Triple Crown winner Justify (Scat Daddy). The dams of Exaggerator and Good Magic have also returned to Curlin.

Burdine said that of 10 select 2-year-olds retained to race by Hill ‘n’ Dale this year, eight are from that first $100,000 crop by Curlin.

“[Bloodstock agent] Donato Lanni, along with other astute horsemen, tell me great things about their early training,” he said. “We keep a fairly small racing stable and I believe of the 10 2-year-olds we retained to race, eight are Curlins. All are great physicals from top families so there is lots be excited about for Curlin in the near future.”

Burdine pointed out that Curlin is currently the leading sire in the U.S. by average earnings index, and he and Ghostzapper are the only sires with an AEI above two that have an AEI higher than their comparable index, meaning they are high-class sires that are still improving the good mares.

“He’s a horse you have to have in your plans if you want a dirt, Saturday afternoon horse,” Burdine said. “He’s leading by average earnings index and second place is War Front and Tapit. He improves the great mares, too; he and Ghostzapper are the only sires that have a comparable index over two, but their average earnings index is also higher than their comparable index. There are a lot of horses that improve the mediocre mares, but he’s improving even the high-class mares.”

Curlin has clearly established himself as a top middle-distance dirt sire, and that would have been no surprise from the outset given that his seven Grade I wins over two seasons included the Preakness, Breeders’ Cup Classic and Dubai World Cup. Despite an outstanding body of work that for a period gave him the title of America’s richest racehorse, there is still a sense of what could have been: Curlin was only tried on the turf once, during the summer of his 4-year-old campaign, when he was second to GI Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Red Rocks (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}) in the GI Man O’War S., with another Breeders’ Cup Turf winner, Better Talk Now (Talkin Man) back in third. His own sire, Smart Strike, proved almost equally adept at siring dirt and turf horses, with 75 stakes winners on the dirt and 69 on the turf. Smart Strike’s top performer on the turf, six-time Grade I winner English Channel, has gone on to be an important turf influence that has also sired dirt Grade I winners, and other sons of Smart Strike to sire stakes winners on the turf include the champion 2-year-old and GI Preakness S. winner Lookin At Lucky and GI Breeders’ Futurity winner Square Eddie.

While Curlin’s progeny success has heavily trended towards the dirt-45 stakes winners-rather than the turf, with nine stakes winners on the grass-there is evidence in his runners and books to believe he could follow his sire and sireline into becoming prolific on both surfaces. His nine turf stakes winners include the G2 Hollywood Turf Cup winner Texas Ryano and the G2 John C. Mabee S. winner Moulin de Mougin. Diversy Harbor won the G2 Buena Vista S. and was second in the GI American Oaks before she was fatally injured during her 4-year-old campaign. Curlin’s three stakes winners on the turf in 2018 were headed by Current, a $725,000 yearling who won the G3 Bourbon S.

In addition to world-class turf mares Lady Aurelia and Tepin, the well-bred Galileo’s Song (Galileo {Ire}), twice graded-placed on the turf, was sold for $1-million to Shimokobe Farm in foal to Curlin at Keeneland November last year, and Marketing Mix (Medaglia d’Oro), a dual Grade I winner and millionaire on the turf, is set to visit Curlin this year.

“Classic distance races on dirt may be Curlin’s strong suit, but his sire line is very versatile and lends itself to believe that a top turf horse by Curlin is possible,” said Burdine. “He’s Grade I-placed on the turf too, and was beaten only by the Breeders’ Cup Turf winner in his only try on the turf. We’ve bred a couple nice turf mares to him the last few years that we think will suit him well, so that’s the next frontier to conquer with him and we think he can do that. His bread and butter will be the dirt, but there’s no reason to think he couldn’t produce a phenomenal turf horse, too.”

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