By Andrew Caulfield
Excuse me for dipping into my own back catalogue again, but something I wrote in early-February for Thoroughbred Owner & Breeder has some relevance to the thrilling events in the GI Travers S.:
“It has long been said that England and America are two countries divided by a common language,” I wrote. “More recently the two countries' racing industries have become divided by a common breed. They may all be Thoroughbreds, but this divide is fuelled by the different surfaces largely employed by the opposing industries, with the degree of separation increasingly being intensified by the various medication issues.
“The extent of the gulf is illustrated by the latest European 2-Year-Old Ratings. Only six of the 50 juveniles which merited a rating of 110+–that's 3%–carry the USA suffix and the best of them, Hootenanny, ranks only joint-10th. Compare this to the equivalent European Free Handicap of 20 years earlier. In 1994, 69 juveniles were rated 110 or more, with 28 of them–roughly 40%–being imports from the U.S. These 28 included four of the top five colts. Even as recently as 10 years ago, there were five American-breds among the top eight and altogether there were 14 among the 54 qualifiers–nearly 26%.
“This suggests that European breeders, owners and bloodstock agents have been voting with their feet, feeling far safer in patronising the top European stallions (many of which would have headed to Kentucky had they been around in the 1970s and '80s).
“It is unrealistic, though, to think that the American industry has nothing to offer European racing. In an effort to put forward a few comparatively new names for consideration, it is worth looking at the stallions which were responsible for the most qualifiers for America's Experimental Free Handicap and also at the stallions with the largest representations among the entries for America's 2015 Triple Crown events.
“There are no prizes for guessing that the most prolific sire of Triple Crown entries, with 14, is Tapit, a stallion whose 2015 fee of $300,000 is twice as high as that of the next-highest-priced stallion, War Front.
“But how many Europeans would have guessed that one of his nearest pursuers, with 12 entrants, would be Curlin? Sure Curlin was twice voted Horse of the Year and he finished first, second or third in the Triple Crown events. But he has yet to prove that he is similarly effective as a stallion. Having started out at $75,000 in 2009, his fee in 2015 is less than half that–$35,000 to be precise–and his slow start means that he has fewer than 40 yearlings in 2015.
“Curlin's record has so far been that of a “nearly” horse. From 206 named foals in his first two crops, he has managed to sire just two graded stakes winners, headed by the GI Belmont S. and GI Metropolitan H. winner Palace Malice. However, there is reason for optimism. He has been peppering the target with an impressive number of horses which have been placed at graded level, and it wouldn't surprise me were he to make a breakthrough in 2015. His third crop, numbering 89 3-year-olds, has already produced its first graded winner in Ocean Knight , as well as four others which have been placed at Grade I or Grade II levels. He ranked second among the sires of Experimental qualifiers, with five, so his high number of Triple Crown entries is therefore not so surprising.
“Curlin has several talented turf runners to his credit, while his sire Smart Strike has a respectable record with his European runners, so it could be interesting to see a few Curlins plying their trade in Europe.”
Needless to say, the events of the spring and summer have demanded a substantial re-write to the above. Curlin is no longer a “nearly” horse. He has officially arrived, to the extent that he currently ranks fifth among the American-based stallions on the TDN's sires' table, with 2015 earnings approaching the $7 million mark. Incidentally, he was the cheapest of the top 10 at his 2015 fee of $35,000.
It is a fair bet that his fee will now continue to climb back towards its original level, having bottomed out at $25,000 in 2013 (when he covered only 54 mares for 39 live foals) and 2014, when he covered 152 mares. That enormous surge in interest was fuelled largely by Palace Malice's 2013 Belmont S. success. Of course the recently retired Palace Malice continued in fine form in 2014, showing admirable versatility for a Belmont S. winner by adding three graded successes over a mile, including the prestigious Met Mile. By the end of last year Curlin was up to10th place on the TDN's American list.
Curlin's resurgence in 2015 confirms that his high number of Experimental qualifiers and Triple Crown nominees was justified. From a 2012 crop sired at a fee of $40,000, he has now been represented by three Grade I winners in Stellar Wind, Curalina and Keen Ice.
For good measure, he has also made an excellent start with the 2-year-olds from his fourth crop. Off The Tracks became Curlin's first graded winner at the age of two when she took the GIII Schuylerville S. in July and Curlin didn't have long to wait for juvenile graded winner #2, with Exaggerator landing the GII Saratoga Special.
