05/02/2016 3:41PM

Sires of the 2016 Kentucky Derby: Curlin

Lee Thomas

Exaggerator was part of a career year last year for young sire Curlin, as he ran with a maturity beyond his years to become a well-traveled multiple graded stakes winner. However, the best was yet to come, as the colt romped in the slop in the Santa Anita Derby to establish himself as a serious threat in the Kentucky Derby.

The best could be yet to come for Curlin, as well, thinks Steve Asmussen, who trained him to Horse of the Year honors in 2007 and 2008.

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Asmussen has one of Curlin’s stars on the track, Kentucky Oaks contender Terra Promessa, and he said of Curlin’s steadily blooming runners: “As they earn the respect that they deserve, I think the handling of them will improve, and we’ll see even better from them in the future.”

Curlin, a strapping chestnut son of Smart Strike, was North America’s leading money winner at the time of his retirement. He won 11 of 16 starts and had earnings of $10,501,800. Campaigned by a partnership that was led by the late Jess Jackson and wife Barbara Banke’s Stonestreet Stables, Curlin’s top-level victories included the Dubai World Cup, Preakness, Breeders’ Cup Classic, Stephen Foster Handicap, Woodward Stakes, and two editions of the Jockey Club Gold Cup. He also finished second in the Belmont Stakes and third in the Kentucky Derby, and was Grade 1-placed on turf. Curlin was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2014.

Curlin began his stud career in 2009 at Lane’s End and quietly established himself as a powerful source of stamina, producing a classic horse from each of his first three crops. Palace Malice won the 2013 Belmont; Ride On Curlin was second in the 2014 Preakness; and Keen Ice was third in the 2015 Belmont. In keeping with that theme of distance ability, nine of Curlin’s 10 graded stakes winners have scored those victories at a mile or beyond.

In 2015, Curlin was represented by his first champion, as Stellar Wind won the Santa Anita Oaks and finished a close second in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff to earn the 3-year-old filly title. Keen Ice was the only horse on the season to defeat Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, running down the champion in the Travers Stakes, while Curalina was a multiple Grade 1 winner in New York. Curlin’s career year also included graded stakes-winning juveniles Exaggerator and Off the Tracks, and graded winners Diversy Harbor and Ocean Knight.

Curlin has moved to Hill ‘n’ Dale Farm – which purchased a minority interest in him last year via sealed bid in an asset forfeiture auction – for the 2016 season, and along with his new home has a new price tag. His $100,000 fee places him among North America’s elite stallions – and may also serve to boost his stud career by improving the quality of mares sent to him. He now has the benefit of Hill ‘n’ Dale’s elite broodmare band and is already reaping rewards. The operation purchased champion Take Charge Brandi for $6 million last November for the purpose of crossing her with the stallion.

“An opportunity to invest in a proven stallion is rare, so we are honored by Barbara’s trust in us to stand Curlin,” Hill ‘n’ Dale owner John Sikura said. “Of course, his addition to our roster is a huge boost for us.”

Stonestreet has always supported Curlin with its best mares, as was immediately evident when champion Rachel Alexandra visited him for her first mating in 2011. Last year, mares it sent to him included champion Dayatthespa and Grade 1 winner and producer Dream Rush. Stonestreet’s homebreds on the track by the stallion include Terra Promessa, winner of four straight races, most recently the Grade 2 Fantasy Stakes.

“We’re obviously extremely proud of who Curlin is, and I think that [his foals] are carrying on his legacy nicely,” Asmussen said. “But I feel like the best is yet to come for the Curlins. I really do.”