By Robert D. Fierro
If you were to Google the meaning of the phrase “makes your toes curl,” you would probably feel some tingling in your own tootsies when it comes time to interpret the definition. There are literally dozens of links that will be very definitive about this, but we have decided that the one which pertains to our study is the simplest: to “bring about an extreme reaction in someone, either of pleasure or of disgust.”
That seems a fair description the unleashed emotions could generate after a son or daughter of Curlin gets up in time to win a graded race, viz., Good Magic in the GII Toyota Blue Grass S. and Vino Rosso in the GII Wood Memorial Apr. 7, after both came up embarrassingly short in their previous starts. Then again there is the roller coaster ride that is under the girth of Solomini, whose career has taken a couple of bounces to date, some not his fault.
There’s an interesting cross-current of expectations by the connections of the Curlins and the underestimation of the public, or the competition–and it might have its roots in both the racing record and early breeding career of the son of Smart Strike. On one hand you could not be more impressed with the looks of this smartly built chestnut. Trainer Ken McPeek thought so when he purchased him for his own account at Keeneland September in 2005 for a modest $57,000 and subsequently sold him privately and turned him over to his assistant Helen Pitts when he took a sabbatical.
Ms. Pitts took her time with the big colt, and he didn’t come out until February of his sophomore year where he destroyed a maiden field at Gulfstream by a dozen lengths–which everyone seemed to expect given his 2-1 odds. Paying particular attention were Jess Jackson and Satish Sanan, who came together to purchase a third of Curlin apiece and sent him over to Steve Asmussen’s care.
From there, things went happy-toes for a couple of races. Blessed with excellent power through his quarters and a slightly downhill body set, which is advantageous for horses who need to gather themselves and then roll on momentum, Curlin smashed his foes in the GIII Rebel S. and GII Arkansas Derby and went into the GI Kentucky Derby at a very warm 5-1. Toes were not happy as he was shuffled back at the start and had to come through a wall of horses to eventually get up for third to Street Sense and Hard Spun, beaten eight lengths.
Next came the fulfillment of expectations as Curlin overcame a stumbling start in the GI Preakness S. and went on to turn the tables on his Derby conquerors, getting up late to beat Street Sense by a head with Hard Spun four lengths behind. However, when met with the challenge of 12 furlongs in the GI Belmont S., Curlin stalked the pace and split the field at the head of the stretch to appear to be able to wrap it up, but was caught in the last strides by the filly Rags to Riches. Ouch! (A hangnail?)
From that point on, Curlin continued to prove he was an extraordinary racehorse but with a few hiccups. He started his fall campaign with a one-paced third in the GI Haskell Invitational to Any Given Saturday and Hard Spun, but then solidified his Eclipse Awards as Champion 3-year-old colt and Horse of the Year with victories in the GI Jockey Club Gold Gup and GI Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Sent to Dubai when he turned four to prep for the G1 Dubai World Cup, he toyed with field in the Jaguar Trophy and then pummeled his foes in the Cup. Three months later, he underscored that class with an easy win in the GI Stephen Foster H. at Churchill, and then the next four races split the toes. Sent on the turf for the first time he ran creditably but was beaten two lengths in the GI Man o’ War S., then won both the GI Woodward S. and GI Jockey Club Gold Cup to go into the GI Breeders’ Cup Classic as a strong 9-10 favorite. Taken back as always, Curlin made a monster move around the turn and took a clear lead at the furlong grounds but unaccountably slowed down to finish fourth to Raven’s Pass, Henrythenavigator, two turf horses, and Tiago. He was still good enough to earn his second Horse of the Year title, as well as one for older male.
So, there you have it–an exceptionally talented horse with an aggressive ownership who witnessed sometimes head-scratching performances heading to stud with a superior race record but a somewhat suspect pedigree, to wit: Smart Strike had established himself as a very good sire but much in his own mold–later developing and favoring turf, like his Eclipse winner English Channel who’d just started getting decent runners. (The more versatile Lookin at Lucky came along three years after Curlin.)
Then there was the bottom line. His dam, Sheriff’s Deputy (Deputy Minister) was unraced and produced from Barbarika, who emulated her sire Bates Motel by wanting two turns, winning a listed stakes at Turfway. The next dam, War Exchange, was a very tough Mid-Atlantic stakes winner who also emulated her sire, Wise Exchange, in toughness, winning 10 of 48 starts. That was about it until the fifth dam, Jota Jota (Double Jay), who won the Ashland S. at Keeneland in a continuation of excellence since Arthur Hancock Sr. imported the Sir Martin mare Martha Snow, a major producer for Claiborne.
However. Curlin’s biomechanical profile was through the roof, both as a racing machine and a potential progenitor. With a bit more scope than his sire, whom he resembles in some functional respects, Curlin is the kind of “average-sized” stallion that makes up for shortcomings in a wide variety of mares because he is so balanced. He also brings more power to the shed than did his sire. He hit the mark from the get-go with multiple Grade I winner Palace Malice in his first crop and subsequently threw out top-quality horses Stellar Wind, Exaggerator, Keen Ice, Curalina and Irish War Cry among his 50 stakes winners to date.
What we find most interesting among Curlin’s sons who have retired to stud is that several of them are about the same Phenotype, as well as similar to him in size and scope. Some look like they have other biomechanical assets that will help them succeed. So, it could very well be that Curlin could have the kind of good magic to solidify this branch of the Mr. Prospector line. If that happens, you could choose vino rosso or vino bianco to toast his success, and your toes will no doubt be thankful and relax.
Bob Fierro is a partner with Jay Kilgore and Frank Mitchell in DataTrack International, biomechanical consultants and developers of BreezeFigs. He can be reached at [email protected].