Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners' Curalina was the runaway winner of Sunday's Grade 3 Shuvee Handicap, crossing the wire 9 1/4 lengths in front of her competition under John Velazquez. The Todd Pletcher-trained 4-year-old daughter of Curlin covered nine furlongs over Saratoga's sloppy main track in 1:49.85.
“On paper it looked like kind of a match race,” Pletcher began, “and with that scenario you certainly don't want Carrumba to get away, and it looked like Carrumba loves an off track, so we didn't want to let her get away. Assuming that Jose [Ortiz on Carrumba] was going to go a little bit from the rail, when Johnny (Velazquez) kind of decided when he wanted to turn the pressure up, it looked like when he did he had a lot of horse.”
Nearly equal favorites at post-time, both Curalina and Carrumba broke out of the gate well to kick off the contest. Taking advantage of her inside post position, Carrumba took up the lead under Jose Ortiz, though Velazquez kept Curalina within a half-length just to her outside. Mid-way through the first turn, Carrumba appeared to lug out a bit, pushing Curalina into nearly the four-path away from the rail, but Ortiz was able to get the filly straightened out for the run down the backstretch. Maintaining a steady early pace, the two favorites moved in unison through early fractions of :24.28 and :48.59.
Entering the far turn, Curalina moved up to be right alongside Carrumba as the pair pulled away from the rest of the field. The two began to straighten away together, but Carrumba changed leads several strides early, throwing herself off balance in the turn just as Ortiz began to ask her for everything she had. Curalina and Velazquez took advantage, jumping out to a two-length lead as Ortiz got Carrumba straightened out again, then angled her to the center of the track to try to come back at the leader. It was too late, as Curalina continued to extend her lead effortlessly down the lane, crossing the wire 9 1/4 lengths in front as Carrumba ran in fits and starts to finish second. Sweetgrass was several more lengths back in third.
“It worked out pretty good,” said Velazquez. “The only speed was Carrumba and myself so I wanted to make sure that she didn't get away with an easy lead there and stuck with her the whole way around. When I asked my horse, she responded very well.”
Bred in Kentucky by CASA Farms, Curalina was a $125,000 Keeneland September Yearling Sale purchase. As a 3-year-old, she captured the Acorn Stakes and the Coaching Club American Oaks before finishing third in the Breeders' Cup Distaff. She came back off a winter layoff to win the G1 La Troienne this spring, then finished a disappointing fourth as the favorite in the Ogden Phipps, behind Carrumba (third). She did not disappoint in trouncing Carrumba this time, improving her overall record to 6-2-2 from 11 starts, with over $1.37 million in earnings.
“I think [Curalina] is a little bit of an underrated filly,” Pletcher said. “Her record's quite good and I think she gets penalized a little bit for getting put up on a DQ last year [in the CCA Oaks]. She was third in the Breeders' Cup, her first race back this year [La Troienne win] was really good, and I think her Phipps was better than it looks on paper on a track she probably didn't care for, kind of involved in a speed duel. She's a good filly and I think she's getting better.”
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