It is probably no coincidence that both of these juveniles are out of mares sired by champion 2-year-olds from the Seattle Slew male line–Off The Tracks' dam is by a grandson, Boston Harbor, whereas Exaggerator's dam is by a son, Vindication. Indeed Curlin owes quite a lot of his success to the Seattle Slew male line. Stellar Wind has a dam by Seattle Slew's grandson Malibu Moon and the Grade II winner Moulin de Mougin has a dam by Seattle Slew's son Avenue of Flags.
To get back to Curlin's trio of 3-year-old Grade I winners, it was Stellar Wind who started the sequence with her victory in the Santa Anita Oaks in April. This comparatively cheaply bought filly has now recorded four graded victories this year, her GIII Torrey Pines S. success being part of a weekend stakes treble for her sire. She looks poised to add further to Curlin's 2015 big race successes.
Next in line was another of Curlin's daughters, Curalina. Having become a Grade I winner in the Acorn S. over a mile in June, she returned to take the GI Coaching Club American Oaks over an extra furlong. Maybe she found a mile and a quarter a step too far in the GI Alabama S., in which she faded to third, one place ahead of another Curlin filly in Danette.
And now the Grade I treble has been completed by the progressive Keen Ice, who deserves plenty of credit for his determined Travers S. success, even if it did break the hearts of the legions of American Pharoah worshippers. The 10 furlongs of the Travers clearly suited Keen Ice very well, which isn't surprising in view of his bloodlines. After all, both his sire Curlin and broodmare sire Awesome Again stayed a mile and a quarter well enough to win the GI Breeders' Cup Classic–a race which also fell to Awesome Again's son Ghostzapper. Even Kris S., the stallion responsible for Keen Ice's second dam Wiscasset, got into the Classic act, as the broodmare sire of the heroic Zenyatta.
Only three daughters of Awesome Again have racing-age progeny by Curlin. Two have raced and both have become black-type winners, Keen Ice's predecessor being La Grange, who earned 113 on the Experimental Free H. after becoming a graded-placed listed winner. This cross creates 3×3 inbreeding to Deputy Minister. Considering that Deputy Minister was a champion 2-year-old colt who went on to land two North American sires' championships, plus the title of champion sire of broodmares, he is arguably a suitable subject for close inbreeding. The best previous example was the 2013 GI Malibu S. winner Shakin It Up, who is inbred 4×4.The 3×3 inbreeding to Deputy Minister in Keen Ice's pedigree is accompanied by 4x5x5 to Mr. Prospector.
Keen Ice's dam Medomak made only one start, while his second dam Wiscasset never made it to the races. However, Wiscasset proved her worth by producing Coal Play, runner-up to Big Brown in the GI Haskell Invitational. Medomak, in turn, was a half-sister to graded winners by Seattle Slew and his son Capote. The Seattle Slew winner was Serra Lake, a filly who once prompted Shug McGaughey to comment “the farther, the better” after this late-developing filly had won the GI Go For Wand H. over a mile and an eighth. McGaughey even joked that two miles would bring out the best in her.
Keen Ice's third dam Tara Roma won the Ladies H. over a mile and a quarter and this is the famous family descending from the 1962 Oaks winner Monade. His fourth dam Chic Shirine won the GI Ashland S. and has numerous graded stakes-winning descendants, including her grandson Verrazano and granddaughter Somali Lemonade. Chic Shirine's sister Queena was a champion performer before becoming the dam of GI Hollywood Derby winner Brahms.
Add all this together and it is clear that Keen Ice's bloodlines are so strong that it is no surprise that he has developed into a dragon slayer.
TRAVERS S.-GI, $1,600,000, SAR, 8-29, 3yo, 1 1/4m, 2:01.57, ft.
1–#@&KEEN ICE, 126, c, 3, by Curlin
1st Dam: Medomak, by Awesome Again
2nd Dam: Wiscasset, by Kris S.
3rd Dam: Tara Roma, by Lyphard
($48,000 Wlg '12 KEENOV; $120,000 Ylg '13KEESEP). O-Donegal Racing; B-Glencrest Farm LLC (KY); T-Dale L. Romans; J-Javier Castellano. $850,000. Lifetime Record: 11-2-1-3, $1,490,395. Werk Nick Rating: A+++. *Triple Plus*.
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