04/11/2016 10:51AM

Sparkman: Curlin makes it to the promised land

Benoit & Associates
Exaggerator, by two-time Horse of the Year Curlin, wins the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby.

The two most important attributes that elevate a stallion from the ranks of the merely successful to superstar status are the ability to consistently sire legitimate classic prospects and juvenile graded stakes winners.

Although two-time Horse of the Year Curlin sired a classic winner in his first crop in 2013 Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice, he did not sire a juvenile graded winner until the 2015 Saratoga meeting when Exaggerator won the Grade 2 Saratoga Special and Off the Tracks captured the Grade 3 Schuylerville.

Exaggerator’s easy victory in Saturday’s Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby confirmed that he is a genuine classic colt, and – coupled with the victory of Terra Promessa (whose name means Promised Land) in the Grade 3 Fantasy Stakes on the same day at Oaklawn – removed all doubt that Curlin’s breakout year in 2015, when he made it into the top 10 on the American sire list for the first time, was not an aberration. Curlin is here to stay as a top stallion.

Despite his brilliant racing career, many breeders harbored doubts when Curlin retired to Lane’s End in 2009. His fourth-place finish in the 2008 Breeders’ Cup Classic was only the fifth loss of his 16-race career, but he had not raced at 2, and commercial breeders consider precocity a critical requirement for stallion success.

Bred in Kentucky by Issam Fares’s Fares Farm, Curlin, by Smart Strike out of Sheriff’s Deputy, by Deputy Minister, sold for only $57,000 as a yearling to trainer Ken McPeek, agent for Midnight Cry Stable, at least partly because of a problematic ankle radiograph. Curlin was so impressive in his 12 3/4-length victory in his 3-year-old debut over seven furlongs in February 2007 at Gulfstream Park that he was quickly sold privately for a rumored seven-figure price to a partnership led by Jess Jackson’s Stonestreet Stables.

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Curlin followed that maiden win with victories in the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes and Grade 1 Arkansas Derby, but his lack of experience showed in finishing third behind Street Sense and Hard Spun in the Kentucky Derby. Curlin made up the deficit in the Preakness two weeks later, nailing Street Sense on the wire, but he could not quite get past the champion filly Rags to Riches in the Belmont. He earned his first Horse of the Year Eclipse with victories in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and Breeders’ Cup Classic, romping home in a sloppy Classic at Monmouth Park by 4 1/2 lengths. Curlin was just as good at 4, winning the Dubai World Cup and Stephen Foster in the first half of the year and adding the Woodward and a second Jockey Club Gold Cup before his failure on Santa Anita’s synthetic surface in his final start.

There were no juvenile stakes winners in Curlin’s first crop of 2-year-olds in 2012, and Palace Malice’s Belmont victory, frankly, did not do all that much to increase Curlin’s popularity with breeders. Though he got another classic colt, Ride On Curlin who ran second in the 2013 Preakness, in his second crop, it was not until his third crop turned 3 last year that Curlin really came into his own.

Stellar Wind (out of Evening Star, by Malibu Moon) became his second Grade 1 winner with her victory in the Santa Anita Oaks in March, and at the end of the season, her classy second in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff made her Curlin’s first champion. Curalina (Whatdreamsrmadeof, by Graeme Hall) followed with victories in the Grade 1 Acorn Stakes and CCA Oaks, but the biggest win of all was that of Keen Ice (Medomak, by Awesome Again) over Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in the 2015 Travers.

Exaggerator (Dawn Raid, by Vindication) is Curlin’s fifth Grade 1 winner and one of 25 stakes winners from 411 foals age 3 and older, a 6.1 percent stakes-winners-to-foals ratio that is bound to improve as his runners mature.

Exaggerator is the third foal and third winner out of Dawn Raid, who placed in Woodbine’s Fanfreluche Stakes and is a half-sister to Canadian champion older mare Embur’s Song, by Unbridled’s Song, and to Canadian stakes winner Ten Flat, by Meadowlake. The family has been pretty purely Canadian since Canada’s greatest breeder E.P. Taylor imported Exaggerator’s stakes-winning seventh dam Orchestra, by Menetrier, second dam of Canadian champions Giboulee and Dance in Time, in the 1950s.

It is worth noting that two of Curlin’s five Grade 1 winners, Keen Ice and Curalina, are closely inbred to Deputy Minister, but overall the pedigrees of his best runners are yet more iterations of the Northern Dancer/Mr. Prospector mixture that dominates current American pedigrees.