Over the past 50 years, American racing has become increasingly more compartmentalized, with “turf horses” and “classic horses” and “2-year-old speed horses,” as if horses do not transcend categories. And the most intense emphasis has come to be placed on the small cohort of classic horses, especially classic colts, because those have the potential to soar in value and prestige to a level that is giddy even to think about.
Just over a quarter-century ago, the prince of this particular set of elite Thoroughbreds was a grand bay by the name of A.P. Indy. Winner of the Grade 1 Hollywood Futurity at 2, A.P. Indy went on to become the favorite for the Kentucky Derby, only to be scratched just before the classic by trainer Neil Drysdale due to a sore foot.
The big horse with the big talent came back fine and won the Belmont Stakes, then the Breeders' Cup Classic, and Horse of the Year. Along with his near-contemporary Unbridled (by Fappiano), this pair have dominated classic racing and performance through much of the next 20 years.
Unquestionably, Unbridled had the most individual success in siring winners of the classics, with Kentucky Derby winner Grindstone, Preakness winner Red Bullet, and Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker. Grindstone sired Belmont winner Birdstone, who in turn has sired Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird and Belmont winner Summer Bird.
Empire Maker sired a pair of colts who went second in the Kentucky classic, and of those, the young classic stallion Pioneerof the Nile did the near-impossible and sired the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years, American Pharoah.
In addition, we regularly see up to a third of the field for individual classics made up by descendants of A.P. Indy, led by three-time top sire Tapit, sire of three winners of the Belmont Stakes; Malibu Moon, sire of Kentucky Derby winner Orb; and now Take Charge Indy, who first crop of 3-year-olds includes Louisiana Derby winner Noble Indy.
The horse who is looking to take a piece of the classic pie from the Seattle Slew – A.P. Indy and Mr. Prospector – Unbridled clan is also a descendant of Mr. P.
By the Mr. Prospector stallon Smart Strike, Curlin is the hardest-working classic sire in America.
From his first crop came Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice. From the third came Travers winner Keen Ice and Coaching Club American Oaks winner Curalina, as well as champion filly Stellar Wind; from the fourth came 2016 Preakness winner Exaggerator, along with Mother Goose winner Off the Tracks. From the fifth came 2017 Wood Memorial winner Irish War Cry.
This year, Curlin's contingent has been even more dominating.
In the April 7 classic preps at Keeneland and Aqueduct, a pair of robust chestnuts added victories to resumes that buff their classic credentials to a pleasing shine. On Saturday in Kentucky, 2017 champion juvenile colt Good Magic won the G2 Blue Grass Stakes, and in New York, Curlin was represented by a second consecutive winner of the G2 Wood Memorial, Vino Rosso.
There is one more G1 classic prep, the Arkansas Derby on April 14, and Curlin's son Solomini will be trying to take the points and the prestige at Oaklawn. His primary competitor is expected to be the unbeaten Magnum Moon (Malibu Moon), who defeated Solomini in the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn last month.
With a string of successful performers like that, Curlin has had a hearty rise in demand for his services. From a high of $60,000 as a stallion entering stud in 2009, Curlin had dropped in fee substantially during the Great Recession, but the horse's big winners on the racetrack have begotten sales successes, and those drive stud fees ever higher.
For 2018, Curlin stands for $150,000 live foal at Hill ‘n' Dale. If one of the Curlin contingent is the victor in the Kentucky Derby on May 5, not to mention the subsequent classics, that figure is certain to rise for next year.
Bred in Kentucky by Fares Farm next door to Keeneland, Curlin is now 13, and from the rising tide of good stock by him, his best years should lie ahead.
The handsome chestnut is a muscular and deep-bodied individual who stands over a lot of ground. His best stock sometimes resemble him in type; others do not. This year's classic crew of three chestnuts most resemble their famous sire, with the shiny red coat and robust physique of their sire.
In his own makeup, Curlin is cast more in the mold of his broodmare sire Deputy Minister and his quite large and quite successful sire Vice Regent (Northern Dancer), more than the medium-sized bay Smart Strike. Both sides of the family, however, contribute to class and to classic performance, and in that regard, Curlin is the model – par excellence.
Frank Mitchell is author of Racehorse Breeding Theories, as well as the book Great Breeders and Their Methods: The Hancocks. In addition to writing the column “Sires and Dams” in Daily Racing Form for nearly 15 years, he has contributed articles to Thoroughbred Daily News, Thoroughbred Times, Thoroughbred Record, International Thoroughbred, and other major publications. In addition, Frank is chief of biomechanics for DataTrack International and is a hands-on caretaker of his own broodmares and foals in Central Kentucky. Check out Frank's lively Bloodstock in the Bluegrass blog.
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